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The Stone Church wraps up concerts, workshops focused on women and nonbinary Vermonters

Six or seven people stand around and audio console that has a dozen or more sliding faders, multiple buttons and red, green and yellow lights. One person is seated at the console, pressing some of the buttons.
Kris Radder
All last month, The Stone Church in Brattleboro held a series of concerts to shine a spotlight on women and nonbinary musicians. Audio techs at the venue also created a free, four-week curriculum to teach women and nonbinary people sound engineering.

At a recent outdoor concert, Erin Scaggs, who is programming director at The Stone Church in Brattleboro,was taken aback.

"I saw a woman running sound at a show that we did — and it struck me that wow, I really never see that. It's always men in the booth, typically," she said.

This encounter and a calendar of dates to fill during Women's History Month led Scaggs and The Stone Church staff to slate all women-fronted bands and nonbinary acts during March. They also created a curriculum to teach the nuts and bolts of sound engineering.

The special roster of concerts, called, "GRRRLS to the Front," and the four-week, free production workshops, titled, "GRRRLS in the Booth," have just wrapped. And there is an appetite to continue both.

The month-long music event is a call-back to a 2018 day-long show also held at the Ttone Church in Brattleboro.

That first "GRRRLS to the Front" concert was created by Sierra Dickey from the Vermont grassroots feminist organization Women’s Action Team. Because then, as now, representation of women and nonbinary folks in all aspects of the music world is pretty dismal.

"I saw a woman running sound at a show that we did — and it struck me that wow, I really never see that. It's always men in the booth, typically."
Erin Scaggs, programming director at The Stone Church.

The Stone Church's lead sound engineer, Dan Richardson, created the GRRRLS in the Booth curriculum. And it's meant to be progressive, so by the third week, participants can mix sound for a live band.

The idea is to bring new women and nonbinary people into all phases of the Vermont music scene.

A recent 2022 study from the University of Southern California showsthat fewer than 3% of producers in the music industry are women. And in the last decade, they make up just under 13% of songwriters.

I-SHEA is a member of the global rhythms group, Gaslight Tinkers, which performed at "GRRRLS to the Front." She hails originally from the Bronx, and came up in the golden age of hip hop, where she observed firsthand the lack of gender diversity in the scene.

“In the hip hop realm, I was always the female emcee and always the one to open up the event," she said. "You know, that also sets precedence for younger adolescents to look at me and be like, 'Wow, she's the emcee and she's a badass drummer?'" I-SHEA said.

But the lack of women and nonbinary people in the field can create roadblocks for someone’s career.

Rocker Peg Tassey has performed in Vermont’s music scene since the 1980s. She said that’s meant decades of getting talked down to in clubs because of her gender.

Tassey said just walking into a club can feel intimidating for some. Club owners, sound engineers and lighting people in music venues tend to be men.

A group of 15 people stand together in a room with a wooden floor and lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The group is looking up towards a large screen displaying sound waves on a graph.
Courtesy, The Stone Church
Last month, the sound techs from Brattleboro's church-turned-live-music venue, The Stone Church taught a series of free workshops for people interested in running lights and sound for live concerts. The free "GRRRLS in the Booth" workshop series was part of an effort to get more women and nonbinary people into different aspects of the music business.

"They're acting like I don't know how to use my microphone, that kind of thing," Tassey said. "There's a little part of me wants to say just, "You know, I know how to do this, all right?'”

Rhoni Basden, executive director of Vermont Works for Women, says the experiences of people like Tassey highlight the need for events like "GRRLS to the Front."

Basden said creating these affinity spaces is vital because people are not accessing them on their own. She said the numbers back it up that events and workshops, like GRRRLS in the Booth, empower young girls and gender-expansive youth.

Basden said these events create a support system to come together and address shared challenges.

"They can, you know, then have a support system for somebody who understands, but also come together to take actionable steps about how you fix and address those," Basden said.

And this doesn’t necessarily mean diversity for diversity's sake. Basden also said employers should take note that hiring more women and nonbinary people also makes cold financial sense.

“There's absolutely data to support that when you have diversity, whether it's leadership or general workforce — that your bottom line increases at minimum 20%,” Basden said.

Erin Scaggs from The Stone Church is looking for grant funding to expand the venue’s diversity initiatives.

She hopes to build on last month’s programming by offering more opportunities for women and nonbinary people hoping to break into the music industry.

“It's great to hold a month-long offering," she said. "But really the goal is to create more long lasting change and I hope this four-week workshop will really just be the start of that.”

For the time being, Scaggs said The Stone Church will continue to offer these monthly workshops and the venue will cover the costs.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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