What I did on my summer vacation: Michigan 2014

michigan fest 2I used to camp. Now? Not so much, unless it’s the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. (I know, they spell it “womyn” but my internal English teacher won’t let me do that.) I returned just a few days ago and let me explain to you why I put up with pine needles in my hair and spiders in the portable toilets. Continue reading

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I’m left-handed. Should I play a right-handed guitar?

Maybe. If you already play a left-handed guitar and it’s working well for you, go for it. Some of the best players are left handed.

elizabeth cotten

Elizabeth Cotten played left-handed and upside down. She wrote the classic “Freight Train.”

If you’ve never played before, try both. You might be surprised. Playing a guitar (or any stringed instrument) requires the use of both hands. It’s not like eating or writing. And frankly, it’s your left hand doing the harder work, if you’re playing a right-handed guitar. I have, though, heard of a few left-handers who have more difficulty getting a steady rhythm and for them, a left-handed guitar is best. Continue reading

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Twelve reasons to attend a women’s music festival

michigan festival

  1. Because it’s fun

A few thousand women in the woods, a convention center or hotel? Where do I sign up?

The Saturday night performer jam. That's me in the middle with my arm up. Photo by Janice Rickert.

The 2012 Saturday night performer jam at the National Women’s Music Festival. Photo by Janice Rickert.

2. You’re supporting women musicians

Don’t let Sony tell you who you should like. I’ve discovered some of my fav indie musicians at women’s music festivals.

  1. You’ll feel like an Amazon

After my first festival, I felt like I could leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s so mind blowing to see women doing everything – from running big stages to playing music. Everything. When’s the last time you went to another kind of festival and experienced that?

4. You can learn cool stuff

All of the festivals have great workshops, from learning archery to drumming. And you’ll learn it from a woman, with women.

5. You can hang out with friends and make new ones

I have a whole circle of friends at a couple of festivals, most I keep in touch with throughout the year.

pie

 6. You can eat well

I know you’re laughing but have you been to the Virginia Women’s Music Festival? They have dessert after every lunch and dinner. Lots of women love the vegetarian food at the Michigan festival.

drive all night book

You can buy my book! You expected a shameless plug, right?

7. You can buy women-made art, books and music

It’s like a women-made art gallery, y’all. The last time you went to a crafts fair or art show, how many of the artists were women? And the bookstores?

 8. You can perform

Most festivals have an open mike. Some have a festival chorus or drum group. Get your musical, poetic or dancing yayas out. Entertain your friends. Embarrass your kids.

  1. It’s a great family vacation

Most festivals have activities for kids as well as adults. (Some festivals don’t allow boys past a certain age so be sure to check ahead of time.)

10. It’s affordable

It’s cheaper than a cruise or a trip to Europe. You can drive to many of them.

 11. You can camp

I know, not an advantage for some of you. I’m not wild about sleeping on the ground either. But there is a serenity in looking at all that green while listening to kick-ass music. And if you don’t like to camp, some festivals offer cabins, RV areas and nearby hotels. (The National festival has a hotel right on the site.)

 12. If you don’t support them they will stop

I hate to be the party pooper, but they depend on your support. Don’t wait until an anniversary year (What, the other years are chopped liver?), for your favorite artist (You’ll discover new favorite artists, I guarantee it) or for you to win the lottery. You can make it affordable – save a little every week or volunteer (some festivals give workers a ticket).

All right, that’s enough to get you started. Here’s a list of festivals you might want to try:

BOLDfest (not strictly a music festival but they offer entertainment)

Iowa Women’s Music Festival

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

National Women’s Music Festival

Ohio Lesbian Festival

Virginia Women’s Music Festival

And more … Google ‘em.

If you’re thinking of reasons not to attend a festival, see my earlier post about festival myths.

Respectful discussion and suggestions are welcome below. Polarizing diatribes will be deleted.

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Reality singing shows – where do I sign up?

kelly clarksonI read a blog post recently by a musician who said she’d never audition for one of those singing competitions because she was happy doing her own thing. I can understand not wanting to spend time and money on what amounts to a lottery ticket. However, if not for those shows, we wouldn’t know about a lot of great performers like Kelly Clarkson or Beverly McClellan. Maybe you don’t know that second name but she was in the top four during the first season of The Voice. She may not be filling arenas, however, I heard her at the Ohio Lesbian Festival last year and she drew the biggest crowd of anyone there, probably because they knew her from TV. It didn’t hurt that she was damn good.

beverly mcclellan

Continue reading

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The Ship that sailed into my life

Girl Scouting taught me that I was smart and capable, whether I was putting up a heavy canvas tent in a rainstorm or hanging my ass so far over the edge of a speeding sailboat that my hair got wet. The latter was something I learned to do in The Ship forty years ago, a wonderful mariner-oriented Senior troop based in Mesa, Arizona. Even more important than teaching me to sail, it’s one of the reasons why music is such an important part of my life. I was in The Ship when I first picked up one of Dad’s guitars and taught myself a G chord. The simple folk songs I’d sung in Girl Scouts were perfect for this fledgling musician and in The Ship we did a lot of singing. On March 15, 2014, The Ship had a reunion. We may not have recalled everyone’s names, but we remembered those songs. Here we are, singing “Rose.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYwczc0rLNs&feature=youtu.be

The words are from a woman who assures a man, “I will marry at thy will, sire, at thy will.” Strange words for a group of intelligent women, right? We laughed at that and at other songs like “Suitors,” where a father tries to get a daughter to marry and she tells him in no uncertain terms that she’ll honor his wishes only if rivers ran uphill and it was the day before she dies. In the end, though, she acquiesces because “tomorrow I must die.” None of us lived our lives by those words. Instead, we were remembering the times we’d sat around a beach campfire under a starry sky, adding harmony upon harmony, feeling the warmth of each other and not just that fire. Suddenly, forty years didn’t seem like such a long time ago.

ship big trip

1973. Getting ready to leave on the big trip up the west coast. That’s me in the second row, on the end in the white t-shirt.

