WHAT: A monthly, female-fronted music showcase
WHERE: The BLOCK Off Biltmore
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m.
WHY: Four decades of experience as a singer/songwriter, along with personal research, have shaped Peggy Ratusz’s understanding of gender issues in the music industry: “There’s still a fairly big margin between how many female-fronted or female solo acts are picked [to play at] local bars all the way to big festivals,” she says, noting the greater frequency of male bookings. “But I see it improving all the time, I really do.”
Ratusz has taken steps to expedite that progress. From 2010-12, for instance, she hosted a Female Artist Spotlight Night at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues, and in recent months, she’s partnered with The BLOCK Off Biltmore owner Cam MacQueen to reinstate the series.
The first iteration, which takes place Wednesday, Feb. 15, will feature three acts: fiddler, guitarist and vocalist Kare Strong; vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Lucy Ray, who will perform with backing guitarist Randal Gary; and headlining singer/songwriter Aileen “Big Al” Pearlman.
Collectively, the three performances will bring old-time, folk, Irish and pop influences to the stage, and Ratusz aims to book equally diverse soloists and groups (up to quartets) for each future show. The ideal lineup, she says, highlights females who are passionate, emotive and confident.
Since the venue and audio equipment are being donated (with Ratusz running sound), 100 percent of the door will go to performers. And MacQueen is giving 10 percent of bar sales at each monthly showcase to a nonprofit — alternating between Girls on the Run and Girls Rock Asheville, beginning with the former. As artists and attendees envision new ways to personalize and build on the series, its format and details may evolve.
To rally further support, Ratusz has also launched a quarterly Western North Carolina Female Musician’s Soiree, which includes an open mic, jam session and “schmoozing.” The inaugural gathering in January drew 20 performers and 50 additional spectators. “It was really and truly amazing the range of ages and styles represented,” she says. “The audience ate up every single performer, and a few of them elicited standing ovations.”
Visit theblockoffbiltmore.com for more information on the Female Artist Spotlight Night, which costs $3 at the door. The next WNC Female Musician’s Soiree has yet to be scheduled.