In an interview earlier this year, local songwriter Morgan Grace had this to say about being a female musician: "The gender issue kinda pisses me off. It's like, 'Oh, you're a female and you play guitar. Care to comment on that?' No. I think our society has evolved to the point where those things are no longer novelty, and it fucking pisses me off." I couldn't have said it better myself.
In fact, Grace's opinion could sum up why I've never written about being WW's first female music editor: Doesn't pointing out the fact that you're a woman just mean you're acknowledging some sort of difference? But Eric Kotila, founder of the Women Who Rock concert series (and, yes, a man), has a different outlook.
"I've been a musician in this town for a number of years," says Kotila, an Oregon native. "Ninety percent of the bands I've been in have been female-fronted." He also mentions that he grew up around musical women and found them inspirational. But the old-school rocker (dark hair, sideburns, black T-shirt) admits the project was "initially kind of a ploy to get more gigs" (a drummer, he occasionally plays with folk-rock band Bridge Creek). While that might make him sound like a smooth-talker, he seems honestly interested in helping female musicians gain exposure: "I've never told anyone, 'You don't fit in,'" he says. "The door's open."
While Kotila's open policy sounds fine in theory, it calls to mind another problem that often accompanies "you go, girl" music collectives: Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you make good music. Kotila—who, along with girlfriend/roots musician Reina G. Collins, is working with female-centric arts and music fest Siren Nation (as treasurer and stage manager, respectively)—acknowledges that, "Yeah, there's been a couple of 'eh'" acts. But he also believes in giving everyone a chance.
And, because Kotila recently began booking for Mount Tabor Legacy, he now has more of a vehicle for doing so. WWR used to host monthly showcases at the White Eagle, Ash Street Saloon and the Green Room (as well as an acoustic night at Vino Vixens). Now he's moved WWR solely to Mount Tabor Legacy, where it will take advantage of the venue's layout, hosting acts in both its large room and its smaller, more songwriter-friendly lounge—and where Kotila also has an entire music calendar to fill.
When I ask whether WWR is exploiting "girls with guitars," Kotila defends himself: "I've always been enthralled with the music first," he says. "It worked this way because of the [bands] I was in." When presented with Grace's comments, he says, "There's always gonna be a handful of people who say, 'I just want respect for the music I do.' And usually those are the people who have already earned it." Now that's something I can agree with.
Angela Davise, Gina Noell and Felina's Arrow play a Women Who Rock benefit for Siren Nation Thursday, Oct. 4, at the White Eagle. 8:30 pm. $5. 21+. The Women Who Rock series takes place every first Saturday at Mount Tabor Legacy. See myspace.com/womenwhorockpdx for more info.