Women Who Rock, Strum and Belt Out the Blues

Alison Krauss; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

Tim Van Schmidt


I’ve written about several of my classic rock favorites recently — The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The Grateful Dead — and it hasn’t escaped me that they have all been male.

I’d like to change that now by offering a tribute to great women musicians I have had the good luck to see on NOCO stages.

OK, so that’s the theme here — women musicians — but I don’t want to give the impression that this is some kind of sub-category or special genre. Really, “women musicians” are just musicians and they are either great or not regardless of gender. This bunch just happens to be female — and great.

The first woman artist I’ll feature isn’t a rocker at all, but a folkie. I’m talking about Kate Wolf, the California singer-songwriter with a velvet voice and a sensitive heart who died too soon.

Kate Wolf was special for my wife and me because when we were heading west to Fort Collins after getting married in 1980, the only tape we had in the car was Wolf’s album “Lines on the Paper.” We played it over and over again as we rolled across the prairie.

Kate Wolf in Fort Collins Poster

That became the first live show I saw in Fort Collins — Kate Wolf at Sam’s Old Town Ballroom. We had just moved to town, heard about the show and lined up early to beat the crowds. But there weren’t any crowds. Wolf played to a small audience in the big showroom while pool balls clacked in the back room.

I got to see Wolf again in Fort Collins at the Lincoln Center Mini Theatre. It was a Mother’s Day show and this time it was packed. Wolf and accompanist Nina Gerber found themselves sharing the stage with props from a local theater production, so they just settled in to the homey surroundings and picked.

The list of other female performers I’ve seen in the area since then is long and lively.

For example, it wasn’t that long ago that Melissa Etheridge and her band totally rocked the Lincoln Center stage. Let’s not forget that Etheridge also totally rocked the Bohemian Nights main stage one year too — by herself.

The Lincoln Center stage has hosted a stellar bunch of women players including Rosanne Cash, Nanci Griffith, Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Larkin, Laurie Anderson, Natalie Cole, and Tracy Chapman.

My favorite Lincoln Center show of all time was a deep and luminous show by Suzanne Vega. Another favorite was by Kathy Mattea, whose country tinged rock was fully dynamic and finely tuned. Most curious was a performance by a mature Ann Margret.

Those shows were all in the Lincoln Center Performance Hall but there have also been a ton of great shows in the Mini Theatre. The best of all — besides Kate Wolf so long ago — was an evening with The Roches. These fashionable New Yorkers were in prime form, delivering those gorgeous, strong harmony vocals and some wicked wisecracking.

Other memorable shows in the Mini Theatre include evenings with Ferron and Iris Dement.

Speaking of Bohemian Nights, the main stage has featured such diverse talents as Brandi Carlile and Alison Kraus. The festival has also afforded the opportunity to get acquainted with new artists like Danielle Ate the Sandwich and Esme Patterson.

Before Bohemian Nights, there was another concert series connected to the NewWestFest called “Linden Street Live” and there was no lack of women musicians on the stage.

Greats like Margo Timmons and The Cowboy Junkies, Roberta Flack, and Joan Osborne rocked Linden Street. But most memorable to me were knock-out sets by two pro blues-belters, Marcia Ball and “The Queen of the Blues” Koko Taylor.

Koko Taylor; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

In Fort Collins night clubs: I spent a memorable evening with an all-female heavy metal band — Precious Metal — at a club called AJ’s. I not only got to enjoy their spirited set, but also found myself as the only person at the after-party besides the band. They were friendly.

That was at the same nightclub that later became the Sunset Night Club/Events Center which hosted a number of memorable women artists including Janis Ian and Susan Tedeschi.

At The Starlight, which became Hodi’s, I pumped my fist to the searing hard rock of Nashville Pussy, featuring the take-no-prisoners lead guitarist Ruyter Suys. Rasputina was a rare treat featuring two costumed female cello players – – lead by feisty vocalist Melora Creager — plugged in with a rock band. And then there were a couple of nights of great Dead music with Donna Jean Godchaux and The Tricksters.

In a club called Expressions out on Mulberry, I had a brief but spirited conversation with Sonia Rutstein from Disappear Fear — who mostly wanted to know why I had misspelled her band name in the headline of the article I did about her.

One strange twist of fate brought Texas singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa to the Colorado Feed and Grain in Timnath for an intimate solo acoustic set.

One of my favorite club nights of all, however, was Koko Taylor at Sam’s Old Town Ballroom. Unlike that early Kate Wolf show, this time this wood-hewn joint was just bursting with blues energy. There were chairs at Sam’s but they were all empty while the dance floor was full.

But I have reserved the best concert memory for last — and that would be the extra fine show by Sarah McLachlan at the Ranch’s Events Center in Loveland. Everything was right — the stage setting, the lights, a great sound mix and a great artist.

Sarah McLachlan; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

The above is just about the famous women musicians who have played NOCO venues. Another whole story is about the NOCO women musicians who have rocked our stages on a regular basis. I’ll have to work on that. But for now, let’s just say it’s not just about the guys for me. Women definitely rock — and strum and belt out the blues.

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Check out his interview with Kate Wolf on his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

Support Northern Colorado Journalism

Show your support for North Forty News by helping us produce more content. It's a kind and simple gesture that will help us continue to bring more content to you.

BONUS - Donors get a link in their receipt to sign up for our once-per-week instant text messaging alert. Get your e-copy of North Forty News the moment it is released!

Click to Donate