Music does not care about age, race, culture or religion. It does not care what others think of you; it does not judge. Music surpasses language; it bridges societal gaps to enable communal bonds. These are some of the women making a difference not only in Colorado, but in schools, camps, festivals, workshops and communities around the world.
Emma Back is a Naropa-trained vocalist, fiddler and looping artist. Back is the owner of She Sings Out Loud, a women’s empowerment workshop that teaches stage presence, music technology, songwriting and vocal training.
“We need to change the way men and women communicate in the industry,” Back said. “Simple education is missing in the music industry for women to feel badass… Men and women need to be willing to honor and educate each other when there’s a lack of knowledge.”
Steph Schwartz is a yoga and Kirtan teacher from Boulder, Colo. Schwartz uses Kirtan, a type of Sanskrit call-and-response style singing, in her classes, allowing students to tune in with their bodies and breath to create a communal atmosphere. Scientific studies have shown that choirs who sing together sync their breathing and, in effect, their heart rates. The same can hold true for those who practice yoga or Kirtan together.
Schwartz says yoga and Kirtan can help create community; they can remove socially imposed and limiting labels.
“You can’t do yoga and fix world hunger or make men and women equal, but… you may be more willing to give to others.”
Chela Lujan and Desirae Garcia of The Haunted Windchimes
The Haunted Windchimes is a family-based unit of folk songsters from Pueblo, Colo. who balance their Prairie Home Companion roots with the modern day financial realities of “appeasing the hipsters.” The foursome plays “cowboy bars” and festivals around the United States. From South Carolina to Alaska, the band’s banjo-laden acoustic sound is gaining traction.
“Whenever I’m writing songs, I just have to realize that if I’m honest with myself, then there are people feeling the same way. Those are my people!” band member Chela Lujan said.
Kato Kronen of Kronen
Kronen is a Boulder, Colo.-bred experimental electronic rock group formed by brother-sister duo Caleb and Kato Kronen.
“Men are just in awe that you’re a drummer rather than even thinking of your musical talent. Women get caught up in that as well,” the band’s drummer, Kato Kronen, says of herself.
“I understand that it’s pretty rare to be a female musician in the electronic world unless you’re just doing vocals… I feel like I have a lot of control over what I want to happen because of its rarity. I have a lot of responsibility too to bring many women into the music industry and make a good role model out of myself.”
Esme Patterson recorded her album Woman to Woman live in a day to “capture a feeling of urgency and energy.” Woman to Woman was meant to feel raw and unpolished, explains Patterson. In taking classically “untouchable songs” written by men about women off their pedestals, reexamining them from a different lens, and allowing their new perspectives to feel “casual” enough for conversation, Patterson says she never had one intended goal for her work.
Artistic expression as a songwriter and performer involves a “double edged sword” of vulnerability and courage, Patterson explains. “You have to look at everything: the good and the bad. You have to drag all of it out and leave it on the dining room table for everyone to look at with humility and humor. You also have to believe in the value of it, to present it night after night. It’s an interesting dance to learn.”
Danielle Ate the Sandwich
Danielle Anderson (Danielle Ate the Sandwich) is an indie folk artist and ukulele player from Fort Collins, Colo. Originally gaining popularity through YouTube, Anderson currently tours the United States and says she’s inspired by death and frustrating familial relationships. Anderson is also working on the score for the documentary project Packed in a Trunk and releasing a new album next January.
“I think of myself as a woman. I don’t think that I have to say something as a woman; just as a human,” Anderson said.
“I rarely feel like I deserve to do whatever I want, but I do deserve to take credit. That might be because I’m a woman and I’m a sensitive soul. I have these fantasies of being the most in-control 40-year-old you’ve ever seen. I’m going to ride so many motorcycles!”
Kris Drickey of Chimney Choir
Chimney Choir is a five-piece “genre-bending” folk rock band from Denver. Having just completed a crowdfunding effort to release a new studio album, the band is also scoring the soundtrack for a full-length documentary about Colorado sheepherders called Sage Country, and creating a ballet for Denver’s Wonderbound entitled “Boomtown.”
Chimney Choir’s sole female member and instrumentalist Kris Drickey says it “trips people up” when she doesn’t meet their expectations of being front and center as the band’s vocalist. Despite some audience members’ failed expectations, Drickey says she loves her role in the band.
Drickey says the band is “always in conversation of staying musically connected to each other” and to their audience.
“The best thing to see is when someone gives their whole self to a performance and doesn’t lose their center.”
Alyssa Overby, Rachel Overby and Danah Olivetree of Spirits of the Red City
Spirits of the Red City is not a band; it is a collective. Stitched together by melodic mastery, member hails from a different musical background: jazz-fed youths, Juilliard-trained orchestral members; classical, professional, and just-for-fun guitarists, bassists, brass, and woodwind players. Each of the eight Spirits is a vocalist.
The collective assembles throughout the year to tour around the country, selling out art venues by candlelight. One need only experience a live event or chat with the musicians to understand the group’s unique and collective magnetism.
Spirit cellist Danah Olivetree moved to Boulder, Colo. in September 2014. “The music community here is definitely more supportive and integrated than pretty much anywhere else,” she said. “The scene does allow women to be awesome. It’s not a scene that asks you to prove anything.
“How you hold yourself has a lot to do with how you’re treated in any circumstance,” Spirit vocalist Alyssa Overby said. “The awareness you have of your position and not really caring if people are judging you because you’re a woman… You have to not think about that and not give that power anymore. It’s hard, but we’re the change. We’re the next generation.”
Sarah Slater, founder of Titwrench Festival
Titwrench Festival is an interdisciplinary, experimental music and arts festival. Started by Denver’s Sarah Slater in 2009, the festival incorporates music, multimedia art performances and technical workshops. Due to financial restraints, the festival is currently on hiatus in Colorado, but its community is as dedicated as ever. Titwrench’s sister festival in Stockholm, Sweden is running two years-strong and festival founder Sarah Slater hopes to expand efforts to Mexico City in the near future.
“We’re featuring more experimental and avant-garde artists that aren’t included at most music festivals. There aren’t as many platforms or spaces for music that’s different,” Slater said. Titwrench fosters new connections and creates community in a world where women are pitted against each other, said Slater. “It’s a powerful experience to be part of a festival with a mission to change the world.”
Kate Lesta, founder of Communikey
Kate Lesta is the founder and creative director of Communikey, an interdisciplinary arts and culture organization in Boulder, Colo. Communikey Festival, which runs every spring in Boulder, was started to “push the boundaries.”
“We wanted to create bridges between our community here and communities internationally; between different scenes and types of music,” Lesta said.
Lesta credits her “creative, entrepreneurial” mother for the approach she takes in life. “I didn’t go into my young adulthood wanting to create things in the world, feeling like I had to fight to be a woman. To me the future of women being empowered in day to day life is to know from the beginning that all humans are created equal,” Lesta said. “The ultimate purpose of bringing the greater understanding of human nature through my work is to completely foster equality.”