“This is the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote, and now it is more important than ever that women’s voices are heard,” stressed veteran songwriter, singer, and musician, Louisa Branscomb.
Branscomb was petitioned by another award winning songstress, Asheville’s Anya Hinkle, to bring the unique connection between women and bicycles to light during the suffragettes’ centennial year.
“Our song, I Got A Lot Riding On These Wheels, symbolizes just how important it is for everyone to feel they can have a voice. There is a lot riding on these wheels,” says Branscomb.
Produced COVID-style from separate locations during a three week time span, the pair composed, recorded, produced, and created the music video. The on-screen presentation says it all. The bicycle gave women the thrill of freedom that carried into the suffragette movement, and ultimately the right to vote. In words spoken by Elizabeth Cady Stanton only 100 years ago, “woman is riding to suffrage on a bicycle.”
Those two wheels allowed women to spread their wings, leave home, and go where they wanted under their own power. This new mode of transportation spawned a change in women’s fashion, providing more freedom of movement. The exercise from riding bikes made women stronger, healthier, and more independent. Unsurprisingly, none of these things were popular within the turn-of-the-century power structure.
Branscomb elaborated, “Women getting the vote happened with collaboration, networking, and finding common ground. Similarly, the song transcends politics. It is collaborative, upbeat and positive, and celebrates the history of women getting the right to vote.”
Drummer Adilene Delgado, who came to rural Tennessee from Mexico as a toddler, hopes one day to gain the right to vote. As a dreamer she says, “Some of us can’t vote, so we’re begging you to!”
I Got A Lot Riding On These Wheels was born when Hinkle began reflecting on the connections between the suffragettes, the bicycle, and how the bicycle is still a vehicle for following your dreams all over the world. Hinkle contacted Branscomb to co-write and assist in producing the project. The two assembled a diverse cast of women: Adilene Delgado on drums, Mary Lucey (of Lovers Leap, who regularly appears with Hinkle) on clawhammer banjo and harmony vocals, Celia Millington-Wyckoff (a lifelong devotee of cycling as well as bass playing), Natalya Weinstein (of Zoe and Cloyd) on fiddle, Louisa on mandolin (plus a cameo part on tenor banjo), and Anya on guitar and lead vocals. The project was captured guerilla-style by Hinkle carrying a portable rig to the musicians’ homes. She then engineered the song with help from David Arnold and videographer, Gen Kogure, who also happens to be a competitive cyclist.
Hinkle outlined her process. “Cycling always gave me a sense of power and freedom, and still plays a central role in my life. This year I thought about the connection between the freedom of cycling and history of women’s right to vote, with the suffragettes having used bicycles as a symbol of emancipation.”
“I had recently met Louisa and was impressed by her pioneering work as a female banjo player and band leader in acoustic music going back many decades, in addition to her iconic role as a songwriter. I wanted her to help me bring this song to life because she truly understands the power of songs to make a difference in this world.”
Branscomb readily agreed to jump in. “I remember that freedom to get away, escape, and take on the world once you got on your first bike. So when Anya called me, I welcomed the chance to share the vision of the song with her.”
“We wanted to select a diverse group of Asheville professional women musicians, to convey that sense of excitement and camaraderie, even though we had to record COVID-style, at different places and times using a portable recorder.”
All the collaborators see the video as timely.
Branscomb reflected, “It was a challenge to make this happen, with women I admire but (still) haven’t even played with in person! Everyone jumped in with such great spirit. It was just perfect that while Natalya and I were recording, Anya and Natalya’s young daughters were flying around on their first bicycles, tassels and all.”
Weinstein highlighted this generational tradition. “I learned to ride in my driveway with my dad, now my daughter is learning with me. So the song also reflects handing down this tradition to the next generation, not just how to ride a bike, but the symbol of freedom that comes with it.”
“For me,” Branscomb concluded, “the song is literal, but the symbolism goes beyond. It’s more than a song about voting: it’s about empowering women, and the value of respecting individuals’ voices in their own destiny. And it is also very timely for bluegrass and folk music. We are breaking barriers with heightened awareness of women’s issues and inclusiveness. The song is upbeat and fun. Who doesn’t remember their first bike? But the message is much deeper. No matter how you vote, or what your frame of reference is in music, the future is always riding on these wheels: the right to speak, and the right to be heard.”
Anya Hinkle and Natalya Weinstein appear courtesy of Organic Records.