She’s Making The Scene: Toledo’s Women In Music

. July 3, 2018.
Photo by John Miksanek.
Photo by John Miksanek.

Loud, assertive, and out all night aren’t typically included in the list of “ladylike” qualities. But hey—we aren’t listening to archaic gender roles, and neither should you. We’re listening to bold, badass, and beautiful babes who are making Toledo’s music scene something worth shouting about.

Amelia Airharts

Outlaw rockers’ expanding repertoire
by Erin Holden

Cari Langenderfer and Megan Lesle partnered to form the Amelia Airharts two years ago. Since then, the two musicians have developed their “outlaw rock” sound into something distinctly their own.

Photo by Jonathan Miksanek.

Photo by Jonathan Miksanek.

“I feel like we’ve branched off of that (outlaw rock),” Langenderfer said. “We were playing chunky, heavy rhythms, and acoustic. It’s almost the flavor of KT Tunstall ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.’ It’s a lot of rhythm, a lot of grit. Now, with a full band, I’d say we have more of a pop rock, punk kind of vibe going on.”

The Airharts first album, Long Hair Up, is more a part of the outlaw rock tradition, but they are working on a new album, more indicative of their current sound.

“Cari and I have both been playing music around the area for years,” Lesle said. “I’ve played guitar since I was 13 in countless bands; we finally came across each other in the music scene and started a duo project.” At first, the two vocalists/guitarists played cover songs for fun before discovering that their songwriting chemistry was worth exploring.

Langenderfer explained that she comes up with “the basic structure, the emotion, where the song’s going in lyrical context, and Megan arranges everything—where to place breaks and different sections.”

From a wide range of influences.

Lesle recalled listening to the Beach Boys growing up and “did the whole boy band thing,” getting into N’Sync. “Then, in high school, I settled more into the jazz and blues stuff. I was also into Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Wes Montgomery.” “My musical taste was all over the map,” Langenderfer explains.

“I went through a punk phase, then standard, Sarah McLachlan, chick music stuff.” Find their music on Spotify or YouTube to get a sense of the amalgamation of these early tastes that helped form their current sound. Their duo’s name says, “innovative and different,” according to Langenderfer. “If you ask us when we’re really hot and sweating, we’re Sweaty Betty and the Pit Stains. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

For more information and upcoming performances, visit facebook.com/AmeliaAirharts or ameliaairharts.com

Bitch, Thunder

Being loud, taking up space
by Athena Cocoves

Sitting outside of practice spaces in the Collingwood Arts Center, members of Bitch, Thunder formed a circle and began talking about the beginnings of their punky drumline. Founding “mothers”—Jess Hancock, Kelly Thompson, and Kate Komuniecki—relate a hazy origin story. They’re energetic and excited. The group’s name has “something to do with Samuel L. Jackson” and the original concept started as “half a joke.”

Photo by Nick Amrhein.

Photo by Nick Amrhein.

Getting bigger

The most clear message explaining the group’s genesis comes from Hancock: “We wanted to be ready for the 2016 Old West End Fest. That was our first gig.”

The troupe, grown from three to eight members, has played around seven out of town gigs and had countless Toledo performances, including Art Loops, house shows, and “proper concerts.” “It’s disorderly as hell,” says Thompson, with a smile. Everyone joins her in raucous laughter.

With a collectively giggly, animated personality, Bitch, Thunder is no stranger to misconceptions, but proving people wrong— and having fun doing it—is where they thrive.

Seriously joking

“We’re serious as f*ck, but sometimes we’re just joking around,” said Megan Tyson. “I think people get that we’re trying to be a serious drumline, but then they see us laughing, and get confused.” Marissa Medley chimed in, “… but if you’re too serious it starts to become a chore.”

The group is serious about two things—having fun and making music—which they do consistently and fearlessly. An eight-piece set, they focus on creating a single sound together. This is no battle of the egos, but rather “eight different people are forming one giant drum set,” Hancock explained.

“Bitch, Thunder offers a feeling of power… We’re here, we’re taking up space, and you can’t ignore it. You have to move out of the way,” said Thompson.

This confrontational attitude comes from frequent public performances. Most of the time, Bitch, Thunder does not take the stage—they create it. With Bitch, Thunder, you hear and see them—and everyone responds differently.

