Just desserts for female musicians

by Amy Kingsley

Arriving after a two-hour drive through a winter weather advisory for a Saturday night show at the Black Cat in Boone, my band mates and I bellied up to the counter to redeem the edible part of our payment ‘— free burritos.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter/harp blower Andrew Dudek placed his order first and without a hitch, a super veggie burrito if I recall correctly, loaded with spinach. I took my turn next, eyeing the same, except with a helping of fresh jalapeños in place of the iron-rich Popeye favorite.

‘“Now, are you actually in the band?’” the woman behind the counter asked before taking my order. She put down her pen and eyed me with naked suspicion.

I could hear Zach Mull, guitarist/singer/songwriter/keyboard player, start to snicker while I attempted to dignify this question with an appropriate answer. Either this woman had had too many groupies wheedle their way into free burritos or she’d been asleep for the fifty years since women shimmied out of corsets and into guitar straps. But instead of delivering a well-intentioned zinger aimed at startling the employee out of her male-centric rock blinders, I responded with a slightly offended ‘“Yeah.’”

She accepted my puzzled affirmative without any more interrogation and took the rest of the band’s orders.

Later on, talking to a friend about how I got involved in playing with Dawn Chorus, I mentioned that I used to play in an all-girl band before I moved to Greensboro. He opined that one had to be careful in undertaking such an enterprise lest it be perceived as mere novelty.

Which got me to thinking: Why should an all-girl band have to expend extra worry about the integrity of their musical endeavor when an all-boy band wouldn’t think twice about it? The answer is quite clear. Despite inroads made by scores of talented women over the years, rock ‘n’ roll is still dominated by those possessing the Y chromosome.

Now, the under representation of women in Greensboro’s music scene is a conversational theme I’ve mined to utter depletion in the last year. So, instead of using this column space to lecture any readers still following along about how Greensboro needs more female musicians, I’m going to take this time to recognize the ones we do have.

First I’ll start with my favorite local band, Health, which features the talented Anna Murray on piano and vocals. I’ve heard the rough mix of their new album and it promises to be one of the best Triad releases of the upcoming year. Go see them live or they will move to Winston-Salem. I’m serious.

Catie Braly, one of the first female bass players I saw when I moved to Greensboro in 2001, will be debuting her new band the Session at Corndale on March 3. Braly used to play with Pelagic, a group of Guilford College students. The Session will be playing with Blank Blank, featuring Sarah and Dana.

Next up is another bassist and artist, Kat Lamp, who used to play with War Bomb! She and I sat in the back of the Joe Lally solo performance at the Green Bean and traded stories about teenage Fugazi hero worship.

The band Boxcar Bertha reverses the trend of the female bass player codified during the grunge years. Nego Crosson handles most of the songwriting duties, delivering solid tunes about her involvement with social justice causes. Behind her the lanky Lark Carroll manages the drum kit and sings. Danny Bayer sings, writes and plays the bass.

While I was working on my story about North Carolina’s Junior Miss, I also met high school senior Savannah Gaylord, a fiddle player in Looking

Back. I believe the bass player for that band is also a young woman. In addition, punk bands the Arrival and Little Mascara have female lead singers.

In Winston-Salem there are a number of others, including Jamie Miyares from Tommygun and the Finks’ singer Liz Simmons and drummer Tesa Blackburn. My knowledge of the Winston-Salem music scene is limited, but those bands stick out not only because they feature women, but also because they’re amazing.

This is far from a comprehensive guide. I’m sure that several accomplished women perform outside of my narrow musical clique, and I offer kudos to them as well.

Looking over this list of musicians assuages some of the righteous indignation I worked up over my perceived weekend slight. Still, so long as the perception remains that a woman traveling with a band is more likely to be a girlfriend than a member, I will keep harping on the need for increased female visibility.

And maybe I’ll go home and dust off my old Go-Go’s, Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney albums for old times’ sake. I might swing by the record store and purchase the new Cat Power. Chan Marshall is a one-time Greensboro resident who has made a national name for herself despite her double X handicap.

Or maybe I’ll just go pull out my bass and work on a couple parts for our new songs. I get the feeling we’ll probably make it back to Boone sometime soon, because the burritos were good and the crowd even better. Next time maybe I can do without the jalapeños, because even on a cold night, any similar assumption will likely get me hot enough.

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