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Lady Leaders 

Chicks with Picks celebrates women in music


When viewing my playlist, concert ticket stubs and vinyl records, several themes come into play, but the most prominent trend is my affinity for strong, female musicians. I've been known to listen to Brandi Carlile, album after album, to no discernable end. Imagine my excitement, then, for the upcoming Chicks with Picks event, which features three local female-fronted bands.

Now in its fifth year, Chicks with Picks celebrates women musicians in our community and raises funds for Saving Grace. Over the past four years, the event has raised more than $5,000 for the local nonprofit. Saving Grace provides comprehensive services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors throughout Central Oregon each year.

This year, Chicks with Picks includes performances from Kim Kelley and Friends, Tone Red and Broken Down Guitars, along with a special performance from all of the women, appropriately dubbed The Vagina Band.

Since the event's inception, Broken Down Guitars, who won Central Oregon's Last Band Standing title in 2012, has claimed a spot in the lineup every year. Included in the band's lineup are two female musicians—Stacie Johnson and Lilli Forbes, who first met at the inaugural Chicks with Picks event in 2009 while rehearsing for the all-women performance. Johnson already fronted Broken Down Guitars, and, at the time, Forbes was part of a local band called The Royal Fiasco. Initially, the Broken Down Guitars was looking just to spice their blues jams with Forbes' violin. But Forbes had some ideas of her own; namely, she wanted to sing.

"We wrote a song together and realized how amazing that portion of it was, too," Johnson recalls. "It's really special, the connection me and Lilli have. We feed off of each other. Singer-songwriters have a certain thing, but bands have this whole other magic to them. It's inspiring more than anything."

Broken Down Guitars have a very collaborative process for creating their songs. Everyone writes and has his or her own style, but the creative process differs for the men and women in the band. For Johnson and Forbes, they bring a song or a riff into the band's space and eagerly anticipate the input from everyone in order to integrate it into the song. Generally, Johnson says the men are more exact in what they want a bass line or a drumbeat to sound like.

"I've learned a lot over the years in being a leader," Johnson says of being a woman in music. "And leading the men in the band, too. That's definitely challenging and people typically look to the guys thinking they're the leaders."

Johnson cites Janis Joplin and Sheryl Crow as two of her biggest musical influences. She began listening to Crow in high school and admired her for being a strong female lead that also played guitar.

"Oh wow, I thought. Look at her – she's a songwriter, she plays the guitar like a maniac, she's beautiful, she's strong. And the songs she was writing were not little whiney girl songs. They're super empowering, super emotional with a lot of sentiment."

Of the Chicks with Picks Vagina Band performance, Johnson feels that people come away having more confidence in women in music. All of the women choose the songs together and rehearse for a month and a half before the gig. This year, they'll perform three songs that span the musical preferences of the group, including a rendition of "Lady Marmalade."

"They see all of those ladies up there together and it's a reminder that when we get together we can make something truly amazing."

Chicks with Picks

7 pm. Saturday, Feb. 14.

Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr. $8.


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