As more and more women get bitten by the bluegrass bug, we are seeing groups pop up around the country to assist them in learning to play the music. Murphy Henry hosts an all-female banjo camp this weekend in Winchester, VA where all the students and instructors are women, her fifth such workshop.
These groups don’t exist to exclude men for ideological reasons, but to provide a place where women learning to play bluegrass can feel comfortable not being accomplished on their instruments. It is probably true that mixed gender slow jams would be every bit as welcoming, but whatever gets more people playing sounds like a good idea to me.
A group in San Francisco called The Handsome Ladies is working this angle in the Bay area. It all started when a number of women just getting started in bluegrass met at the Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley, CA. When they realized they all lived in the San Francisco region, plans were struck to meet up regularly back home to play together as well.
As they met more and more lady pickers, they added a Facebook group to share information and started a monthly ladies-only jam at a bar in the Mission District on Monday nights. Now they have their own web site and an official legal status, as Vice President Jennifer Brecheisen tells us.
“We decided we needed to take it further and applied to be a non-profit. We now have the hippest, most popular booth at the bluegrass festival where we met. We’ve put together workshops for women; our first was on sound engineering. We have a private monthly jam, host jams for the RBA (Redwood Bluegrass Associates) concert series, and we recently put on our first show with an all-female old time and bluegrass band for Women’s History Month. We have had pick-up bands from our members on KKUP radio. We are active in the bluegrass community – one of our board members also serves on the board of the CBA.
Our mission is simple: Through opportunity and resources, we support and encourage women bluegrassers of all levels, promoting the advancement of the individual musician within an inspired and connected community.”
The Handsome Ladies has now grown to more than 100 members, with female bluegrass icons like Kathy Kallick and Murphy Henry having joined their Facebook group. All ages are welcome at their jams, and they publish a monthly email newsletter with information about their activities.
You can find all the relevant details on their web site. If you live in the San Francisco area, you could be a Handsome Lady too!