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The Femme Have Arrived

by Andrea Daly

            It’s six-o-clock in the evening — which means it’s early — and the little Brooklyn venue on the corner of Franklin and Clifton Place that has become a hotbed of talent and creative community has not yet opened its doors. Before the fog machines and familiar faces, the disco balls and DJs, I stand alone in the back room watching eleven performers check their charts, rehearse transitions, talk shop, and call out arrangement notes for tonight’s set. They are all women.

            If you haven’t heard about Femme Jam, the hype will reach you soon. The women of Femme have been drawing monthly sold out crowds to the popular Bedstuy venue C’mon Everybody for a year now, hosting an all-female-led jam session that attracts amateur musicians, Broadway pit players, and touring professionals alike, and bookending it with highly-orchestrated performances of their own that feature coordinated costumes, choreography, and sparkling vocal arrangements. In this monthly mix of levels and styles are lessons about what actually creates change in an industry that has yet to find gender parity, how it happens, and who’s making it.

            To understand Femme Jam’s significance requires a bit of background on the live music scene, where unrehearsed musical gatherings, called “jam sessions,” are a common way for musicians to hang after hours. In a jam session, impromptu bands result when guest players (singers too) swap in and out of an existing house band to create an ever-evolving ensemble on stage. “It’s basically like a pick-up game for musicians,” says Megan Talay, who plays guitar for Femme and also subs on Broadway. In other words, it’s fertile ground for an exhilarating communal experience.

            But jam sessions can also be a hostile environment. “They’re not supposed to be intense, scary things,” says substitute Femme trombonist Gina Benalcazar, “but they usually are. It’s a lot of pressure. If you go to a jam session and you mess up, that’s it.” And so participants are highly motivated to show off. In the jazz scene, Caroline Davis explains how instrumentalists “all learn these thirty to fifty jazz standards that everyone calls at jam sessions, and then [when we go to play them] everybody vibes each other.” She laughs at the all-too-familiar experience of participants non-verbally intimidating each other on stage: “It kind of comes along with what the definition of a jam session is.” Davis, a composer/saxophonist/vocalist who leads three different original projects in NYC, adds that one of the most special things about the Femme jam session is that it truly is “a safe space for people to come and share their talents.” That safe space, however, is merely a ripple effect of Femme Jam’s original intent.

            Femme Jam was conceived, so the story goes, at an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fundraiser in October 2018, where vocalists Melissa McMillan, Camille Trust, and Alita Moses were waiting to soundcheck for a performance. As McMillan recalls, “the conversation turned to jam sessions… and I [asked] ‘are there any jam sessions that are all women?’ And we all started thinking about it and were like — no.” Maybe it was the socially-aware setting, she concedes, that inspired the idea, but the immediate next question became “should we start this?” Joining with fellow vocalist Miranda Joan, the four performers began brainstorming about how to create the event that participants now describe as everything from “a hang” to “an almost theatrical experience.”

            The rundown of that experience looks like this: On the third Tuesday of every month, at C’mon Everybody, doors open at 8pm. DJ Luna Rosa spins specially-selected tunes to warm up the room, and the house band takes the stage at 8:30pm. The four founders (vocalists Joan, McMillan, Moses, and Trust) make a choreographed entrance, and after an introductory a cappella medley, the full band plays the tunes they’ve rehearsed for that night’s theme. Finally, the stage opens up to would-be jam participants. To participate, audience members sign up on a clipboard: all performers of all experience levels and gender identities are welcome. (Yes, men come out in throngs to participate.) Two hours later, at 11:00pm, the house vocalists return to the stage to close out the night with a house band rendition of Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” Admission is $10, and every other month half the proceeds are donated to charities or non-profits that empower the local community, “especially organizations that support women and girls,” notes Joan.

            On the night that I slip into the venue early, the performers are already gathering for their only full-band practice. Camille Trust is wearing a baby blue jersey, oversized jean overalls, and a spiky platinum blonde wig and visor. It’s her boy band costume, as per tonight’s theme, “N’Sync versus Backstreet Boys.” Joan matches Trust’s vibe with an oversized bright orange jersey top that reads “Trixter,” in a font that could have been pulled from the logo of the late-nineties suburban retail chain ‘Spencer’s Gifts.’ Moses and McMillan are similarly-styled. House sound engineer Somer Bingham works around the musicians, checking cables. (Bingham, who knows what a rarity female sound engineers are on the live music scene, heard about Femme and immediately asked the venue to switch her schedule so that she could work the event.) The performers catch up about life and business, and soon the four vocalists are leading a rapid-fire rehearsal.

