I recently wrote a post for the Huffington Post about my experience at MEOW Con, a conference for women in the music industry. If you haven't read that yet, please read it here. MEOW Con was amazing, and I really didn't feel I could say everything I wanted to say about some of the women who spoke and performed there. So I want to GO DEEPER (like the title of the post. Get it?) into some of my experiences at this conference.
I really enjoyed the panel "Brittany To Miley: Why Do Good Girls Go Bad?" Miley has been a topic of conversation among my friends quite a bit lately. It was interesting to hear what women in the industry had to say. Journalist MaChelle Duma LaVassar was the panel moderator (watch this video); On the panel were Inch Chua, a musician and artist from Singapore, Punk Rock legend Betty X, and 13-year-old phenom Grace London. It was really interesting to hear these women who all have music careers that rely on their otherness, their "different" personalities, and their rebelliousness (imagine being a rocker girl in Singapore!) talk about why Miley does what she does. One thing they brought up is Miley's status as a corporation: she supports dozens of employees, and as long as she keeps the checks coming, none of them are not going to stand up to her and tell her she's making bad decisions. We also spoke about how middle-aged rapper Robin Thicke took no blame for twirking with Miley, while she herself was called a "slut" (a word I hate and will not apply to any young woman). Ma'Chelle spoke about the packaging of young women artists, and how they must be made to fit into categories like "slut," "diva," "hot mess" (Brittany), or "ingenue." It was a pretty amazing panel.
Betty X. She's so amazing.
During the panel Betty X pointed out that Grace London's mom was sitting in the audience. Mom was asked about her feelings concerning Grace's career and talent. Her answer explains why Grace has had the chance to become such an amazing musician while remaining a teenaged girl: mom said "I just want her to be passionate about something. if it was sewing, I'd want her to sew the best she could. But it was music."
Betty X performs.
One of the ideas that came up again and again was the frustration of women trying to take the conventional route to fame in music: where are the female headliners at music festivals? Why is Suzi Quatro not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Why were the GoGos the only self-contained all female Rock band to ever have a number one radio hit? A lot of this discussion was met with talk of alternative marketing, Internet presence and downloading, and success stories of women like Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos and Amanda Palmer, who all went about their careers without having "hit" songs. But in the panel discussion "Women, Music, Mental Health and Trauma," I heard many women express their frustration at not being accepted as players because they are female. As a man who has been in bands with women throughout my career, I can feel these women's pain, and I fail to understand why men would not accept a woman who plays well: I love working with women who can play well!
I want to highlight some of the amazing performers who showcased at this conference. There were so many that it's hard to know where to start, but there are some that really made an impression on me, so I'd like to show them to you.
Let's start with Grace London. It's hard for me to say how impressed I was with her performance. She is an amazing songwriter, and an amazing interpreter of other peoples' songs (I heard her do a Velvet Underground cover, and there's a great video up of her doing Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang). She can play her ass off, her singing is to die for, and she exudes confidence on stage. And in case you didn't catch this in the paragraph above, she's 13 years old. Here's some video I did not post in the HuffPost piece:
Grace spent a year in Los Angeles: many of you know I lived there for several years. She wrote this song about the experience, and I could not have written a better song (I tried: my song/beat poem Love Letter To New York From A Bar In Los Angeles. Grace's song is better).
And as if all of that were not impressive enough, Grace is donating all proceeds from her EP, Rocketship Girl, to a charity that is digging wells for villages in Africa. Se has raised more than $20,000 for this project. OK, moving on...
Alyse Black really impressed me as well. I wish I could find a better video of B-17 Bomber Girl. She introduced the song by saying that as a teen, she felt she had an ugly body (and you should see this woman!! Hoo doggy, as they say...). But she explained that she stopped looking at Glamor and Seventeen, and started looking at pin-up girls, like those on the nose art of WWII bombers. So people began calling her B-17 Bomber Girl, a name she embraced. This story of a girl coming to terms with her body issues really touched me (remember that I do pin-up photography). But I just can't find a good video of the song, and it does not seem to be available for download on iTunes (many of her other songs are). So we'll watch this:
OK, here's a terrible video of B-17 Bomber Girl, with crowd noise and bad camera angles. I still love the song:
I had an OMG!!!!!! moment during the "Songwriting: Beyond The Love Song" panel when Sara Hickman, who had seen me play fiddle the evening before, interrupted the panel to tell me I'm great. Sara Hickman, in case you don't know, is the State Musician of Texas. She's an amazing singer and songwriter, and I've loved her stuff for ages. I will gloat over this for a very long time.
OK.... gloating done. Interesting fact: about a month ago or so I began watching Life Unexpected on Netflix from the first episode. Not only does the plot appeal to me (a man who does not even know he's a parent suddenly gets custody of his 15 year old child), but I also love the theme song. In the vey same panel as Sara Hickman there sat Rain Perry, who wrote the song! Of course we are now Facebook friends.
Ok, actually, still gloating...
Check out this video of Inch Chua. Her artwork is also amazing. She hand makes each CD cover---I mean hand makes the cardboard cover, paints it, creates the screen for printing it. Now do NOT go expecting that from me!
The final show of MEOW Con was the Bluebonnets, the current project of Kathy Valentine of the Go Gos. Kathy did one of the two key note speeches (the other was Rock legend Suzi Quatro). She spoke about her inspiration for playing guitar (London rocker girls), how she almost ended up in the band Girlschool, and her years with the Go Gos. She posed the question, why are there no female bands equivalent to Greenday or Aerosmith? (I'm kind of glad there aren't...). Then she played with her new band...
I have a bad crush on their guitarist, Eve Monsees (at right on your screen). Don't tell Lauren.
I want you to check out these MEOW Con performers too: Daisy O'Connor who is adorable and talented. She and I hung out together quite a bit and spoke about stage presentation and image; Abbie Bosworth, talented teen singer-songwriter; Jo Wymer, who has an amazing voice and stage presence, and who allowed me to perform with her; My dear friends Ginger Doss and Lynda Millard; and the woman who brought me all the way to Austin for MEOW Con, Sheryl Diane. Also look into June Millington's project the Institute for the Musical Arts. June Millington is a legendary grandmother of Rock, and she runs a music camp for girls. She shared with us that the spirits told her she had to nurture girl musicians, and so she opened this camp. They need some help with finances at the moment, so check them out and give what you can.
Speaking of girl rockers, I leave you with a huge dose of cuteness and talent: Starflight, sisters who rock (just like June and Jean Millinton in the '60s). And don't let the cuteness fool you. These girls can play their hind ends off!
From MEOW Conference in Austin Texas, this is Kenny Klein, explaining it all.
Update the day after writing this: apparently the organizer of MEOW Con, Carla DeSantis Black, finds herself financially struggling to present a MEOW Con 2014. Here is an email where you can help put a little something into a virtual tip jar. Or visit the MEOW Con site to help. She's also looking for ideas about who might be interested in sponsoring the conference (there is a list of current sponsors on the site). Thanks!!