In 2018, local singer and bassist Aubrey Eisenman of The Clydes wanted to bring women musicians together to pay tribute to their heroes. She looped in her friends Amanda Anne Platt and Anya Hinkle of Tellico to play songs by artists such as Carole King, Edith Piaf and Lucinda Williams. The show went over so well, Eisenman brought it back the following year.
Now she’s expanded the Women in Music series lineup, and it’s back for a third installment, this time for a two-night run, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 11 and 12, at Isis Music Hall.
Joining Platt and Eisenman will be Jane Kramer, Laura Blackley, and Tina Collins and Quetzal Jordan of Tina and Her Pony. They will take turns fronting the band, occasionally playing solo or singing harmonies behind one another, and then come together as a supergroup for one number. All this in service to the exquisite music of Linda Ronstadt, Patty Griffin and native North Carolinian Nina Simone.
After last year’s show, Eisenman started asking the audience for recommendations and found a wide consensus for the music of Ronstadt. Simone and Griffin were chosen by the performers. Eisenman admits she hadn’t heard Griffin before the other women on the bill suggested she’d be a good one to cover this year. “It’s actually kind of embarrassing,” she says, “because now that I’ve heard her, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, how have I missed her?’”
Granted, Ronstadt and Simone are legends — women who managed to make a name for themselves in a time when the music industry was even more dominated by men than it is now. Griffin is one of many artists dependent on small independent labels, often with little to no radio airplay, who make their living on good festival bookings and word-of-mouth.
Last year, Nashville stars like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris agitated for better radio airplay for women artists after Rolling Stone reported that even high-selling women were most frequently played overnight on radio stations, while daytime airwaves were dominated largely by men.
In an effort to rectify this, Morris joined with Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby to form The Highwomen — a quartet who tip their hats to The Highwaymen supergroup of the 1980s. The Highwomen and its folkier counterpart, Songs of Our Native Daughters (a brainchild of Rhiannon Giddens that was formed to uplift black women, specifically) topped many critics’ Best of the Year lists, indicating at least some in the industry are ready for women to lead the way. It’s in that same collaborative, women-led spirit with which Eisenman’s show embarks on its third year.
“This series … does a beautiful job of bringing some lesser-heard as well as renowned women’s voices into the spotlight in an industry that is still, even [in] 2020, very much dominated by men,” says Kramer, who is back for her second time onstage with this show. “It reminds us to celebrate the simple but invaluable concept of collaboration and mutual empowerment as women and artists.”
Indeed, there was a time — not so long ago — when women performers had to be escorted onstage by a husband or brother, but great strides have been made in the last few decades to move women to the front.
Women have become more numerous in roles throughout the industry, from label executives to roadies, sound engineers and, of course, performers. Prominent women tastemakers are occupying the criticism space, and women editors are choosing who and what gets media coverage.
Though most women singer-songwriters are accustomed to club promoters lumping women artists together willy-nilly for inherently competitive “Women in Music” nights, where the artists have almost nothing in common aside from their gender, Eisenman’s show is something altogether different.
Kramer explains, “As a 40-year-old professional artist … in a city that is developing at a dizzying pace, with a very rich but saturated music scene, the last thing I want is to feel like I am in competition with other women performers.”
It’s that collaborative, community vibe of women supporting one another that Eisenman has been after from the start.
“I wanted to have women get together in this community who may not have known each other before,” she says. “That’s happened every year. I met Jane Kramer through this show. I’ve met Laura Blackley through doing this. Even if they’ve known each other, [these artists] haven’t played with each other.
“It brings the gals together instead of creating this competition element, which is kind of inherent in musical community anyway.” She adds that the goal of the show is to work together and grow and also showcase talented women artists to a broader listening community. Considering the show has typically sold out, Eisenman’s goal seems to be working.
WHAT: Women in Music series with Amanda Anne Platt, Aubrey Eisenman, Jane Kramer, Laura Blackley, Tina Collins and Quetzal Jordan
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 11 and 12, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Isis Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, $20