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Women in Music

What: Live concert featuring Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, Chris Webster and Nina Gerber, Wendy DeWitt and Kirk Harwood, Ismay, Mandy Brooks, Eki Shola and Jill Minye

When: 7-11 p.m. Friday, April 20

Where: Arlene Francis Center, 99 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa


What: Panel discussion with Roberta Donnay, Taylor P. Collins and Sarah Baker and Isabelle Garson, and a limited-seating artist showcase with Sarah Baker, Taylor P. Collins, Roberta Donnay. Mandy Brooks & The Chapel Singers, Eki Shoa and spoken-word artist Jacqueline Lawrence.

When: Panel discussion 3-5 p.m. and music showcase 7-9 p.m. Saturday, April 21. RSVP recommended. Catered meal available for purchase at both events.

Where: Prairie Sun Recording Sun, 1039 Madrone Ave., Cotati

Admission: $22 in advance or $25 at the door each day; $37 in advance or $40 at the door both days.

Tickets and information: mandybrooks.com/north-bay-women-in-music

From the #MeToo movement to the Women’s March to TIME magazine naming the Silence Breakers who spoke out against sexual assault and harassment “Person of the Year” for 2017, women are more in the forefront of public discussion and debate than ever.

One arena where women have gained an increasingly powerful voice is the music business. Contemporary singers Beyonce and Lorde, for example, have established an image of both strength and independence, following the tradition of pioneering women music stars like Carole King and Aretha Franklin.

Next weekend, the Rohnert Park-based North Bay Women in Music Collective will gather some of Northern California’s most respected longtime women musicians — including soul and blues singer Lydia Pense, guitarist Nina Gerber and boogie pianist Wendy DeWitt — for the inaugural Women in Music weekend.

“It seems that more women now are into the music business,” said Pense, 70, best known as the vocalist for the rhythm-and-blues horn band Cold Blood, a Bay Area music presence since the late ‘60s.

“Female vocalists have taken over the bands. The door has opened wide and anyone can come in,” Pense continued.

“Women have a lot to say, and what better way to express whatever it is than through music? I think it’s important to do a show like Women in Music because it’s an opportunity to show we’re still here. We have survived.”

The Women in Music weekend opens April 20 with the concert at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, followed April 21 by a seminar and music showcase at Prairie Sun Recording in Cotati.

Money raised by the events will benefit Verity, a Santa Rosa community organization that provides services to victims of all forms of sexual violence regardless of gender or age, and to the Ron Martin Memorial Foundation to support music education, said the weekend’s organizer, Mandy Brooks of North Bay Women in Music Collective.

Brooks, a singer and songwriter, also will perform at the April 20 concert and again with The Chapel Singers at the April 21 showcase.

Gerber, 58, who lives in Sebastopol, is still remembered by many fans as the late folksinger and songwriter Kate Wolf’s guitar accompanist in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Gerber will appear with singer Chris Webster at the Women in Music concert.

The pair has been working as duo for more than 25 years, but Gerber also tours all over the country with performers like Texas folk musician Eliza Gilkyson and singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff.

Known as a quiet and rather shy person, Gerber followed her career to Texas and Nashville before finally returning to settle in Sonoma County.

She described her progress through the competitive world of professional music as relatively easy, but conceded there have been conflicts.

“I don’t blame it all on the men. There are jerks out there, but they come in all shapes and sizes,” the guitarist said.

“These days, I just want to convey to people that we’re not as divided as we’re being told we are. We’re all human beings, trying to live our lives.”

San Francisco-born pianist and singer Wendy DeWitt, 59, who lives in Ukiah, has established a reputation over the last 30 years as the Bay Area’s “Queen of Boogie Woogie.”

For the past three years, she has been working in a duo format with drummer Kirk Harwood, who will perform with her at Women in Music.

“It would good thing for all of us if more people accepted their own power,” she said.

DeWitt discovered her power as a woman many years ago after taking a junior college class in women’s history, closely followed by a first — and last — date with a new boyfriend.

“This guy knocked me down, and thanks to that class, I broke up with him that night,” she said. “Then I wrote a song about it.”

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

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