            Fast forward to the vocalists’ anticipated entrance that night, and I am squished between bodies in a room with rainbow lights and fog pooling on the ceiling. The crowd cheers. I have never seen anticipation like this for a jam session, and there is a reason why: Although multiple elements could make Femme unique (its inclusive, welcoming environment, its local charity outreach, the obvious fact that it is led by women), its most standout element is arguably its theatrical approach. Femme carves out space not only for sonic creativity from house performers and jam participants alike, but also for dramatic, thematic, and visual creativity: which is to say, for theatre. Each month’s theme and corresponding musical arrangements are a surprise for the audience, amplified by choice choreography and costumes plucked from thrift shops and the singers’ own closets. (I’m told that a massive group text chain accompanies the creative decisions surrounding outfits each month.) I ask the vocalists where the theatrical components of Femme come from. Although they suggest that choreography and costumes are natural extensions of a performance in which they “want to not take ourselves so seriously” and “be funny, but also fierce” (McMillan), all four founders have been involved in musical theater. Trust admits she “loves choreo,” and says “a large part of my performance capabilities came from [when] I was in a performing group called Entertainment Revue in Tampa for ten years until I was eighteen.” (Entertainment Revue is a non-profit arts group that performs over fifty shows a year with an all-girls song and dance ensemble.) Joan was involved in musical theater in high school as well. For Moses, it was personal: “I grew up watching my Mom flourish on and off Broadway as a triple threat.” Moses started doing theater when she was nine, and continued throughout high school, planning to apply to college theater programs, until ultimately deciding to do music instead. McMillan, too, was heavily involved in high school: “I did the camps, I was in every play.” She releases a self-deprecating laugh. “I’m the lead in everything. I do national theater convention, I’m auditioning to perform at the national thespian convention, literally.” As with Moses, McMillan had plans to major in musical theater until her alma mater, University of North Texas, dropped the major after she’d already enrolled, and she stumbled into jazz singing.

            Besides Femme Jam’s tongue-in-cheek theatrical elements of costumes and choreography, each edition of Femme genuinely embraces a new surprise musical theme. The vocalists’s a cappella medley functions like a sizzle reel on that month’s theme, and when the house band joins, every song is thematically relevant. With these many layers of performance combined, Femme’s audiences experience the anticipation and thrill of a show in which they know what to expect structurally, but simultaneously have no idea what to expect from the performers themselves. Because of this, unlike other jam sessions, McMillan observes that Femme’s audience includes “a lot of non-musicians, [and] a lot of people that are just there to chill.” In other words, they have expanded the traditional jam session audience as a direct result of their outside-the-box thinking. (Besides “N’Sync versus Backstreet Boys,” past themes have included “British invasion,” “Disco,” “Female Songwriters of the 60’s,” “Holiday Songs,” “Famous Call-To-Action Songs,” and “Original Songs” written by members of Femme themselves. Other themes involve re-appropriation, as with the “She’s a [blank]” theme, featuring songs originally performed by men with the lyric “She’s a [blank]” (e.g. brickhouse), this time performed by women.)

            On this Tuesday night, in the rainbow-colored room where Femme is about to re-appropriate a turn-of-the-millenium boy band craze, it’s now 8:30pm and so the singers enter in dark sunglasses from behind the crowd, strutting and posing like ubiquitous teen sensations. They adopt their roles both physically and verbally. “You know, I’ve been on tour for a minute,” one of them quips, shrugging coolly. At the front of the room, they break into thirty seconds of early-aughts boy band dance moves, perfectly coordinated. The crowd loses its mind. The quality of the ensuing a cappella medley makes me dizzy, and when the house band enters, it shines alongside them, with tight horn parts arranged by Davis. After the house band finishes, the jam sessions participants that climb to the stage are visibly having a blast, and the audience supports them with cheers. I am embedded in a love fest. When the house performers return at last, to close the night with Femme’s signature cover of “Survivor,” the audience responds by knowing all the words.

            At the end of a long evening, I ask the performers to open up to me about hurdles and opportunities in their own careers, and what they wish for the future of Femme Jam. Over our ensuing conversations and phone calls, the women unanimously express their gratitude for the visibility and community provided by Femme Jam. I sought to discover how a recurring event like this was built, to explore what all necessitated it, and to learn what changes it has brought to the lives of those involved. Individually, the career experiences of these musicians also revealed truths that surprised me, with far-reaching implications for those of us working towards gender parity in music and especially musical theater. 

