A Place Called Grace: Black Women Rock!

Black Women Rock! logo and hashtag.

We went to Black Women Rock! for a chance to see SATE, a Canadian powerhouse rock/funk/blues singer we'd admired since hearing "A Place Called Grace" at the turn of the decade. The $45 tickets were pricey by our spoiled standards but we felt good about supporting the show. The venue was a novelty: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. So was CeCe Peniston in the lineup. We didn't know anyone else on the bill except "honored guest" Nona Hendryx; seemed like we'd heard that name somewhere.

Guitar Gabby performing on stage at Black Women Rock!
Guitar Gabby

We missed most of the first artist's set, Atlanta's Guitar Gabby and her brilliant green guitar, because one of us had to buy earrings from a vendor in the museum's beautiful lobby. But once we took our seats inside the auditorium, the next three artists had our full attention: Ideeyah, Sylvia Black and rapper Mahogany Jones. The backing musicians quickly earned our applause, especially bassist Tracy Wormworth from the B-52s.
Ideeyah performing on stage at Black Women Rock!
Ideeyah is an electro and soul singer from Detroit

Sylvia Black is a rock and jazz bassist, singer and songwriter.
Sylvia Black
Mahogany Jones performing a set of hip hop.
Mahogany Jones

Jackie Venson is an expert guitarist.
Jackie Venson

Each artist's set was introduced by award-winning poet, publisher, performance artist and Black Women Rock! founder jessica Care moore. According to Moore, the next artist left the audience at PJ's Lager House gaping earlier this year. Jackie Venson's natural talent on the guitar and versatile voice left us amazed as well, and immediate fans. We bought one of Venson's CDs during the break, and look forward to a return show at PJ's in August.

Joan Belgrave (left) and jessica Care moore
A pretty high bar had been set for the second half of the evening. Backed by Ideeyah and special guest vocalist Joan Belgrave, Moore raised it even higher, with a performance that demonstrated why she's a quintuple "It's Showtime at the Apollo" competition winner. Her incisive stage "ranter" throughout the show imparted perspective we all need to hear, about being a black woman, being a black woman and rock musician, and Detroit. "We take people downtown and they ask, 'Where are the black people?' They're east and west, in the real Detroit."

When SATE stormed the stage at last, three songs left us anything but sated. Like a warrior from a futuristic sci-fi movie she is fierce and a force. Watch for a new album from the Toronto resident later this year.

SATE took the stage by storm.
SATE wore a futuristic costume and her trademark platinum braids.

CeCe Peniston on stage at Black Women Rock!
CeCe Peniston (right)
It would be easy to dismiss CeCe Peniston as a one-hit wonder, but the fact is she had five number one hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play list in the early 90s. Far from a has been, she was commanding and regal, and delivered a crowd-pleasing finale of her hit "Finally."

We would have felt like we'd gotten more than our money's worth if the evening had ended there but the best was yet to come. That honored guest? You might know Nona Hendryx as one-third of Labelle, of "Lady Marmalade" fame. At the close of the night, we knew Hendryx as a 73-year-old woman who could rock harder than performers half, heck a third of her age of any gender. She shimmied through Venson's legs, climbed on the drum kit and engaged artist after artist, one-on-one.

Nona Hendryx wore a black leather jacket and bell-bottom print pants.
Nona Hendryx
Nona Hendryx performing on stage.

Nona Hendryx with guitarist Jackie Venson.
Nona Hendryx jamming with Jackie Venson.
Nona Hendryx shimmying on the floor.
Age is just a number when you're Nona.
We knew black women could rock; now we  know how much. We doubt we'll see a better show this year. Thank you, jessica Care moore, for this rock of ages.
Kat Dyson, musical director of Black Women Rock! with Nona Hendryx.
Black Women Rock! Musical director Kat Dyson with Nona

Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images

The Seven Year Ditch: Our Year in Review

For seven years, our musical calendar revolved around three signature Canadian indie events:  NXNE in Toronto, Home County in London and Phog Phest in Windsor.

This year we forgot to make hotel reservations in time for NXNE, attended the family Christmas in July instead of Home County, and Phog Phest went on hiatus (we hope it's just a hiatus).

That doesn't mean 2017 was a bust. By all accounts it was a BABOOM, notable for seeing bands we've never seen in places we've never been. Here are the highlights.

Oh, Alberta: Our excuse for forgetting NXNE hotel reservations? We were busy making plane reservations, beginning with a trip to Edmonton in March to see The Wheat Pool's five year reunion show. Yes, we love that band that much, and it was worth every pen-- er, nickel. We had a great time hiking around the city and seeing the new Rogers Arena, CKUA, the Legislature grounds and the High Level Bridge.

