An amazing ensemble of local Portland female artists will gather at The Secret Society this Friday, May 8 for a night of folk pop and roll showcasing three singer-songwriters: Esmé Patterson, Del Phoena and Haley Heynderickx. Besides being Patterson’s only Portland appearance on her spring tour, Phoebe Spier of Del Phoena will premiere her all-women’s choir featuring Patterson and Heynderickx as well as special guests from Portland acts Old Wave, Nature Thief, Those Willows, The High Water Jazz Band, The Keepers and others.
Songstress Esmé Patterson founded the Denver band Paper Bird, performed on both Letterman and Leno as a backup singer for Tennis, and has collaborated with artists like Shakey Graves, Neko Case, Nathaniel Rateliff, Nick Jaina and Reed Foehl. Woman to Woman (April 2014), her second solo release on Greater Than Collective, is an album of response songs that aims to give voice to seven archetypal women from popular music: Jolene (Dolly Parton), Alison (Elvis Costello), Loretta (Townes Van Zandt), Caroline (The Beach Boys), Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles), Evangeline (The Band), and Irene (Leadbelly). Patterson displays a full femme vocal range as she warbles folk- and country-tinged strains, then pitches her voice into squeaks and sugary hiccups, only to growl and speak declaratively, almost conversationally, on Woman to Woman, in strains reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Neko Case and Feist.
“You'd be surprised how often people ask, 'So who writes your songs for you?'," Patterson says. "I believe that strong women's voices in the music industry are rare. One goal of this work is to be a voice for women, and to expand the perspective of the listeners to see these objects of desire, resentment and pity as women, and humans, with their own side of the story to tell."
Del Phoena, self-described as “oracular folk pop,” is singer-songwriter Phoebe Spier’s project with collaborative partner Zach Dunham (harmonies, keys, guitar). Spier and Dunham took a self-imposed creative retreat on the banks of the Santiam River and in the woods writing the songs that became their debut five-song EP, My Young Explorer, recorded during late spring of 2014.
Spier first met Patterson last fall while she was supporting Paleo, David Strackany’s band (who plays drums for Patterson on this tour), and she's now thrilled to have Patterson and Heynderickx join her on one stage with an ensemble of local female talent.
“Esmé was really excited when I told her about the lady choir I had put together and wanted to sing in it too,” Spier says. “I've known a few of the choir members for a while, but the rest I met while participating in an event for an organization called Dry Run run by Mel Tarter and Anna Becker,” Spier explains. “It's a show series that encourages people to perform brand new or unfinished works in front of an audience while feeling simultaneously completely terrified and totally supported.”
After a Dry Run event, locals Amanda Farmer and Joy Pearson were talking about wanting to start a group of women singers, Spier ran with the idea, and the choir was born. Now, one of the songs Spier wrote for the Dry Run event (she notes that it's very creatively titled "Dry Run") is having its full-band debut at this show.
This small, as of yet unnamed, choir of women was assembled by Spier expressly to present “a badass Madonna cover,” and includes herself, Patterson and local performers Haley Heynderickx, Joy Pearson (The High Water Jazz Band, The Keepers), Amanda Farmer (Old Wave), Mel Tarter (Those Willows), Emma Browne (Nature Thief, Rare Diagram, Tigerface), and Anne-Marie Sanderson.
“I think there is a real desire for more music, fun and community among women in our music scene,” Spier says. “Getting to sing with these incredible women has been a treat and directing them has been a breeze. I don't think I've laughed as hard as I have at choir rehearsals in a long time.”
This Friday is the first time they are performing in public, with future appearances planned for Del Phoena shows as well as the other choir members’ projects. “We've even talked about having casual singing nights with more gals to get more people involved. In addition to supporting one another's bands, we're thinking we can go sing at nursing homes, go Christmas caroling at bars—any chance to share music with one another and the community.”
Singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx has branched out since her studies abroad in the Czech Republic, where she was featured on Prague's BalconyTV, performed her originals throughout Ireland in popular songwriting roundups such as The Mezz, Whelan's Live and The Ruby Sessions, and was featured as one of NPR's highlighted artists during a Tiny Desk competition (watch below). She recently shared the stage with Catherine Feeny as a duo opening for Luz Elena Mendoza and Edna Vazquez. Heynderickx will be opening Friday evening with her three-piece band comprised of Jeffrey Evans on drums and Lily Breshears on bass. They collectively profess “great joy in harmonizing, making bad jokes on stage,” and teasingly refer to their sound as "doom folk."