AD: “How did you get connected to Femme? What are the specific networks that brought you together?”

Gina Benalcazar (trombone): “Mostly it’s word of mouth.”

Danae Greenfield (keys): “Alita and I are in the same wedding band; she told me about it.” 

Julia Adamy (bass): “I went to school with Melissa.”

Lessie Vonner (trumpet): “I knew [the others] from hangs or going to shows, or mutual friends.”

Elena Conn (drums): “Camille Trust and Melissa McMillan heard me perform at [another jam session, called] The Jelly, and approached me.”

Megan Talay (guitar): “My [drummer] friend Elena Bonomo was talking about it, and I was like — ‘well, who’s on guitar?’ — and then I went to the first one, and after that I was like “guys, I’ll do this.’ [laughs]”

AD: “Now that you’re involved in Femme, have you gotten new gigs or made new connections that way?”

Conn (drums): “Sure enough, within about four or five months of doing the jam session, my gigs doubled. And after doing a lot of work on my own time, my work has now basically tripled.”

Caroline Davis (sax): “I’ve definitely had people get in touch with me and say ‘oh I saw you play saxophone for Femme Jam, do you want to play saxophone for this gig that I’m doing next month?”

Adamy (bass): “I’m meeting a lot more female musicians than I ever did at any of the other jam sessions.”

Talay (guitar): “One of the bigger perks is that I met another [female] guitarist who I was able to pass off gigs to. Her name is Michiko [Egger]… she’s on tour with Spongebob right now.”

AD: “Have you faced any roadblocks or received any opportunities in your career that you associate with gender or with gender politics?”

Vonner (trumpet): “[When I am] touring with Beyoncé, she tries to have an all-female band, so I think that was probably my foot in the door. But then at some point it becomes, like, ‘ok, you’re a female trumpet player, but at the end of the day, can you do the job and do it well?’ So I’m proud to say that while I may have gotten into the band because I was a woman, I’m still in the band because I do my job really well.”

Adamy (bass): “For me I feel like I generally get gigs more because I’m female, and not the other way around, which I have very many mixed feelings about… Obviously there are plenty of incredible female musicians, [but I’ve] been in circumstances where people are just hired because they’re female, not because of their abilities. Recently, I had a gig — it was the first time, I realized, that this had ever happened — where the band was majority-women, not because being a woman was required, but just because people hired good people, and most of us happened to be women. Like, that never happens. [laughs]”

AD: “As a female-identifying, non-binary, or gender non-conforming creative working in what is today still a male-dominated field, do you have any personal insights or experiences related to that imbalance that you are comfortable sharing?”

Miranda Joan (vocals): “[laughs] Yes… As far as sharing personal stories, I definitely have a lot. I’ve definitely had advances made, I’ve had producers try and kiss me in sessions, and things like that—”

AD: “In the middle of a session?”

Joan (vocals): “At the end, they’re like ‘I think there’s a vibe here, do you wanna…?’ And I’m like ‘dude, [laughs] what? No. No thank you. I feel like I could go on and on about that, but… I think what’s important to be said [about Femme Jam] is that we set a tone, with the session, of like ‘you come here to behave…’”

AD: [laughs]

Joan (vocals): “…You come here to be a good person, you come here to share in the beautiful thing that is music and to make music. That’s why we’re here. And we are not here for all those other ego things and for all the other funkiness. [Since] it’s female-led, and because the house band is all these badass women, we set this tone of, like, ‘we are here and we are together and we are strong, we are powerful, and we are open to have you come and participate in this.’”

Moses (vocals): “There is a stigma at most [jam] sessions surrounding female musicians and how seriously they’re taken.”

Benalcazar (trombone): “I was at a gig once, and a guy goes, ‘Hey, do you know the Dixieland songbook?” I said ‘Yeah, sure — what are we doing?’ And he said ‘But do you know all the tunes?’ I said ‘Yes, I know the tunes.’ He’s like ‘Yeah, but can you, like, improv?’ I said ‘Yes.’ I didn’t understand why he kept asking me. And then another guy came in. He said ‘do you know the Dixieland songbook?’ And the guy said ‘Not really,’ and he’s like ‘Ah, you’ll learn it,’ and then he put him on the stage.”