The day also included a slide show of photos, many of them of the “big” trips we took. Every other year the troop planned a huge event. One year, they crewed on a sailboat and sailed to Catalina Island off the coast of California. In 1973, during my first year in the troop, we journeyed up the west coast all the way to Vancouver, BC in a school bus. We raised all of the money ourselves, with a spaghetti dinner, cookies (of course) and more. We researched places to visit and set up housing in churches, camps and even a naval base. When it was discovered that we couldn’t rent a bus for a trip that long, two of our advisers bought a bus, using their home as collateral. (We sold the bus back at the end of the trip.) I can’t convey to you how exciting a trip like this was to a 15 year old like me. Here we are, looking at a slide from that trip and remembering who everyone was. Thank God we figured out who the cute brunette was.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7n3RTgT6ok&feature=youtu.be

We had name tags. Since The Ship spanned several years and Senior scouting only lasts for three, we weren’t all in the troop at the same time. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) There were several faces I didn’t recognize at first (even if we shared the same years) but as soon as they opened their mouths, I knew who they were. We may have gotten grayer and rounder, however, our voices hadn’t changed.

One of the people I would’ve known in a crowd of thousands was Lois. Not only did she have that same joyous laugh, but there was that thousand-kilowatt smile. Here she is, standing next to a slide of her younger self. Doncha just want to pinch those cheeks?

ship Lois

We laughed over the stories, like the time The Ship trounced the Sea Scouts (Boy Scouts) at a regatta. The adults decided to give first place to the boys anyway because the poor dears would be mortified to be beat by a bunch of girls. No one in The Ship agreed with that, including our adviser, a former Navy guy who made sure every girl knew all the knots, nautical terms and more.

The Satellite, one of the borrowed boats, and a council canoe at a reunion we had in the eighties.

The Satellite, one of the borrowed boats, and a council canoe at a reunion we had in the eighties.

The Ship didn’t just do regattas and those big trips. We camped, helped out non-profits, and learned to sail, canoe and row. I know, a mariner troop in the middle of the desert doesn’t make sense. No one told us we couldn’t do it. We borrowed the Girl Scout council’s canoes and sailboats from parents. Two of our advisers saved their Kool cigarette packages so we could get our own sailboat. The body was Styrofoam, it had a little striped triangular sail and two girls could squeeze into it if they liked each other a lot. That thing could sail on the mere mention of a breeze. Later on, we were able to buy our own boat, a real one big enough for four girls. On one camping trip, we sailed and canoed our gear across a lake to camp on a remote shore for the weekend. (I remember this as Saguaro Lake, not far from Phoenix. I could be wrong. Have I mentioned the name tags?) On the day we were to return, the sky had darkened and whitecap waves tossed the boats. That didn’t deter Karen, though. She cinched up the mainsail tight and put it in her teeth, gripped the tiller in both hands, and made us skim along, the sail at an angle so close to the water I was sure we’d dump over. The only way to prevent that was to get on the opposite side, hook our feet in the heeling straps along the bottom of the hull and hike our bodies over the edge in a counter-balance. We raced another one of our boats. It felt like flying.

We lost Karen to cancer a couple of years ago. Donna died in an accident in 2009. Some others we simply lost track of. But we never lost the songs. Singing together with my Girl Scout sisters was the highlight of my life and even when I’m 90, I’ll remember the ridiculous words to “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” I’d post a video of us singing it but some of us changed it to “Do Your Boobs Hang Low” and I promised not to share it. Girl Scouts never go back on a promise.

Beautiful smiling faces in March 2014.

Beautiful smiling faces in March 2014.

*********

drive all night book

You can read more about The Ship in my book Drive All Night, on Bella Books, due for release on May 13, 2014. There’s also a chapter about my Ship experiences in On My Honor. (It’s out of print but you can find used copies on line.)

on my honor

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Making my first professional video. Is there ever enough cat hair?

setting up one of my scenes

When I decided to record my first album I thought I’d go into a studio and crank out enough songs in an afternoon. Years later, after ten albums, I know that it takes much more than that. So, when I thought I’d do my first-ever professional music video, you’d think I would know better. There I was, on a long boring interstate drive while on tour and I thought, hey, my song “Run” would make a funny video. (Hear it here.) I’d invite some friends over to my house, ask them to act out some scenes and have someone follow us around with a camera. I mapped out the script in my head. Continue reading

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The “w” part of musician/writer/teacher/parking lot attendant

On this blog I blab a lot about being a musician and a teacher. Now it’s time to talk about my writing, especially since I HAVE A BOOK! Besides, I’m blind in one eye so you really don’t want to hand over the keys to your Volvo.

drive all night book

Drive All Night

Have I mentioned the thing about publishing a book? It’s a collection of tour stories, from meeting Melissa Etheridge to sharing housing with a pig. A real one. When you’ve dragged your arse all over doing gigs for twenty-plus years, you’ve got a few stories.  Continue reading

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