Four rockin’ women converge on the Benedum
Birds do it, bees do it, even men do it. So why don’t women gather in groups and … sing together?
“I don’t think women do it as much,” says Shawn Colvin, who will join Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Griffin and Dar Williams for an evening of acoustic music Monday at the Benedum Center. “I don’t know why that is.”
Could it be women are still – even in the 21st century – less than equal partners in pop musicâ¢ Colvin says that’s the obvious explanation.
“To a certain extent, popular music, or rock ‘n’ roll … as we know it is sort of a boy’s club,” she says. “I always look at it – when it’s a bunch of men, it’s a boy’s club mentality, and when it’s a bunch of women, it’s a beauty-contest mentality. And the beauty-contest mentality is that it’s competitive and there’s only one winner. You have to fight that, because it’s stupid. We don’t feel that way.”
Colvin says Carpenter came up with the idea for the tour, asking why four women couldn’t do what performers such as Joe Ely, John Hiatt, Guy Clark and Lyle Lovett have done on occasion: Sit onstage together and join in each other’s songs.
“Part of the fun is the contrast of the artists, and just the rapport between artists, which you obviously don’t get to see when they do their own shows,” Colvin says.
There were no rehearsals before the quartet played its first show at Penn State in State College earlier this month. Colvin says she only had to bone up on Williams’ catalog of songs – she’s long been a fan of Carpenter and Griffin – and that she’s been thrilled when her cohorts join in on her songs, which have varied in each of the first three shows.
“I don’t want to play the same five songs every night,” says Colvin, adding that she’s been adjusting on the fly depending upon the songs that precede her turn. “If you have a song that’s super slow before your turn, you don’t want to follow that with a slow song.”
Fortunately, Colvin has a deep catalog she can plunder for material. Since her 1989 debut “Steady On” – winner of a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album – she’s been able to maintain a successful career. In 1996, she won two more Grammys for the single “Sunny Came Home,” yet hers is hardly a high-profile career.
“I’m lucky because I’m established already,” she says. “The reason I have a career is because I built it slowly and have a fan base who are just going to listen to what I do. They’re not necessarily trend followers. But to be brand new right now, and over 30, I really wouldn’t want to be in that position.”
Age is as much a factor as sex, Colvin says, in determining which artists get radio airplay. Which is unfortunate, since many musicians don’t reach their creative peaks until their 30s, and even later. Certainly, jazz and blues musicians don’t have to deal with ageism.
But Wynton Marsalis and B.B. King don’t get airplay on pop radio, either.
“In a lot of ways, it’s harder now, and it keeps getting harder,” Colvin says. “Things happen in waves, and to some degree age seems even more important. Fortunately, you have people like Emmylou (Harris) and myself and Lucinda (Williams) who are out here who are viable and good.
“I think it’s true of actors, and I think it’s true of musicians,” she adds. “But we just love youth, and to some extent the music business and popular music is defined to a certain extent by youthful recklessness, and that’s very attractive. I think we’re learning in the last 10, 20 years, how artists can age and retain their credibility.”
Latest release: “Whole New You” (2001).
Notable: One of Colvin’s first breaks came playing guitar in a band that featured Nashville singer and songwriter Buddy Miller.
Essential tracks: “Sunny Came Home,” “Polaroids,” Steady On.”
More: www.shawncolvin.com .
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Latest release: “Time*Sex*Love” (2001).
Notable: Born in Princeton, N.J., Carpenter earned a bachelor’s degree in American Civilization from Brown University,
Essential tracks: “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.”
Latest release: “1000 Kisses,” (2002); next album, “Kiss in Time,” scheduled for release Oct. 14.
Notable: “1000 Kisses” was WYEP-FM’s pick as album of the year in 2002.
Essential tracks: “One Big Love,” “Making Pies,” “Moses.”
Latest release: “The Beauty of the Rain,” (2003).
Notable: Williams is the co-author of “The Tofu Tollbooth,” a guide to natural and organic food stores; her real name is Dorothy.
Essential tracks: “What Do You Love More Than Love,” “Are You Out There,” “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono.”
An Acoustic Evening
Who: With Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin and Dar Williams
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Admission: $45, $38.75.
Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.
Details: (412) 456-6666