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Wednesday, May 6, 2009 09:52 am

Having a GirlFest

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Thornhill

Before anyone gets too excited for the wrong reasons, let me explain what a GirlFest is in the context of this week’s column. Then getting a thrill from the upcoming event can happen without unnecessary guilt or misplaced desire in a perfectly acceptable, socially fair climate of sanctioned pleasure.

The seeds of GirlFest took root in 2007 at the Route 66 Mother Road Festival, where hot rod classic cars and a famed roadway are stars of the show with live music relegated to a fortunate sidelight. A Springfield-based organization called the Route 66 Film Commission decided to host a live music stage and invited local bands Mother’s Worry and Thornhill to perform. All the pieces fell into place when Springfield sound guru Ric Major supplied extra staging and sound gear to help out his longtime friend Tina Thornhill. The stage was a hit for music lovers, car enthusiasts and fans of Route 66 alike, and returned for an encore performance in 2008.

Major and the bands planned on donating time and talent to a 2009 festival appearance and were surprised when the new authorities in charge of the event declined the offer, preferring to concentrate the energy of the audience on the stages with acts booked by the sanctioned organization. By now highly engaged and thoroughly dedicated to the concept of hosting the event, those involved decided the show must go on and rented the Douglas Park band shell for May 9. And that brings us up to date on the tale of how GirlFest came to be the latest and possibly greatest, and definitely only, all-day music festival in central Illinois to host bands with predominantly, or at the bare minimum featuring, female members.

“We’re doing it for nothing other than the camaraderie of playing music together,” says Major. “I enjoy the music and watching the bands.”

The concert features Thornhill and Mother’s Worry, plus Eva Hunter Band, “a day and a wake up,” and Reel Channel Cats.

With three out of four bandmates as women, Thornhill plays some cool covers and mostly highlights Tina Thornhill’s voice and original songs. Mother’s Worry, a terrific cover band performing a wide range of pop material, claims four out of five members of the female persuasion. Hunter, the lone girl in her group, sings, plays guitar and writes her own material and has a new album coming out this summer. Amy Garwood, one of our area’s finest vocalists, covers the lead singing in “a day and a wake up” with Connie Carbonell on guitar, plus other merely male members and a female drummer in transition filling out the mostly original rock band. Mindy Bumgarner sings and plays banjo and steel drums (what a combo) as the only gal in the bluegrass-rooted Reel Channel Cats.

Major and I have hung around the central Illinois music scene for roughly the same amount of years, which is long enough (oh, yeah) to know several groups with female vocalists, or “chick singers” as the wise guys like to say, but not so many with women instrumentalists. We both happily observed a definite increase in the number of women playing instruments over the years and thought of longtime players Jane Hartman, Sally Weisenburg and Christy Bley.

“We’re planning on making GirlFest into an annual event,” says Major. “There are lots of other bands and musicians that could be part of the concert.”

Well now, who would you like to see perform at next year’s GirfFest?

Experience GirlFest, sponsored by Middle Option Music, Saturday, May 9, 1 to 8 p.m. at the Douglas Park band shell (MacArthur Boulevard and Madison Avenue) featuring Thornhill, Eva Hunter Band, Reel Channel Cats, Mother’s Worry, and “a day and a wake up.” Information at www.myspace.com/middleoptionmusic.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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