Ladies only night at The Fillmore

MUSIC | BARBARA KATE REPA

The Fillmore Auditorium has existed as the neighborhood’s dance hall and rock emporium for more than a century. And in all that time, there has been one common characteristic among those performing and running the shows: All were men. That will change on January 31, with The First All Lady Show featuring four Bay Area bands — all comprised of female musicians.

“We’ve been dreaming of playing at The Fillmore for a long time,” says Erin Chapin, who sings and plays guitar and other instruments with The Rainbow Girls, one of the featured acts. “Even Janis Joplin never had a band of ladies playing with her.”

The idea for the show was born out of condescension and fueled by frustration. Chapin says it’s “clearly different” being in an all-female band and navigating through the music world, which is still very much dominated by men.

“On one hand, you have a leg up, so to speak,” she says. “But you still have to smile and nod when people talk down to you. And too often, we get called a ‘girl band.’ It’s unfortunate that term is degrading.”

She has many stories of being underestimated by those in the business, especially the venue technicians, who seem to expect “a few singers with guitars” rather than a full-blown band.

“One sound guy even said to us: ‘Can’t you little ladies just a share a microphone?’ ’’ she recalls. “I just wanted to kick him in his little man.”

The Rainbow Girls, now five musicians strong, started as a quartet at a weekly underground open mike session in Santa Barbara about four years ago. When one of the women left to study in Rome, the others followed her there — and adventured and busked their way through six countries for the summer, stopping briefly to record a few demo tapes.

“We had a blast — and it showed us we had something special that we could take around the world,” says Chapin.

The Rainbow Girls released their first 17-song album, The Sound of Light, in May of 2013, and will be releasing their second the night of the Fillmore performance.

Among them, they have mastered and perform with an amazing array of instruments — including guitar, ukelele, banjo, accordion, violin, harmonica, melodica, cajon, piano, glockenspiel, sitar, banjolele, kazoo, tamborines, washboard, dulcimer, recorder, djembe and kazoo. They describe their sound as folk-Americana-blues-gypsy-folk ’n’ roll.

“Being an all-female band, we’ve always been asked if we fight. We don’t,” says Chapin. “And we don’t compete with other bands — especially all-female bands.”

The Rainbow Girls have mastered and perform with an amazing array of instruments.

The Rainbow Girls have mastered and perform with an amazing array of instruments.

The Rainbow Girls played at the Fillmore last February, opening for the band ALO. “We thought it would be a cool idea to bring other all-female bands to come out as one solid force, not competing with one another,” she says.

Through a friend of a friend, they found the San Francisco group The She’s, whose members recently graduated from high school; the four girls started playing together as elementary school students. The She’s, who play sweet pop numbers laced with nostalgia, have been recorded over the years by Converse Rubber Tracks studios.

Through another friend, they stumbled across The Hot Totties, comprised of three friends from Oakland who have been playing and writing music together since 2005, touring across the United States, Canada and the U.K.

They also recruited Kendra McKinley, a Santa Cruz native recently transplanted to San Francisco who is noted for her sultry solos backed by acoustic guitar.

The four all-female Bay Area bands write their own music and lace their lyrics about finding and losing love with wry humor. Most of the musicians also claim the Beatles — and whiskey — as their inspirations.

The bands recruited female sound engineers, lighting technicians, bartenders and musicians for the show. And the Warrior Within Design studio will be fashioning onesies for the event. The owner, Jen Patten, sponsors all-women bands.

“Once we put out the idea, it’s amazing how receptive everyone was,” says Chapin. “It’s a powerful, special thing that we get to do.”

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