Saturday, December 13, 2014

Let the Girls Play

First the disclaimer: I live in the Northeast, so anything I write about country music is suspect at best. Like guns and NASCAR, the fact the certain things have overwhelming followings in areas outside of the Boston-New York-Washington corridor that aren't based on Yankee sensibilities seems, frankly, unbelievable. But yes, to those of us to whom brunch in Red Hook is considered the height of cool, there are places where Luke Bryan is at least as well-known as Jay-Z, where Florida Georgia Line isn't a border between two states but a group with whose song "Cruise" dominated the charts with 20 weeks in the top spot.

It's a genre that was written off as "mature" not too long ago, described by one music critic as "stoic men in ten-gallon hats and soprano women who'd lived full lives singing songs about, divorce, war, and that aching, hollow heartbreak feeling." No more. Fusing elements of rap and pop to its country roots, it's moved far beyond Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubbs and Patsy Cline to Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert and Chase Rice. You can argue about the definition, and just how heir-to-the-throne-of-George-Strait these new comers really are, but this is most definitely NOT your daddy's country. Put another way, if you know the former three and not the later, then you don't really have your finger on the right pulse point.

But while that body may have a lot of blood pumping through it in the form of airplay, there's a problem: it's mostly male. With Taylor Swift no longer considered a country girl, the charts are dominated as almost never before by men. And not just any kind of men, but young, fit, hard partying types singing about the three "b's," usually explained as some combination of babes, bars and beers. In the so-called "bro-country" movement, every night is a Friday Night, every vehicle is a truck and every girl is lit by moonlight, has painted-on jeans and loves to drink Bud.

While there's some sense that this particular pickup is running out of steam, some are trying a little harder to, if not push the vehicle into a ditch, at least let some others share the road. And that means not just songs that appeal to a more female sensibility, but performers on that side of the ledger as well. And it's the idea behind a rotating group of female singer-songwriters known collectively as the Song Suffragettes.

With the slogan "Let the Girls Play," the idea was hatched back in March by music industry veteran Todd Cassetty and Helena Capps as a way of encouraging more female artists. Having outgrown their first home in Nashville, they now convene every Monday night at the Listening Room Café on Second Avenue South. Since they started, over 60 different young ladies have taken the stage, some well-known only in their home towns, others veterans of shows like "The Voice" and "American Idol," but all showcasing their very considerable songwriting and performing chops.

On a stage backed by white damask curtains, fronted by a few old lamps and some mismatched chairs, the format is simple. Each of the five or so performers introduces herself, and plays and sings one of her own songs. They go down the line, circle back to do it again, then perform a group cover of a more well-known tune. The night I visited a solid and appreciative audience heard Betsy Lane do "Southern Crazy" while Kalie Shorr sang "God Sees Everything," each a hit waiting to be discovered or perhaps recorded by a more well-known name. There were equally good offerings from Daisy Mallory, Karli Chayne and Gracie Schram. And not one mentioned a pickup truck.

The music business is a fickle one. Talent and determination are table stakes at best, assuring nothing other than a chance to perform for your family and friends and perhaps a few interested strangers who might buy a CD. Anyone can do that. But making even a bare-bones a living at it? That‘s a different story. And becoming the next Reba McEntire or Miranda Lambert or Faith Hill? That's not a story, it's a fairy tale. But regardless of the eventual outcome, the first step is to play and be heard. And that's what Song Suffragettes is all about. Let the girls play. You just might like what you hear.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves listening to live music of any type. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

No comments: