Raising Our Voices puts local female talent in the spotlight 

Annual event celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8

click to enlarge ANGIE NOLAN - Raising Our Voices drew 400 people to the Maury Young Arts Centre in 2018.
  • Angie Nolan
  • Raising Our Voices drew 400 people to the Maury Young Arts Centre in 2018.

It’s a widely known fact that male musicians dominate the lineup at any major music festival.

The issue is so widespread that in February 2018, 45 music festivals—ranging from Toronto’s North by Northeast to New York’s Winter Jazz Fest—took a pledge as part of an initiative that the UK’S PRS Foundation launched to build rosters that are 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women by 2022.

That’s part of what makes Raising Our Voices—A Celebration of International Women’s Day special. The fifth annual event, set to take place at the Maury Young Centre on Friday, March 8, features 17 female performers and female-led bands.

“It’s empowering and inspiring,” says Susan Holden, one of the event organizers. “It does flip the normal gender makeup on its head.”

Alongside showcasing female musicians, the event also serves as an important fundraiser for the Howe Sound Women’s Centre (HSWC), which helps support women and children fleeing abuse in the corridor.

Proceeds from entry donations go towards the long-running organization as well as the earnings from a well-supported silent auction—with items ranging from a guitar and keyboard to adventure tours and restaurant gift certificates.

“It’s a really big community event where people come and go (over five hours),” says Laurie Hannah, community program manager with the HSWC, and an organizer of the event. “It’s (offers) education about the Howe Sound Women’s Centre and our services, as well as fundraising, in a really fun community atmosphere.”

The event kicks off at 5 p.m. with an opening ceremony by the Lil’wat Nation. After that, some young solo performers will take the stage, including Madeline Smith, who played the festival last year and “blew everyone away,” Holden says.

“It was a launchpad (for her),” she adds. “She (went on) to open up the Hear and Now Festival on the second day of the festival.”

Bookending that section of the evening will be long-time local Rachel Lewis. The performers are all donating their time.

For newer musicians in particular “this is their opportunity to get on stage with an unparalleled level of support from the stage crew, sound crew, technicians and the other performers,” Holden says. “That is what it’s like when you get 17 female-led acts up there.”

After solo performances, the evening will move into the bands. That will include the debut of Vocalicious, a local a cappella group.

“It’s absolutely a group of incredibly talented people,” Holden says. “Ellen Domm directs it. She’s a really talented, very well trained and experienced (musician).”

Musicians—and audience members—from across the corridor will be represented, she adds. “For the Howe Sound Women’s Centre, services span the corridor. So too do the performers and the audience. That’s a strength for us,” Holden says.

Last year, 400 people in total came through the theatre—though it never exceeded its capacity, averaging about 150 people at a time. That means crowds dropped in over the whopping five-hour event, taking in the music and bidding on items.

“It goes by incredibly quickly because people are having such a fun time,” Hannah says. “People get up and dance and there are amazing conversations.”

While a minimum donation of $5 to $10 is requested, organizers want to ensure the event is as accessible as possible—to both men and women.

“Inclusion is so important,” Holden says. “They should come out regardless of whether they can make a big donation or not.”

Meanwhile, organizers are still seeking donations from local businesses for the silent auction. Those interested in helping can email Jordan Clayton at admin@hswc.ca.

Raising Our Voices takes place on Friday, March 8 at the Maury Young Arts Centre from 5 to 10 p.m. Entry is by donation and audiences are welcome to drop in throughout the night.

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