AD: “What?”

Benalcazar (trombone): “And I said, ‘Wait, I just told you I knew the book.’ So it’s like, not really hindering my career, but, that was rude, and stuff like that happens.”

Greenfield (keys): “When I was in college at Berklee, people would have sessions… the kind of thing where anyone could come and sit in. I’d be the only girl in there sometimes, out of like fifteen guys… I would show up, I would be one of the first ones in the room, and I wouldn’t get to play at all… It was definitely the most judged I’ve felt.”

Davis (sax): “I’ve had experiences, like many women, of people calling me [for work] because they’re [sexually] interested in me… I’m very careful now, I’ve learned to suss things out a little bit more. I get a lot of information before I say yes to something.”

Benalcazar (trombone): “When you’re in a band that’s really stacked, and you’re the youngest one there, the fact that I’m a woman [means] people will listen to me, waiting for [me] to mess up. And then when you don’t mess up they’re impressed and they think ‘Oh, well, maybe I’ll hire her.’ But they wouldn’t have listened that intently if you were just another guy on the stage. So it helps me in that sense… Even if they’re listening for me to mess up… well, then I play well, and now I’m taking [advantage of their scrutiny] — you kind of have to flip it.

Femme Jam was inspired by the realization that there was not a single female-led jam sessions in New York. On that subject of gender parity, multiple interviewees remembered times that they were the only woman, or one of a few women, in a room where music was being made:

Camille Trust (vocals): “Yesterday I went to do this ASCAP songwriters workshop… There were ten [applicants accepted into] the class and there were three girls and seven guys.”

Conn (drums): “I was the only girl in my graduating class at Oberlin.”

AD: “Really?”

Conn (drums): “I was the only female drummer in my entire time there. It’s definitely a male dominated instrument, and jazz is very much a male dominated art form.”

Trust (vocals): “Nine times out of ten I’m working with a male producer. Same with songwriters. Even when I did [my song] ‘Lavender,’ and tried to find a female mixing engineer and a female mastering engineer, it was very hard. I mean, I found them, and it was incredible, but it’s just crazy that it’s not even… you have to kind of dig for them.”

            Instrumentalists and vocalists are not the only music professionals whose lives intersect with Femme Jam. I conducted three additional interviews with Femme’s live sound engineer Somer Bingham, Femme DJ Luna Rosa, and Margaret Skoglund, a musical theater general manger and Maestra Advisory Board member who reached out to Femme’s founders early on to offer management assistance. The backgrounds and experiences of these three women, although different, echoed similar themes.

            Luna Rosa, Femme’s resident DJ, curates the music heard in the spaces between live performances. In her own career, she says female DJs are seen as “kind of a novelty, and so lately getting hired hasn’t been difficult.” That said, Rosa points out an idiosyncrasy I don’t expect: “On the flip side, sometimes I do feel like I have to compete with ‘model’ DJs… female-identifying people who are very gorgeous, they’re models, or they’re influencers and they have a ton of followers on Instagram… then it becomes less about the talent of DJ-ing and more about how they look.” For Rosa, it’s all about the music and the energy. She feels at home with the Femme Jam crowd, where the room is more open to hearing underground artists and especially female artists.

            Somer Bingham’s role as a sound engineer is part technical, part creative, and part relationship-oriented; she ensures that everyone is amplified properly, and tries to make them feel comfortable on the stage. Outside of live sound, Bingham is a producer and mixing engineer who also writes songs for film and TV, records local artists in her home studio, and has also worked extensively as a booking agent for the historic Sidewalk Cafe. Like Femme’s members, she has many talents, and like Femme’s members, she’s encountered sexism in different ways: “One of the more subtle ways is, a band might come in and be like ‘where is the sound tech?’ [laughs] As I’m setting up, as I’m tearing a box of cables.” In her own career, Bingham didn’t consider learning to run sound until someone else suggested it outright. “There just aren’t other role models. There aren’t enough people — enough women — also running sound, or producing, that subconsciously make you aware that’s something that you could be doing too.”

