A few years back, I was approached by a publisher with a blank pagination for a new magazine. The only information he had was the page count and the title, Women Who Rock. He dropped it in front of me and told me to fill up the pages. “I don’t know what you want to do with this,” he said, “but this is what we’re calling it and we think it’ll be a cool idea.”
SISTERHOOD: Pacitto and Melisi of Lolita Black.
I, and many of the magazine’s early readers — we nearly reached 100,000 before folding after two years — were excited but conflicted about the concept. Yeah, it was a good idea. Women, serious musicians, rarely get the coverage they deserve. Yet by separating them from the men in music, it smacked of sexist segregation. Wasn’t that saying the boys’ club of rock had won? Yes and no. The fact is “women who rock,” the kind who can sing and play all by themselves and don’t rely on their physiology for attention, don’t get covered in major mags. So if we didn’t give them ink, no one would. You either play the game or you’ll have no game at all.
Our local version of Women Who Rock is called “The Women of Providence Rock Festival” — it’s the title of a one-night-only show with some of Providence’s best bands that happen to feature women. That list includes the Midnight Creeps, Made in Mexico, and the Set of Red Things, among others. Not only do these bands feature women, they also provide an accurate cross-section of the diversity of the music scene around here.
“It’s not a separation as much as it is a celebration,” says Kaleigh Melisi of Lolita Black. “We have a great scene here in Providence and a large part of it comes from the contributions of women. That’s rare, especially in rock, which is a male-dominated sport.”
Jessika Pacitto sings and writes lyrics for Lolita Black. “The festival is intended to bring the community together. There are a lot of women in bands around here and we wanted to make people aware of it,” she says.
Melisi, 20, drums for the band, while Pacitto sings as founder Bob Otis (Dropdead) growls on guitar. “When you play with girls it’s more comfortable in some ways,” says Hilary Jones, Sweet Thieves bass player and a former member of Electra Complex, an all-girl trio. “There’s not as much pressure. Sometimes you get ego issues with guys — not in my current band — and with women you don’t get that as much. They just want to play music.”
Providence undoubtedly has more than its share of estrogen carrying the musical load, a preponderance of independent women who don’t care to play by the rules. It’s one of the main reasons the underground scene in town has thrived. “Girls get discouraged when they go into guitar stores,” says Jones. “A girlfriend of mine went into one and the guy said to her, ‘Are you looking for something for your boyfriend?’ There’s not a lot of encouragement for girls so they end up learning much later.”