by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
I was drawn to Slowdown last Sunday night not only because the lineup was stellar (Fortnight, Honeybee and Hers, Conduits and The Good Life), but because I was down with the message behind organization “Omaha Girls Rock.”
But before we get to that, let’s turn to Stefanie Drootin, founder and executive director of OGR. As a member of The Good Life, Drootin is among the best bass players Omaha has ever seen. When I asked her about her motives behind forming OGR, she recalled a story that she characterized as a “funny example,” that was anything but funny.
“Years back, when The Good Life was touring with Rilo Kiley, we were at a Brooklyn club during sound check and the bouncer kept trying to kick me and Jenny Lewis out of the club,” she said. “We told him we were in the band, and he said, ‘No you’re not, you’re groupies following the boys.’ And I said ‘Dude, Jenny’s the lead singer.‘”
It would be easy to simply chock this up as just another example of a thick-headed bouncer who’s suffered one too many blows to the head, except there’s obviously more to it than that, and Drootin knew it, along with every other touring woman musician who’s been asked, “So which dude in the band is your boyfriend?” or “Hey merch girl, where do you want to set up your table?”
Because despite the efforts of Janis Joplin and Tina Weymouth and Patti Smith and Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry and Ani Difranco and Liz Phair and Siouxie Sioux and Kim Deal and Mia Zappata and Kat Bjelland and Tina Turner and Shirley Manson and Beth Gibbons and Joni Mitchell and Heidi Ore and Stef Drootin and every other woman who’s strapped on a guitar or sat behind a drum kit or keyboard or stood alone behind a microphone at the front of the stage, rock ‘n’ roll has always been perceived as a boy’s club. A club where women on stage are viewed as oddities or gimmicks or eye candy or “obviously” someone’s girlfriend (especially if she plays bass). Where a girl with a guitar is not a musician, but a “female musician.” Where any band in which more than half the musicians are women is referred to as a “girls group” (and when was the last time an all-male band was called a “boys group”?).
Drootin knows this. So do the 29 other musicians and people involved in our music scene who are listed on the volunteers page of omahagirlsrock.com. It’s a list that could also double as a roll call of some if the best musicians in the Midwest who just happen to be women. It’s a list that’s way, way too short. Drootin knows this, too.
That’s why she put together Omaha Girls Rock, an organization whose vision statement reads: “Our ultimate goal is to provide a support system enabling and encouraging girls to design their own futures and to realize those designs.” Sure, it’s about giving girls the confidence to pick up an instrument and form a band, but Drootin says it’s more than just rock and roll.
“Our workshops are not just about music, though that’s a lot of it since it’s a rock camp,” she said. “The workshops also deal with self esteem, body image, stuff so girls feel confident no matter how they’re treated. I feel like I was lucky that I had the confidence to be able to deal with a lot of the stuff that goes along with being a girl in a band.” Unfortunately, not all girls are so lucky.
Participation in the program doesn’t require previous music experience. The day camp, to be held at UNO’s music department July 11-15, is for any girl ages 8-18. Upon arriving at camp, girls will be checked in by a faculty member before assembling themselves into bands. Every day they will receive instruction in their chosen rock instrument (guitar, bass, vocals, keyboards or drums); attend two workshops on subjects ranging from self-esteem to songwriting; and have rehearsals guided by a “band manager” (counselor) in preparation for the final showcase, slated for July 16. Along the way, the program will develop and hone life skills, such as cooperation and creative thinking, and participants will emerge as confident and capable young women “sure of their voices, and of their worth.”
“A lot of girls think you have to be a singer or the token girlfriend bass player to be in a band,” Drootin said. “We’re saying you can be whoever you want to be.”
Her vision for Omaha Girls Rock is ambitious. Future efforts include going to schools and recruiting girls to get involved in music and in rock. “It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “This is our pilot year, and we want to make this as huge as we can, but we’ve got to take the first step, which is band camp.”
It’s safe to say I, along with most of the 200+ at Sunday night’s fund raiser weren’t thinking about the organization’s problem statement or gender issues or the role of women in rock when we were watching Drootin and the rest of The Good Life kick out songs from the band’s enormous catalog of songs. We were just loving the music, and that’s the way it should always be.
To find out more or to get involved in Omaha Girls Rock, go to omahagirlsrock.com.
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Mr. Modern Lovers himself, Jonathan Richman, is playing at The Waiting Room tonight with, I guess, nobody, as no opening acts are listed. I take it back, it sounds like he’ll be joined by a drummer, and will be singing in no less than five languages, based on this Reverb review of Tuesday night’s show in Denver. $13, 9 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.