Girls Rock Stockley Gardens Arts Festival
By Jesi Owens
Inspirational and talented women have been in the music industry since its inception. In the very early days of the blues circuit down South, women like Lucille Bogan (who was born in 1897 and recorded her first album in 1923) were getting as down and as dirty as their male contemporaries. As more genres of popular music emerged, these ladies remained fully ingrained in their respective scenes, and we saw the likes of Billie Holiday, Tina Turner, Patti Smith, Madonna, and more emerge.
Yet today when I Googled “female musicians”, outside of the prerequisite Wikipedia articles, the first headline began with “The Top 10 Best-Dressed Female Musicians.” I reacted typically, judging perceptions and stereotypes. Then I Googled “male musicians” and all three of their top stories were about men’s fashion, sexiness, and celebrity.
So stereotypes exist for all. This still doesn’t answer the question I was ultimately looking for though: How are women’s experiences as musicians different than their male contemporaries? And is that for good, bad, or moot?
Researching further into specific, classic genres like jazz, blues, classical, and even rockabilly though, I found several examples of the main article dividing itself into the main parts of the piece, and sub-articles like “Women of Jazz”, etc.
I interviewed 15 local female musicians to see their thoughts on the subject. They were each asked six identical questions and given the freedom to then expound on whatever they’d like if it wasn’t covered in their answers. I wasn’t particularly thought-provoking, as I was dealing with a vast variety of age, genre, and experience, yet the responses I received most certainly showed me some interesting facts about my fellow ladies.
The first question was a simple “How long have you been playing music?” Almost everyone answered with something like “since I was six” versus “for 20 years.” One did say she’d been playing for 20 years but then clarified she’s only 28. Local folk-pop chanteuse Skye Zentz definitely went back the furthest with her answer being since “in utero.”
Do women answer this question to not reveal age? Was I reading too much into it? I have no idea if that question would be answered by males any differently or if it’s not a non-answer due to both ageism in all performance-based industries, and the concept that any performer (male of female) must viscerally remember their first guitar lesson or drum solo and identify it with a specific age in their youth.
Blues-singer extraordinaire Jackie Scott told a lovely story about her earliest memories singing as a child. She said, “I can remember riding in the car with my family on our way through the downtown tunnel and a song I liked would be playing on the radio and I’d start singing along in my head. Back then the radio would cut off when you went through the tunnel so I played this little game by continuing to sing to see if I could be in sync with the song when we popped out of the tunnel. I actually became pretty good and I think that taught me to have good timing…didn’t know I’d need it later on but it has come in handy!”
There were roughly equal parts of “started in choir at church” and “started after seeing an inspiring musician perform.” Almost everyone said “see” not “hear”, and again, I don’t know if male musicians would say the same, or if there is an inherent female tendency to romanticize and then emulate interesting things around them.
And as for who those inspirations actually were, many men were mentioned at all ends of the spectrum. From David Lee Roth (Missy M) to Devo (Jacki Paolella of DJP & Mr. T) to John Lennon (Rebecca Shultz of The Dentz) to John Mayer (Bria Kelly), men were significantly involved in inspiring our local females to begin performing.
Two women referenced their parents as specifically inspirational. Katie Teardrops of The Lonely Teardrops said her mom and aunts were the biggest influence; and Kayce McGehee had wonderful words for her father (local musician Lewis McGehee) “I can say confidently that I would be nowhere near the musician or businesswoman [I am] without his love, support and guidance.”
I also asked the women “Do you have any favorite female icons (musical or otherwise) & why?” Out of these 15 women came 47 names. Only two overlapped: Ani DiFranco (mentioned by Missy M and Rebecca Shultz) and Chrissie Hynde, who garnered the exact same quote from both Denise Owen of The Drendas and Gina Dalmas: “She’s a badass.”
My favorite answer was Jackie Scott’s inclusion of Marilyn Monroe, whom she said, “helped to tear down racial barriers in the entertainment business.” The unexpectedness of Monroe’s inclusion as a “musician” versus a “celebrity” or “sex symbol” was part of why I favored it. But moreso, for Jackie Scott, whose voice is arguably one of the most recognizable and inspiring in all of Hampton Roads, to include Monroe, was enlightening because it shows how women look at other women versus how men look at other women. Talent and integrity were at the forefront, not sex and body.
That only two overlaps occurred proves the true diversity of female musicians worldwide, past and present. Most answered the “why” portion of why a particular female inspired them with responses on songwriting and perseverance. “Intelligently written” and “Inspiration for her strength” were said more than once.
Narissa Bond said her icons were so “because of their incredible musicianship on guitar and their soul inspired songwriting.”
The best sense I got of what it’s like for women today in the local music industry came with the responses to two questions: “What is your favorite part of being a woman in music?” and “Do you feel there’s a big difference in being a female musician compared to your male contemporaries?”
Most everyone had a sense of pride when they “shocked” or “surprised” audiences and fellow musicians with the fact they actually had talent. The idea that women must prove themselves wasn’t there for every single person interviewed, but it was a large trend. Yet even with that response, it was usually followed up with a universal response of “the music is what matters most.”
JoAnna Lynne said, “The only thing that stands out as an obstacle being a woman it never knowing if a man is offering you a legitimate business opportunity or if he is hitting on you. I have been on a few “dates” that I was unaware of until the business opportunity fizzled out and the guy stopped talking to me on account of my boyfriend. It happens often enough to make you question every guy that approaches you.” But she also said (which is a version of most everyone’s response), “I have found though that male or female, talent stands out above the rest. If you have ‘that thing’ you have it, if you don’t you don’t. Talent always wins over everything else.”
Inspiring younger women was also a big piece. Chidori Matsumoto explained “It makes me very happy and grateful when people tell me that they are ‘inspired’ by watching a woman play drums. I also love very much when children, especially little girls, get excited to see a woman behind drums.”
Missy M explained “It is the same dichotomy that exists outside of music. The pressure of being a woman is only there if you allow it,” and Gina Dalmas just simply said “not at all;” she does not feel different due to her gender.
Some lighthearted (yet valid) discussion of the physical differences in men and women were also discussed. Skye Zentz channeled a bit of Taylor Swift when she said “My acoustic guitar has a built in boob rest! OK, but really…since I’m a songwriter, I get to, technically, gossip about all my exes in public and nobody gets mad about it because I’m singing and playing a ukulele. Totally harmless!”
And Chidori Matsumoto explained her one big difference was simply the carrying of equipment to gigs. “Just physical difference…I would help carry PA equipment but it would take me forever,” she explained. I believe she would do it though, as she does haul a drum kit herself, which is a not-so-easy task that she exercises to maintain (writing off her gym membership as a work expense!).
My favorite answer goes to Bria Kelly, who kept it short, sweet, and balanced. “I get to sing kick-butt songs and also the sensitive ones. Being a woman gives me that choice of being tender or tough!”
Of the women who decided to expound beyond the answers to questions asked, both Jacki Paolella and Chidori Matsumoto both wanted to highlight running sound and sound engineering as another form of women in music that’s relevant to the discussion. Matsumoto has learning more about audio on her list of next steps and Paolella has been successfully producing and engineering other local musicians under her TAPTAP production company and also at Clay Gardens Studios in Norfolk.
She said, “I guess one more thing that’s on my mind related to being a woman is about working on the other side of the industry. The balance of female artists is off, but in terms of producers and engineers, the ratio of males to females is staggering. I read an article a few years ago that said women accounted for less than 5% of engineers and producers. I know this has changed a lot, but it’s still no contest. I think females make excellent producers and engineers, and by nature can bring certain things to the table that men cannot…. I feel hopeful that this balance is shifting as we speak, but I think it’s still important to have a dialogue to move things forward.”
On October 19 and 20, many of these women will take the stage at the Girls Rock Festival during Stockley Gardens Art Show.
Summing up my feelings, Denise Owen of the Drenda’s said, “I think some people may be surprised when they see the level of talent from female artists at this showcase in October. It is a great opportunity.”
The talented local musicians who took time to participate in this interview are: Joanna Lynne, Missy M, Jacki Paolella of DJP & Mr. T, Holly Womack, Denise Owen, and Collette England of The Drendas; Rebecca Shultz of The Dentz, Bria Kelly, Chidori Matsumoto, Gina Dalmas, Kayce McGehee, Sheela Fortner and Beth Whyle of Om Shanti Rising; Narissa Bond, Jackie Scott, Nakia Madry (D*Nik), Katie Teardrops of The Lonely Teardrops, and Skye Zentz.
Girls Rock Stockley Gardens Arts Festival
Saturday, October 19
10:00 – 10:25: Kaycee McGehee, Keyboard Pop
10:30 – 11:00: OM Shanti Rising, World Music
11:00 – 11:45: Mad Kitty, 80s-Themed
12:15 – 1:00: D*NIK, Electro-Pop/Rock Duo
1:30 – 2:15: Lonely Teardrops, Punk/Garage Rock
2:45 – 3:30: Gina Dalmas & the Cowtipping Playboys, Honkey Tonk Rock
4:00 – 4:30: Barrelhouse featuring April Phillips, Rock
5:00 – 7:00 (Reception): Jackie Scott & the Housewreckers, Blues and R&B
Sunday, October 20
12:00 – 12:30: Narissa Bond, Folk
12:30 – 1:00: JoAnna Lynne, Folk/Accoustic/Rock
1:15 – 2:00: Red Stapler, Rock/Dance
2:30 – 3:15: The Hissy Fits, Sludge Rock
3:45 – 4:15: Raunch Star, Garage Rock
4:30-5:00: All Star Woman Jam, 80s-themed