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Santa Rosa’s Mandy Brooks wants to make room for women in music world

“Idlewild,” the new release from Santa Rosa singer-songwriter Mandy Brooks, is not about the coronavirus pandemic specifically, but its message is still relevant right now.

“During the pandemic, we’ve all been very isolated from family and community. This song is about my growing up on a family farm in Michigan,” she said.

Against the backdrop of today’s trials, Brooks found new significance in those memories.

“I wanted to communicate that through the pandemic, the importance became more clear of the simple yet profound aspects of our life, such as community and the vital role relationships and community play in our identity and well-being,” Brooks explained.

The song is available on all digital platforms, including iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and YouTube. And her current burst of creativity doesn’t stop there.

Using the band name Small Hat, Brooks and her two sons — Cosmos, 21, and Zosima, 16 — will release their five-song, extended-play album “Dig Deeper” on Tuesday, April 27. The dreamy black-and-white album cover was photographed by her daughter, Justina, 13.

The songs were produced and recorded at various studios, but Cosmos and his mother recorded one tune, “Make You Mine,” at their home studio, then outsourced the mixing and mastering.

“We don’t present ourselves as a ‘family band,’ because that sounds like ‘The Brady Bunch,’” Brooks said. “I respect my sons’ musicianship and professionalism.”

Small Hat joined the Nashville-based, multi-band “Extreme Tour” of the East Coast two years ago, followed by the tour’s West Coast swing last summer. They’ll return to the East Coast tour later this year.

“The purpose of the tour is bringing live music to inner-city youth,” Brooks said. “We join with four to six other groups to put on concerts. Last year, we performed at an outdoor amphitheater at Reno.”

Over the past several years, Brooks’ influence on the Sonoma County music scene has been broader than her own musical output.

“I realized I could use music as this tool to strengthen community and bring joy and hope to other people,” she said. “That’s the intention of my music.”

In 2017, she founded the North Bay Women In Music Collective to support women in the music business.

“It was a loving space for women to collaborate and see what could happen,” Brooks said.

In 2018, through her collective, she organized the inaugural Women in Music weekend, with concerts in Santa Rosa and Cotati and guest stars including soul and blues singer Lydia Pense, guitarist Nina Gerber and boogie pianist Wendy DeWitt.

“The largest event was the one festival, and we have not produced a live event since that time, she said. “We were represented at the 2018 Women’s March in Santa Rosa, where I spoke. The idea behind the collective is to be a placeholder, a place where anyone in the collective could be inspired to connect, create or produce.”

She hopes to stage another local Women in Music weekend in the next couple of years. For more information, visit mandybrooks.com/north-bay-women-in-music

During the pandemic, events like the 2018 festival haven’t been possible, but Brooks has been active in other ways. She has moderated online panel discussions for Balanced Breakfast, an international organization headquartered in San Francisco with leaders in more than 30 cities that organizes music community events.

“In 2019, Women in Music Collective came alongside Balanced Breakfast to birth the Women in the Music Industry component of Balanced Breakfast, which hosts an online forum for discussion as well as a platform at the yearly Balanced Breakfast Music Industry Summits,” Brooks said.

The local chapter, North Bay Balanced Breakfast, was founded in 2017 by Josh Windmiller, Bryce Dow-Williamson and Isabelle Garson.

“Balanced Breakfast has had a huge impact and has been a tremendous inspiration and source for community with other musicians,” Brooks said.

The music business has not always been kind or fair to women, she said.

“People in power will leverage that power to get things they want, whether it’s sexual favors or something else,” she said. “Women have been forced to compromise their own values.”

Sometimes women in the music industry are even divided by their ambition, Brooks added.

“There is a lot of competition among musicians and among women musicians,” she said. “I reach out and promote community among women musicians, instead of competition.”

“A lot of the time, it’s hard to find a platform within the music industry for women to take a leadership role or even speak and perform,” she said. “Historically, we’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean everything has changed.”

She remains optimistic about helping women find more opportunities within the music business in the future.

“With music opening up to independent efforts outside the regular studio system,” she said, “women’s ability to create and promote their own music is greater.”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

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