On Friday, February 24th the Charleston Music Hall hosted “Women & the Rolling Stones: A Tribute to the Stones,” the most recent installment in Hazel Ketcham and Lindsay Holler’s “Women &” series in which local female vocalists cover songs by the masters of rock and roll. The series began in 2015 with a tribute to Tom Waits and has since expanded with a show every few months in honor of other household names: thus far they have paid tribute to David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Radiohead, with tributes to Leonard Cohen and Gram Parsons slated for this year. The ladies of the “Women & Rolling Stones” tribute dug deep into the Stones’ discography to bring us a breadth of songs showcasing a dynamic range of vocal styles. This was far from an ameture top hits karaoke night, rather it was a fun night of nostalgic reverence and artistic reinterpretation.
The evening was divided into two parts, with Hazel Ketchum’s band the Hungry Monks backing the first set of vocalists and Lindsay Holler’s The Western Polaroids backing the second set. A cornerstone of the Charleston music community as co-owner of Hungry Monk Music and a multi-instrumentalist in a number of local projects, Hazel Ketcham emerged onstage in pink tights and Converse sneakers. She tossed her long gray hair as she tuned her guitar and dipped into a low, bluesy rendition of “The Last Time,” which she prefaced with the original “This May Be The Last Time” by the Staple Singers. This image of sage-like command over the stage with an unmistakable playfulness set the tone for the evening.
There was an exact, highly choreographed flow to the showcase that attests to the sense of community and enthusiasm between all of the artists who participated. Eden Fonvielle danced in the background and served as back-up vocals as Ketcham opened with more somber deliveries of “The Last Time” and “Ventilator Blues.” When Ketcham receded into the background to play guitar Eden jumped for the mic and became Mick Jagger embodied. In her gold pants Fonvielle pelvic-thrusted towards the audience, leaped around the stage and strutted down the aisles, proclaiming in a guttural, distinctly unladylike register: “Look at me! I’m in tatters! I’m shattered!” Her performance was the most physical and reminiscent of Jagger’s angular onstage antics. Tapping into Jagger’s characteristic androgynous abandon, Fonvielle succeeded in awakening a hint of nostalgia and silliness in the audience.
The game of musical chairs for center stage continued when Zandrina Dunning took the mic, contrasting Fonvielle’s wild theatrics with a romantic, soulful delivery of “Beast of Burden.” When Dunning returned to back-up vocals to make room for the young Sarah Cole onstage, Ketchum also passed her guitar along to Sarah to join Dunning with the backup vocalists. The show reached an arch when Sarah steadily encouraged the audience with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and we joined her, clapping along and belting in response, “you get what you need!” Having warmed-up the audience, Sarah was joined again by Zandrina Dunning (whose vocal range rivalled the original Merry Clayton’s), and John Holenko on guitar began the unmistakable, moody intro to “Gimme Shelter.” The audience, which I should mention included a fair share of young people in addition to the salt-and-peppered crowd, rose from their seats and danced in the aisles.
“They should let women use the men’s restroom on ‘Women &’ nights,” joked a woman in the bathroom during intermission. Most of the concert-goers were avid supporters and had attended prior shows in the series. When I asked which show is their favorite I usually received something along the lines of “they’re incomparable” or “each one is unique” or a few “Women & Radiohead,” because of the challenging vocals, unusual approaches, and the collaboration with Entropy Ensemble for that show. These responses attest to Ketcham and Holler’s success in offering dynamic concert experiences. We returned to our seats to be greeted by classical guitarist Lindsay Holler’s meditative, acoustic performance of “No Expectations” followed by a raspy, emotionally-charged “Loving Cup.” A rapturous piano solo by Gerald Gregory dipped into Charleston Symphony soloist Jill Lewis’ classical and jazz-tinged covers of “As Tears Go By” and “Time Waits for No One.”
At the beginning of the evening our energizing hostess Jessica Mickey, pondering the classic debate of the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones, pointed out that while the Beatles sang from their hearts the Stones sang from their more “southerly” regions. This masculine sexuality was flipped upside down by many of the female performers throughout the evening. In contrast to Eden Fonvielle’s delightfully theatrical embodiment of Mick Jagger, Samantha Church and Lily Slay took ownership of their songs with unapologetically feminine approaches. Samantha Church followed the sobering effect of Jill Lewis’ breathtaking vocals with a raunchier, wild rendition of “Miss You.” After those impressive power-packed vocalizations Samantha took a breather and promised the audience: “Alright now we’ll get things started.” She arrested us again with “Start Me Up,” which kept the audience members dancing and jumping up and down. The sultry Lily Slay followed with a confrontational delivery of “Paint it Black” that involved shedding a red wig (to reveal, of course, a black one underneath) and even whipping out a kazoo to mimic the original song’s droning sitar.
“Let’s bring those fine bitches back out here!” spoke our hostess, summoning all of the musicians for an encore of “Honky Tonk Women.” Bob Culver, the keyboardist for the Hungry Monks, broke out the fiddle. The ladies passed the mic around to belt out the chorus and Eden Fonvielle emphatically strutted across the stage again. When was the last time you went to a rock concert to be treated with a saxophone solo (as I was throughout the evening by Matt Kearney with the Hungry Monks)? How often do we hear covers of the Rolling Stones interspersed with piano solos? And how often do powerful professional female vocalists take center-stage for these covers? I am excited for future shows in the “Women &” series and I am curious as to whether they might pay tribute to female rock and roll legends or keep up the gender dichotomy.
Written by Bethany Fincher