Photosby Erica Chambers Photography
The recent ‘Sweet Thing Jamboree’’ at the Steam Engine Pizza Pub Session Room on Main Street in Irvine was an indoor festival featuring an all female line-up.
By Senora May
On January 26th, at 3 p.m. sharp, numerous guitars (electric and acoustic), an upright bass, fiddles, drum kits, tambourines, and an accordion were lugged into the Steam Engine Session Room and precariously stacked around the tiny stage. Beyond the array of instrumentation, musical styles, and wardrobes of folks preparing to play a one day festival here, one thing set this event apart from others before it even began- all of the acts on the bill were female led.
I wanted to put together a show for women, by women. A lot of men miss the point with adding women to a bill, and as many men are in the position to plan events, this is unfortunate. Their efforts to plug a few token female artists into musical lineups comprised 70 percent or more of male acts results in sloppy feminist facades organized in an apathetic attempt at equality.
Through nine years playing and writing in an environment oversaturated by men, I have come to realize there is an abundance of women who do it just as well if not better, and I mean in all facets of the industry.
When I decided to put together an all lady lineup of regional songwriters and musicians for a show in my hometown of Irvine, KY, I wrote so many names down that I couldn’t possibly fit them all into one day. Bittersweet for everyone involved, several of those women were already booked on the dates available for our Sweet Thing Jamboree, so we ended up with only eleven acts on the bill. If I am fortunate enough to do this again, there will be more than eleven.
The name Sweet Thing Jamboree was pulled from the song, “Sweet Thing” written by Buddy Starcher, released by Arthur Smith & His Dixie Liners first in 1948, then re-recorded by many other men, including the Stanley Brothers, which is how I found the song. The pet name “sweet thing” used in the song was the perfect vehicle to redefine ourselves as women under the same limelight the song originally created.
Kentucky, like other states of the Appalachian region, has been ingrained to an almost intoxicating degree with bluegrass music from the likes of Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe, Ricky Skaggs, etc., all great male musicians. As a little lady growing up down the road from the Redlick Valley Bluegrass Festival, I did not hear enough women musicians participating in the music that was coming out of my own culture. I did not learn about Jean Ritchie until I was in college. I did not learn that Joan Osborne, one of my recurring musical inspirations with her Relish album, was from Kentucky, until I turned seventeen. I think if I had been taught about the impact of women in music at an earlier age, especially those coming from our region, I would have realized long ago that I too, a female from Estill County, Kentucky, was capable of impact.
The women placed on the bill for the Sweet Thing Jamboree covered a wide array of genres including Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Country, Roots, Americana, Traditional Appalachian, Contraceptive Punk Rock, Appalachian Rock, and Gypsy Folk. Here’s a very brief summary of what you missed if you weren’t present:
Tiffany Williams: (she was unable to attend due to work conflicts) Check out her debut EP, When You Go. Tiffany is a strong writer, an advocate for all thing Appalachia, and her voice is so sweet and smooth.
Jeri Katherine Howell: light hearted traditional mountain music blended with a stark Cold Mountain vibe, her songwriting is top class when she’s not covering old-time favorites, her voice is controlled but rolls through notes that others have difficulty finding, with a natural break that is heavenly. Visit https://www.jerikatherinehowell.com/ for more info.
Anna Kline: Anna is half of Grits & Soul, a duo with bluesy Memphis grit but classic country undertones. Anna is a powerhouse of a woman and her spirit shines through in her music. Visit gritsandsoul.com for more info.
Chloe Edmonstone: Chloe is one of many females I’ve found backing well known regional male acts. She was coined the “secret weapon” of our event and for good reason; Her stage presence is a steady stronghold of all things good about being female, she’s a beautiful fiddler and her voice is nonchalant slayage. I don’t know how else to put it. You can find her in two bands: Locust Honey, and supporting John R. Miller.
Melody Youngblood: a mama who fights for love, her music and lyrics are innate and brutally honest all in the same breath. Melody’s voice has never ceased to give me cold chills, hitting each note so delicately with sharp annunciation to emphasize her own values. Sweet Isolation, her debut album, is dripping with potential and longing for freedom. So many women need these tunes, trust me.
Jen Shouse: This lady is an Irvine sweetheart with a powerful voice and touching lyrics. Her tunes range from extreme bliss to bluesy minors and raw heartache; from mountains to sea and all emotions women feel in between. She’s another one that supports a good man in music, visit shousemusic.com for more.
Laura Gregory (The Handshake Deals): gypsy folk music with smooth mountain vibes, her voice is steady and matter-of-fact which people do not get enough from women, in my opinion. The group has accordion, steady drum beats and vocals coupled with acoustic guitar, and upright bass. It’s reminiscent of The Moldy Peaches but with more grit and Appalachia. Go see them live.
Slut Pill: Whitesburg, KY trio of women who came an inch from burning down the house with their feminist power. The music is grunge punk drums with casual, rock electric lead, a steady bass behind the squeal and growl of Mitchella’s vocals issuing no-nonsense lyrics with no patience for the patriarchy. They melted hearts and lit up so many ladies’ faces in the packed crowd. A most anticipated album is coming soon, check slutpill.bandcamp.com and stay tuned.
Kelsey Waldon: Reigning from Monkey’s Eyebrow, KY, Kelsey is a powerful but sweet lady gaining international recognition. She gives us classic country with vocals unlike anyone. She’s a Nashville business woman with common sense from the country and her music showcases that. I wish every young girl could see Kelsey live.
Luna & the Mountain Jets: Pragmatic Appalachian rock; Luna is a star by night, elementary school teacher by day, role model all the time. Her lyrics are nostalgic of a girl’s life in the country, but heavy like revolution songs of the 1960s. Luna is one of my most significant aspirations for my own tunes and she’s backed by her hubby, David Prince. We are all lucky to have her music and I recommend you see her live, ASAP.
Senora May: that’s me and by now, you surely must know I love you, Irvine…