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Boys club bust-up 

Six musicians talk business, banjos, barriers.

click to enlarge KATRICE "BUTTERFLY" NEWBILL - JOSHUA ASANTE
  • Joshua Asante
  • KATRICE "BUTTERFLY" NEWBILL

We caught up with six Little Rock musicians to talk about their projects and to talk candidly about the barriers they've encountered as women making music in Central Arkansas. Below, you'll read observations from Tracey Gregory, bass player for the heavy rock band Tempus Terra; Barbara Raney, longtime vocalist with The Greasy Greens and "Beaker Street" radio staple; velvet-voiced songwriter and guitarist Jamie Lou Connolly; Katrice "Butterfly" Newbill, a Hurricane Katrina transplant and a dynamite contralto reggae/soul performer; Cindy Woolf, vocalist and banjoist for The Creek Rocks and The Wildflower Revue; and Tatiana Roitman, concert pianist and mastermind behind the New Deal Salon performance series.

What obstacles have you come across trying to make music and art in Central Arkansas?

Jamie Lou Connolly: It seems like the obstacles I had when I started playing and booking have, luckily, changed in the last two years. I would usually have to have other men book for me or get me in the door to venues or lineups. I'm not sure if it's because of our social climate changing and becoming more empowering for women or if it just took that long to prove myself. The biggest obstacle, though, is that I am a working mother. I constantly feel guilty for pursuing a professional music career, which involves a lot of time and touring to be successful. It's not just Arkansas; it's the whole music business that says it's OK to be a father and on the road, but not a mother.

Cindy Woolf: I can't really think of any obstacles specific to making music in Central Arkansas. ... I'm pretty much in love with the place, and I feel very welcome here. I can, however, relate a few obstacles that I am often faced with in general, trying to make music as a woman. A lot of times when we play at a new venue my banjo will end up way low in the mix, as if it were not essential to the music. This can be a big problem for The Creek Rocks since lots of our songs are driven by the melodies that I play. I often have to prove that my banjo is more than a prop by pulling out a Doug Dillard tune or something at the top of the set, to send the message: "Yes, I am a musician and not just a piece of stage decoration." We also run into men who are uncomfortable doing business with me, and choose to communicate with my husband instead, although I handle most of the booking and road managing. It creates a pretty comical scene when some old dude keeps addressing questions to Mark, even though I'm standing right there and am clearly the one on top of the details.

click to enlarge CINDY WOOLF - SCOTT PETERSON
  • Scott Peterson
  • CINDY WOOLF

Tatiana Roitman: I have been very fortunate to find like-minded collaborators in Lee [Weber] and John [Hardy], the owners of the New Deal Studios and Gallery. They respect my expertise and my unique cultural background and view these as an asset to their enterprise. In turn, I admire John's and Lee's vision for their endeavor and want to do everything I can to help them realize it.

In today's climate of divisiveness, in order for the arts and the artists to survive and hopefully thrive, I feel it's absolutely necessary for the communities everywhere, including in Arkansas, not to be afraid of "the other" — of a different skin color, dress or an accent and tone of voice. As artists we are inherently different; we come from a great variety of backgrounds and see and hear the world in unique ways, which in turn make us stand out from the crowd and from the rest of the world.

It is easy to understand the tendencies of people in small, close-knit communities to stay together, to protect their ways and to reject everything that is foreign or different. I just hope that sometimes when we see a stranger, we can overcome our fears, and are reminded that at one point we were all "strangers in a strange land." Perhaps maybe, just maybe, if we opened our doors and our eyes, we might see our commonality, someone simply looking to make a home, to make a difference and to share their gifts with us.

Tracey Gregory: I would have to say the biggest obstacle I've had to face as a female musician would be finding the right people to collaborate with. Building a band isn't just about one's musical abilities, but also finding people you get along with. Everyone has to pull their own weight while contributing and having the same aspirations. It takes grit to write and perform music; I'm lucky I found some great guys to play with.

click to enlarge BARBARA RANEY - MATT WHITE
  • Matt White
  • BARBARA RANEY

Barbara Raney: At first I thought I didn't have anything to contribute to this subject. Then, at The [Greasy] Greens Reunion concert, I was reminded of a time when we put together a small band with me as vocalist and auditioned to be the house band at a well-known country music club. It was good pay, and a steady gig, and a lot of bands were interested. We got the gig, but when our representative went out to seal the deal, he was informed that they thought we were great, but that the owner's wife didn't want a band with a girl singer playing there. I had completely forgotten about that. The truth is, the biggest obstacles I have encountered in my musical journey have been those of my own making; lack of confidence, lack of music business knowledge and lack of initiative.