The Wheat Pool

The Wheat Pool

The Wheat Pool

The Wheat Pool

Vancouver is Awesome: We suffered a lot of ROMO when we couldn't go to the legendary 924 Gilman's 30th anniversary celebration, which included a Smugglers reunion. So when a second reunion show in Vancouver to launch Smugglers' frontman and CBC radio host Grant Lawrence's new book Dirty Windshields was announced, we made more plane reservations. We flew in on a Thursday afternoon and left Sunday morning. In between we:
  • Checked in to the Sylvia Hotel on English Bay
  • Had a great dinner with R3 friends
  • Had a great breakfast the next morning with an R3 friend
  • Biked around Stanley Park 

(From left) Larry Livermore, Nardwuar, S2W

  • Attended the welcome party at WHAT'S UP? HOT DOG in East Van, with more R3 friends, met Nardwuar the Human Serviette and secretly swooned over sitting in the same booth as Lisa Marr from Cub
  • Visited the Vancouver Aquarium
  • Saw The Smugglers, Chixdiggit, Needles//Pins and The Muffs at The Commodore Ballroom 
Grant Lawrence



The Muffs

The Muffs

The Muffs

The Muffs

The Smugglers

The Smugglers

The Smugglers

The Smugglers

The Smugglers

The Smugglers

The Smugglers

After the diploma: We were proud parents seeing the youngest kid cross the stage as co-valedictorian in June. We were happy campers at Phog Lounge a few weeks later seeing a fantastic Bry Webb (lead singer of The Constantines) for the first time. It was also our first time seeing someone-- Ben Grossman-- play the hurdy gurdy. Amazing.

Bry Webb

Take me to the river: We've seen METZ and Preoccupations before... but not on a boat! So we were among about 1,000 people who boarded the Detroit Princess Riverboat for Detroit's Protomartyr record release show. Coincidentally, METZ' outstanding latest album, Strange Peace was released the same day. The sound in the ballroom wasn't ideal for Preoccupations but perfect for METZ' blistering set.
Detroit Princess

More new faces and places: Out of the six shows that wrapped up our year, five were headlined by bands we've been waiting a long time to see.

Half were at tried and true venues:
  • Broken Social Scene at The Fillmore Detroit - Hug of thunder, indeed. 
Broken Social Scene

  • Japandroids at Majestic Theatre - Only Rich Aucoin is more uplifting than this duo's aptly-named celebration rock. 

  • The Dears at Phog Lounge - N2D's top show of the year. It felt like an arena show in a 75-person venue. We recommend checking out opener Lou Canon if you have the chance, too. 
Lou Canon

The Dears

The Dears

Half were at venues we were long overdue to check out.

The Elwins at Marble Bar: We heard it's hard to see the band because the stage is so low. But we didn't have to worry about seeing The Elwins sing "So Down Low." The bar was nearly as empty as the shell-shocked neighbourhood around it. But we liked the Marble and love The Elwins' earnest pop.

The Elwins

Do Make Say Think at El Club: This venue is making our Canadian indie dreams come true. Stubborn Persistent Illusions is one of our top albums of 2017, and we still can't believe we got to hear some of it live in Detroit. Another top show of the year. We also saw Chad VanGaalen at El Club the week before, and can't wait until April for Kid Koala.

Do Make Say Think

Chad VanGaalen

 Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images

Left on the dial

A little more than a year ago, the CBC geoblocked the Internet stream of our faded but still beloved Radio 3 and the blog ceased to be. The determined folks over at ourbasement.ca have been doing a fine job of keeping us informed about Canadian indie, but what about a radio replacement?

No surprise, it's taken more than one radio station to replace Radio 3. "Replace" is the wrong word, because nothing will replace it. But S2W has assembled a listening roster that gets him through the work day. In the car-- after canceling Sirius XM because of their horrendous business practices-- N2D has been mostly tuned in to Windsor's CJAM (99.1 FM). Favourite shows? Indie Guitar Swing and Steel Belted Radio.

S2W's recommendations:

Although we've listed frequencies where available, all stations are available via digitally.

CFCR 90.5 FM - Saskatoon Community Radio (shout out to former host Kathy Gallant, an R3 pal)

CFRU 93.3 FM - Campus and Community Radio in Guelph
  • Favourite show: Weird Waves
  • Tune in to former CBC Radio 3 host Vish Khanna's Kreative Kontrol on Wednesdays from noon to 2 p.m. ET.
CiTR 101.9 FM - University of British Columbia

CKCU 93.1 FM - Ottawa

  • Favorite shows: Friday Morning Cartunes, Dylan Hunter's Music for Pinheads, Auditory Hallucinations, Candyshop

CKUA Radio Network (different frequencies throughout Alberta) - Edmonton
  • Fact: CKUA has been around longer than CBC
  • Favourite show: Mid-Morning Mojo with Baba (11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET)
We got to meet Baba on a trip to Edmonton in March
 to see The Wheat Pool five-year reunion show.

CKXU 88.3 FM - University of Lethbridge, Alberta
  • Where you can hear the syndicated !earshot Top 20

KEXP 90.3 FM - Seattle

Inside CKUA, Edmonton