CMNW Council

Q&A: Kristen Grainger and She’s Speaking give voice to women musicians

Born of the pandemic and the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the group of eight singer/songwriters begins a four-city tour March 18 in Lincoln City.

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Kristen Grainger, pictured with her husband and bandmate Dan Wetzel, says streaming algorithms recommend male voice 75 percent of the time. She’s Speaking aims to change the balance.
Kristen Grainger, pictured with her husband and bandmate Dan Wetzel, says streaming algorithms recommend male voices 75 percent of the time. She’s Speaking aims to change the balance.

This month when the She’s Speaking group of eight women singer/songwriters hits the road to celebrate Women’s History Month, group co-founder Kristen Grainger suspects they’ll be making a bit of Oregon history as the first musical event of its kind. Whether that’s technically true isn’t clear, but there’s no doubt, this is a one-of-a-kind gig with four – possibly more to come – concerts in Lincoln City, Salem, Portland, and Ilwaco, Wash.

Grainger lives in Salem and is the vocalist and songwriter with the Americana quartet True North.  The other women in the tour that begins March 18 are Bre Gregg, Beth Wood, Naomi LaViolette, Arietta Ward, Liz Chibucos, LaRhonda Steele, and Lisa Mann.

We talked to Grainger about the group’s mission to “create platforms where women’s voices and artistry can be heard by all people.”  Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.

How did She’s Speaking come to be?

Grainger: Think back to October 2020, when we’d been shut down for a while. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had just died. She was the voice of reason and smarts, and when she passed away a lot of us reached out to each other. We thought, Oh my God, what’s next? Bre Gregg, Beth Wood, and I said we’ve got to do something.

About that time, too, we were getting news confirming what we’d suspected for a while, which was that streaming algorithms like Spotify were recommending male voices 75 percent of the time. We couldn’t do live concerts, so the safest thing was we would establish our own YouTube channel.

We asked women singer/songwriters we know to write a song about a woman who inspired them. Seventy women made iPhone videos of songs they had written. They wrote about mom, grandmothers, Georgia O’Keeffe, Kate Brown, Jane Goodall, Kamala Harris, RBG, and all kinds of people. That was the debut of She’s Speaking.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

The eight women in the She’s Speaking Live! tour will perform in Lincoln City, Salem, Portland, and Ilwaco, Wash.

What’s the story behind the name?

We were all watching the vice-presidential debates, when Kamala Harris was debating Mike Pence and he kept interrupting her. Whenever he would come over the top of her, she would raise her hand and say, “I’m speaking.” And it would just stop him cold. It was a very classy move on her part. To have the presence of mind in that situation to raise your hand and say, “I’m speaking” — it was a killer move. We all noticed and were inspired and thrilled. She was able to be assertive and respectfully so in a way he recognized. We thought this would be a great way to honor that moment.

So, you start out with videos made while isolating at home on iPhones propped on books or tripods or whatever was handy, and then?

That was in November/December. It started out like 50 to 60 songs and is up to about 70. When streaming platforms became more accessible and reliable, we had concerts. We had a live-stream Mother’s Day concert online with artists from Texas, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Washington…. We shared songs we’d written about moms, grandmothers, sisters, etc. Then, wherever we were, we would perform for an internet audience; we were tiptoeing closer to being able to perform in person.

When did you finally get to take it live?

The first live, in-person concert was in November 2021 at the Alberta Rose Theatre in Portland. It was eight women singer/songwriters from all musical genres — jazz, funk, blues, folk, you name it. We had this robust, great group. We only had a couple rehearsals, but on stage it all came together in this wonderful high-energy, joyful, uplifting thing. The backup band is really good. It was a jamming show. We felt connected to each other and the audience, even though we couldn’t be physically connected. At the end, they were all on their feet, dancing in the aisles. Everyone was so relieved and happy to hear live music and these great songs.

The first concert in the coming tour kicks off March 18 at the Lincoln City Cultural Center. What can people expect?

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini

When people come see us, they are going to feel lifted up, they’re going to laugh, maybe get tears in their eyes, and they’re going to hear some excellent music. These women are celebrated in their own genres and have their own tours and schedules, but they are coming together on one stage for Women’s History Month and creating a platform where women’s voices and stories can be heard. People are going to see a high-energy, great show that leaves them feeling really energized.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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