“I’ve always worked very, very hard, and the harder I worked, the luckier I got.” ~ Alan Bond
Hi fellow travelers. The luckiest girl in the world here.
Last week’s challenge was many tiered: The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I love this festival like no other. It’s true, as a lesbian woman musician, this is pretty much the choir i dig preaching to. The unique, empowering and nearly overwhelming experience of being surrounded by “my kind” was amplified this year with Lisa Vogel’s bold and courageous programming: The majority of acts at the festival this year seemed to be women of color. This fact was further underscored by the types of music that were being showcased: Hip-Hop (Medusa and Krudas Cubensi) Rock and Blues (Sista’s in the Pit and Cc Carter, Candye Kane) Afropunk (Tamar-kali) Jazzrock (Mazzmuse,) Joan as Policewoman’s band featured Toshi Reagon, as did Tamar-kali’s, Folksoul with Gina Breedlove featuring Marcel D. Lashley, spoken word with Staceyann Chin and Climbing PoeTree. Holly Near and Cris Williamson’s sets were similarly complimented with vocals by Aleah Long, Tory Trujillo and Marcelle Lashley. Amy Ray, Team Dresch, Dorothy Allison, Dar Williams were all completely awe-inspiring. The performances were invigorating, inspiring, adventurous, intelligent and kickass. All this created by tireless, dedicated, inexplicably cheerful, consummately professional crews of women who do the impossible every year to make this festival run.
I didn’t perform a show of my own this year, but went as a utilitarian player: vocals, cajon, congas, percussion, and guitar with Gina Breedlove, Cris Williamson, Mary Gauthier, Medusa, Alyson Palmer’s yearly review: the Chixlix Band. The most moving by far was the singular honor of stepping out onto the catwalk stage first to open the festival’s opening ceremony with solo shekere.
For much of my musical career, i have worked in the traditional music industry, able to steal away to the odd women’s music event, occasionally recording, but I’ve sometimes felt like a bystander in this powerful movement, though I have been a small part of it since it’s inception. I cannot adequately convey the exhilaration and gratitude at being included in the opening invocation by Judith Casselberry.
The emotional highs of this festival have always presented the greatest lure for me: I am surrounded by women musicians of the highest caliber, women who have dedicated their lives to making art that matters, to social justice and righteousness, to beauty and truth and love. For a scant 6 days, we have the breathtaking, glorious, deeply humbling experience of creating music with, about, and for other women. The thing that connects us all, whether lesbian, straight or bi, mothers, children, aunts, grandmothers, single or coupled is that our shared reality is filtered through the fact of our being women. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this particular festival has been it’s commitment to making a space for and vigorously encouraging the most concentrated creative collaboration of our collective voices. Once at the festival, performing ad hoc, impromptu, or even entire sets of music with each other on the fly isn’t unusual. I sat in with Amy Ray and her band on cajon, played a little shekere with Sista’s, rehearsed and performed an entire set with Mazzmuse on percussion and improvised shekere with Kate Rigg while she blew a Michfest-based freestyle from words shouted by the crowd that included ‘labia’ and ‘kerfuffle’ (thanks to Melissa York) which she masterfully rhymed.
Generally this means my festival experience is waking at 7am grabbing a quick bite and coffee before rushing to a sound check to set up my gear, running from rehearsal tent to stage to the tech trailer to print out lyrics or charts to another stage, grabbing my show clothes on the way, setting up and breaking down multiple items of percussion and guitar effects so they can be ferried from from place to place with the masterful assistance of Dani Hope, “Tibbs” and Rae Fehring, who pulled double duty as rehearsal tent manager and Chix background vocalist, a quick shower, maybe some food, more shows, last minute instructions, “hey would you play on this tune?” more shows, and, finally, after the last show of the night wraps around midnight, a moment to chill a bit, eat and visit, maybe shaking off the energy dancing to DJ Rimarkable before falling out at 2am, ready to repeat the next day.
Moments that stand out: Amy Ray and I headbanging, hunched over my cajon, the sexyhot vocal solo I did about an inch from Medusa, while stroking her tummy with my free hand (uh-huh you wish you were there,) sobbing to Dar Williams’ “When I Was a Boy,” Rae blowing us all away at rehearsal singing for me while I rested my overworked vocal chords and pulling her out of the chorus to sing with me for the actual performance, watching woman after woman stand while I sang “America the Beautiful” reaffirming that this is OUR country, watching in awe as Toshi preached, captivated and fired up the entire audience, exhorting them to reach down into themselves and work for freedom, to vote and make their voices heard, to never, ever, give up.
One of my favorite incidents came about as a result of a competition KC the lighting designer started, to see which of the 3 omnipresent players (Julie Wolf, Melissa York or myself) would make the most night stage appearances. I think to help my tally, Shelley Doty asked me to come play shekere with Ubaka Hill on their last tune. As the song was about to end, Melissa York, in a bald attempt to keep her position in the competition, skipped onstage hitting a woodblock, We grabbed each other, laughing hysterically, then in tandem, realized that Julie Wolf, not to be outddone, had snuck onto the drum riser, banging a floor tom.
For the first year ever, I won the tally in the end. I hope to have many more opportunities to compete with two of my favorite musicians ever, with the most mind-blowing acts in the women’s yearly “Brigadoon.”
Vicki Randle – vocalist, percussionist, guitarist and songwriter has been a ubiquitous presence in the American musical landscape for over 30 years, whether Rock, Jazz, Pop, R&B or Americana. 18 years lead singer and percussionist of the acclaimed Tonight Show Band led first by Branford Marsalis, then Kevin Eubanks. It’s a good bet you own a CD that she is credited on, have seen a video or concert she was featured in, seen a film, TV show or commercial that features her voice (California Raisins, for example.) The list of credits is impressive: She has performed with Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Al Green, Angelique Kidjo and Vince Gill. Recordings include lead vocals for Herbie Hancock and a duet with George Benson, background vocals with Aretha Franklin and Todd Rundgren. Touring (lead and background vocals and variously percussion, guitar, bass, keyboards and harmonica,) with Kenny Loggins, Lionel Ritchie, Dr. John, Wayne Shorter, Laura Nyro. Her CD “Sleep City” was released in 2007 and she is currently touring with Mavis Staples in concert with Bonnie Raitt this summer.