Katrice Newbill: Let's bring music back to our parks, festivals and also have budgets to pay artists what they're worth. I'd like to send a shout out to [Sticky Fingerz co-owner] Chris King for giving me a regular platform. Singing is therapy for me, music is love and it's a beautiful thing when it comes together, but the business must be handled correctly, with good business practices and ethics and done with a spirit of excellence. I grew up in New Orleans and the reason it's such a vibrant place is because of the culture and the music. I believe Little Rock has the same potential to thrive.

What musical project are you working on right now?

Katrice Newbill: I haven't recorded since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, when I relocated to Little Rock to start my journey and life over, and it's long overdue. I am currently writing, preparing to record and have some awesome artists I have worked with and looking forward to incorporating them on my project. I will also be working on a project that involves youth and the arts providing a platform, venues and really giving our young people not only culture, but something positive, creative with a favorable outcome and opportunity. ... In the meantime, I'll continue to spread love and if you'd like to see what I do, me and my band will be at Cajun's Wharf at 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30.

click to enlarge TRACEY GREGORY - ASHLEY BYMERS
  • Ashley Bymers
  • TRACEY GREGORY

Tracey Gregory: Currently, our band Tempus Terra is working on finishing our [debut] album. We plan to record and have it out by early 2018.

Jamie Lou Connolly: Our band released "Femi-Socialite" in April 2017 with Blue Chair Studio. We are still promoting that record and plan to release a music video for [title track] "Femi-Socialite" before the year ends, and we are writing material for a full-length album to be released in the fall of 2018.

click to enlarge JAMIE LOU CONNOLLY - AMBER LANE
  • Amber Lane
  • JAMIE LOU CONNOLLY

Barbara Raney: As far as my current projects go, I am seeking gigs with my ukulele and am rehearsing with the Arkansas Choral Society for our upcoming performance of Handel's "Messiah." The concert will be our 87th annual presentation, Friday, Dec. 1, 6:30 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church, 5700 Cantrell Road.

Tatiana Roitman: The New Deal Salon is a concert series that takes place at the New Deal Studios and Galleries, owned by Lee Weber and John Hardy, conceived as a "salon" — classical music performance in an intimate setting, combined with an art exhibit and accompanied by good wine and hors d'oeuvres. As its artistic director, I hope to increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation and "either to please or to educate." The series has become a favorite with the SOMA residents and Little Rock music fans of all ages. Just this past season, our eclectic programming, featuring instrumentalists and singers, included works by Witold Lutoslawski, Peter Schickele, Bela Bartok, John Williams, as well as Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johannes Brahms. Our long-term goal is for the New Deal Salon to become a nonprofit that can provide unique educational opportunities for those forgotten by the society.

click to enlarge TATIANA ROITMAN
  • TATIANA ROITMAN

Cindy Woolf: My main project is The Creek Rocks, a folk music band led by the duo of my husband, Mark Bilyeu, and myself. Our debut CD is called "Wolf Hunter." The title is an amalgam of the names of the two folklorists whose collections provided the raw materials for the songs on the album: John Quincy Wolf of Batesville, where I spent my formative years, and Max Hunter of Springfield, Mo., Mark's hometown. We've been running around playing these traditional Ozarks songs for the past two years, and it has been a lot of fun. We have decided to continue with this theme for at least one more record, and are currently going through the Mary Celestia Parler Collection, which lives at the University of Arkansas. We hope to begin recording "Pretty Parler Songs" by the end of the year.

We've been driving around in our truck with our two beagles, Paw Paw and Persimmon. Our radio doesn't work, so we've been writing songs about our dogs while we travel. We have about 15 pretty good ones now, so we are just about ready to record our first kids' album. Beagle songs for kids!

I also play with The Wildflower Revue with fellow sister singer-songwriters Amy Garland Angel and Mandy McBryde. I'm honored to be a part of it and I absolutely love singing with them. There is a lot of love and respect among everyone involved, in no small part because they are really fantastic people making really fantastic music. The sky's the limit for this group.


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