            Margaret Skoglund is quick to assure me that she is not a musician, but she has managed the likes of Mamma Mia, Newsies, The Lion King, What the Constitution Means to Me, and more, while working for Disney, Daryl Roth Productions, 321 Theatricals, and now KGM. She knows that Femme has something special, based on the fact that when she called around New York looking for an all-female band for hire, not a single company could offer her one. When we speak about Skoglund’s own industry of musical theater, she says: “Where I see [lack of gender parity] is with stage hands, with designers, with directors, musicians, managers, and —” Here, her energy intensifies. “We need to talk about this more. Much more. And get more women in power positions.” The entrenched inequality in Broadway pits that Skoglund describes is of a more subtle kind. In the theatre, she explains, “it’s not like the man and the woman are doing the exact same job except getting paid differently. It’s like, all the men tend to do this. All the men tend to be guitar players, and they get their doubles, etc, and all the women tend to be strings players, where they don’t typically get doubles or synth premiums. And so it just happens.” (In response to this pervasive imbalance, Skoglund has founded Open Stage Project, an organization whose “singular mission [is] gender parity backstage.” The organization performs outreach and training for high school aged girls interested in technical theater.) 

            Though my interviews didn’t investigate a pay gap in the live music scene, trumpet player Lessie Vonner noted that she has had her touring experience with Beyoncé used against her in pay negotiations, versus colleagues whose own experiences playing with major artists only seems to increase their value at the negotiation table.

            If women in both the musical theater and live music scenes traverse similarly-daunting professional landscapes, what can we learn by sharing these experiences with one another? The most interesting lessons are hiding in plain sight — in the careers of the Femme Jam instrumentalists who also play in Broadway and off-Broadway pits. Their nontraditional entrance points to musical theater speak directly to one of the ways that change is achieved in our industry. (Spoiler alert: change happens when music creators themselves write shows outside of the traditional musical canon.) Instrumentalists Gina Benalcazar, Megan Talay, and Elena Conn offer three different examples:

AD: “Gina, what was your journey toward getting involved in theater?

Benalcazar (trombone): “I’m a freelance trombonist/tubist. I play bass trombone, tenor trombone, and tuba, so I’m what they call a doubler.” 

      [Benalcazar is also a composer, arranger, educator, and singer, who performs in all size ensembles, from octets to orchestras. She plays trombone in different styles, but her favorite genre is jazz because of the inherent listening, improvising, and interaction.] 

“I’ve done a lot of pit shows, including Playing Hot, the Buddy Bolden musical Off-Broadway. That was my first real experience getting to work not just in the pit but also with the cast. I’ve sat in on other pits but you never really get to work with the cast as much, you’re two separate entities. 

AD: “Typically a musical theater score is very prescribed. What was the nature of that show such that it allowed for collaboration between the band and performers? 

Benalcazar (trombone): “With the Buddy Bolden story, [Bolden] was one of the pioneers of jazz trumpet, one of the first true improvisers. And so [in the show] the band was on stage with him, and [the actor that played Bolden] would talk to us, and he actually played trumpet. I played tuba on that show, and [at the beginning of the act, Bolden’s character] is just learning how to swing, and he’d say ‘Tubist, give me a bass line!’ and I’d have to come in with something and we would just jam over it. So it was really interactive. It was surreal being able to watch the show, and being with the cast.”

            Benalcazar’s value to the show, in short, was not limited to her music-reading abilities, or even to her unique doubling capabilities (tubists are rare), but it also extended to her collaborative jazz chops, and the ability to listen and improvise live the same way she does in a multitude of other projects outside of theater. In other words, a show with a nontraditional musical score sought a performer for a nontraditional role, and they found her. And she was female.

            Since getting her foot in the door on Playing Hot, Benalcazar has now started the subbing process for a much more standard pit gig. And she is not the only performer from Femme whose initial taste of theater came in a less standard wrapper:

AD: “Megan, it’s been a little over a year since you started getting involved with musical theater, how did you break into it?”

Talay (guitar): “I play guitar and sing for a living, it’s mostly guitar. I’ve been involved with singer-songwriters and pop projects, indie pop artists that would play Mercury Lounge and similar clubs. [When] I got out of college [I] was teaching a lot of lessons and making my own records… Musical theater was a game changer, [I] started subbing for two friends on Head Over Heels. That gave me a big boom and filled up my schedule to the point where I could stop teaching as much. Since then I’ve subbed on Waitress and Be More Chill on Broadway, and gotten to do The Jonathan Larson Project last fall. That helped me get to know [music supervisor Charlie Rosen], and then he called me for [Joe Iconis’s] Broadway Bounty Hunter.

AD: “Could you say a little bit more about the experience of that first show?”

