Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'I'm opening for the right person': Peoria's Sarah & The Underground kicks off next Highway 309 LIVE

In the foreground, a woman with a guitar sings into a microphone. A man with an upright base plays in the background.
Sarah Marie Dillard
Sarah & The Underground open the next Highway 309 LIVE show March 20 at the Normal Theater.

WGLT's Highway 309 LIVE returns to the Normal Theater on March 20 with a lineup celebrating Women’s History Month. Nashville singer/songwriter Crys Matthews headlines the evening, with Peoria’s Sarah Marie Dillard opening as the acoustic duo Sarah & The Underground.

Under that name, guitarist and vocalist Dillard and her husband, upright bassist Brandon Mooberry, frequently play as a trio with percussionist Nick Fairley and have two albums under their belt, including a live to tape release from WTVP’s State and Water Sessions.

Dillard says she used to describe the band as “new and up-and-coming,” but realized after eight years of working Central Illinois’ live music circuit, the label no longer applies.

“So, we’ve now moved into ‘seasoned and established,’” Dillard said in an interview for WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “And we’re very proud to continue to bring to light the underground musicians of Central Illinois.”

Dillard describes Sarah & The Underground as “soul folk with a twist of jazz,” a genre she made up and now sees as a few too many syllables to really land as a brand.

“When we first formed, and it was my first band, I was so jazzed,” she said. “Often, we shorten it to soul folk, but when it makes more sense, we will go under a broader umbrella of Americana or indie.”

As lead songwriter, Dillard culls lyrics from personal experiences, her family and a deep commitment to social causes.

“We try not to be shy about things that are important to us,” she said. “That means that not everyone can be a fan.”

Dillard is an unapologetic activist on and off stage. She’s been a conduit for connecting Peoria’s music scene and advocating for women musicians in the community.

“I don’t sleep on my community,” she said. “I really like being involved in the creation of things we can look back on in 50 years and say, hey, remember when that series started? I want to build the future that I’m going to look back on, and I want to know it’s all going to be right here in Peoria.”

It’s a quality Dillard shares with Matthews, whose mission is to amplify unheard voices in country and Americana music.

“I am very proud and honored to be Crys’ opening act,” she said. “Those words she uses to describe her music ring true for me through every bone and fiber and reaches the little girl in me and says, I’m opening for the right person. I share those desires and I hope my lyricism can be used to create a voice for the voiceless.”

Sarah & the Underground open for Crys Matthews at Highway 309 LIVE presented by CEFCU. The free concert is March 20 at the Normal Theater.

Jody Holtz contributed to this story.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at