Talay (guitar): “In terms of breaking into [theater], I think Head Over Heels was a godsend of a musical, to be honest, for myself and for every woman involved in that show. A lot of us were able to play on Broadway for the first time because of it.”

AD: “I knew it was an all-female band, but I didn’t know that it resulted in so many Broadway debuts, was that intentional?”

Talay (guitar): “I don’t think it was intentional, I think it’s just telling of how involved women are with musicals when it comes to rhythm section chairs like that. And it’s not like those who were making their Broadway debuts weren’t experienced. I mean, Cat Popper was Ryan Adams’ bassist, and just kind of a rock ’n’ roller. And Dena [Tauriello] the drummer, same way. And so in turn, it was similar for the subs, we were getting our calls from these people that I kind of knew through the rock scene.”

            Like Benalcazar, Talay’s first theater opportunity came from a show whose less traditional musical score demanded players from outside the theater scene — in this case, the rock and indie scenes. Elena Conn, one of Femme’s two regular drummers (the other is Elena Bonomo), studied jazz performance with Billy Hart at Oberlin. There, Conn did a lot of big band drumming, and honed her skills reading sheet music. But her longtime passion is pop music, and so when she returned to New York she dove into the pop scene, where she began playing with artists, frequently helping singer-songwriters write their drum charts.

AD: “Elena, in 2019 you became a sub for Ross Golan’s show The Wrong Man, off-Broadway. How were you able to expand from pop to musical theater?

Conn (drums): “The Wrong Man was an incidence of Alex Lacamoire looking for musicians who were not actually primarily Broadway performers. It’s my understanding that Alex [was looking for people] to collaborate with him in writing the parts… He wanted to bring in musicians who were used to performing [themselves]… and not just sitting down reading music all day. This band is onstage and very much half of the entire show. I think without the band it would be a completely different show.”

            [The Wrong Man, which played at MCC Theater in 2019, was penned by successful pop songwriter Ross Golan, and the score reflects its author, with extremely contemporary pop structure and flavor. Conn was pulled into the show as a sub by drum chair holder Jamie Donald Eblen.]

Conn (drums): “My friend Jamie felt that not only the genre of music would fit me well, but [also] he thought that I would also just kind of be perfect for the concept of the show, in that I spend all of my time collaborating and adding things to the music that other people give me.”

            Conn is quick to admit that, as a sub for Jamie, her role is really to “be Jamie,” but adds that she believes she and Jamie play pop music similarly to begin with. Like Talay and Benalcazar, Conn’s opportunity came when the creators of a show with a less traditional musical score sought musicians with the right skill set for that sound.

            If the extent of these interviews has demonstrated one thing most clearly, it is that lack of gender parity remains problematic across many facets of the music industry, but simultaneously that the women who are making music are powerhouses, and they wear many hats in their careers. In part as a result of their diversity and unique skills, a shift towards gender parity, however incremental, is happening, both in the live music scene and in musical theater. Meanwhile it is the omnipresence of community, of fellow professionals who are themselves agents of change, that both offers a sense of belonging and ensures that this change will continue. Joan puts the feeling best: “I feel so powerful because of the women that I’m around; they make me feel powerful.” As she’s gotten older, she reflects: “I’ve become more sure of myself. [In the past] I definitely have called upon my masculine energy a lot more, to contend in certain spaces and feel like I’m holding my own, and I think I’ve realized over the years there’s so much strength and power in my feminine energy as well… that Femme Jam has reminded me of.” 

            When Joan, Moses, McMillan, and Trust founded Femme Jam exactly one year ago, they couldn’t foresee all the ripples of change they were about to create. They couldn’t foresee an audience of respected music professionals mingling with amateur musicians and non-musical admirers, or predict the love and anticipation in the room. “There’s always one moment per Femme,” says McMillan, “where I look out [at the crowd] and I’m like ‘oh my God, we created this!’ [It may be] a simple idea, but the impact [of Femme Jam is] strong.” Part spontaneous jam, part rehearsed concert, part tongue-in-cheek play, part social justice movement, part charity event, part career network, Femme is far more than the sum of its parts. And the experiences of those involved have offered us one beautiful, resounding answer to the question of how to create gender parity in the music industry: Do something different. And good. And the opportunities — and the crowd — will come to you.

Note: Femme Jam’s full roster includes additional performers besides those listed above; contact Femme Jam for a full list. Out of necessity, the performers interviewed here were those that were in attendance on the day this author attended the jam session.

photos: Liz Smalls

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