“As an all female drumline we’re making a statement. To play drums is to be loud, and society is always asking women to ‘not be loud,’” said Amanda Belt, with Kelly Johns adding, “I wish the gendered aspect wasn’t a thing, but we’re eight strong women playing the drums together, so I want to embrace that as an opportunity for making a difference.”

Interpretations of empowerment

“Everyone’s interpreting it in their own way, and that’s not something you can stop,” said Medley. “… but being in Bitch, Thunder has certainly affected me in my everyday life and made me stronger in standing up for myself.”

Regardless of how people see them, and how they feel about themselves, the eight members fully and enthusiastically agree on one thing, best summed up by Hancock: “Being loud is the greatest thing in the world.”

Catch them at the Toledo Loves Love Fest (Saturday, July 14) and at Crash Detroit 2018 (Saturday, July 21). To learn more about Bitch, Thunder, visit facebook.com/BishThunder.

All eight members of Bitch, Thunder.

All eight members of Bitch, Thunder.

A full Bitch, Thunder lineup

Kelly Johns (snare)
Previous: Hound, Falling Spikes, and Dead Sun.

Kelly Thompson (snare/bass)
Also in: Violent Bloom.

Kate Komuniecki (tenors)
Also in: Violent Bloom, Dirty Damn Band, Yankee Ghost (Cleveland-based).

Megan Tyson (cymbals)
Co-captain of Zeros Moped Club.

Marissa Medley (bass)
Also in: Crystal (bass guitar).
Works at Finders Records in Bowling Green.
Previous: Steel Drums at BGSU.

Janelle Nunnally (snare)
Previous: Steel Drums at BGSU.

Amanda Belt (bass)
Also in: Crystal and Shmotel (guitar and vocals).

Jess Hancock (tenors/snare)
Also in: Awesome Job, Shmotel, and Crystal (drums).

Ramona Collins

Keeping Jazz alive in Toledo
by Erin Holden

Ramona Collins has watched the Toledo jazz scene evolve throughout the decades. She began singing at age 16 when her mother, a Toledo musician who performed during the 40s and 50s, brought her along to jam sessions.

Photo by Jonathan Miksanek.

Photo by Jonathan Miksanek.

“I was very shy, and my mother felt I needed to get over that,” Collins said. It wasn’t until her early 20s that she truly began to enjoy performing. She received her education in jazz from those jam sessions, a path that is much different from the one younger musicians take today.

“That was your classroom,” Collins said. “People learned to play with feeling. They learned how to read the audience. You don’t really learn that stuff in college. You can’t be too technical when people are spending good money for food and drinks. You have to know how to engage people.” Sometimes artists underestimate the audience but, as Collins learned early on, “people do know the difference” between going through the motions of performing and doing it with feeling.

… and all that jazz

Collins used to be a regular at Rusty’s Jazz Café before it closed in 2003, leaving Toledo without a club devoted solely to jazz; however, she has found a home at many venues, singing not only jazz, but Motown, blues, and doo wop. “You have to be innovative in how you apply yourself,” Collins said. “I’m known as a jazz vocalist, but I’ve been in funk bands. I was influenced by the old legends.” She said she’s been compared to singers from Randy Crawford to Dinah Washington. “It runs the gamut, but it’s all good,” she said.

Collins said that despite the fact that local artists often go unrecognized, “every city has to have local artists to keep the music scene alive. Everybody’s local somewhere—that’s what I always say. Music is about relationships, and hoping those relationships become long-term because you never know where people are going to go.” She said that’s why “it’s good to treat everyone with respect. You never know who’s going to make a difference in your career. Like a lot of things in life, it’s all about relationships.”

Find out more about Ramona’s upcoming performances at ramonacollins.com.

Trash Cats

Mayhem with a message
by Jeff McGinnis

For Elizabeth “Hannah” Cardenas and Ashley Blankenship—the lead singer and bass player in Toledo’s punk band Trash Cat—rocking out together on stage is the culmination of a dream they’ve had since high school.

We actually met in German class,” Hannah explains. “I am a year older than her, and we just got along so well. And we just started talking about punk music. And no matter where life took us, we always met up with each other, somewhere, somehow, and we just stayed connected.”

Photo by Kelli Miller.

Photo by Kelli Miller.

Graduation, collaboration

“It wasn’t until we were out of high school that we were able to make music together,” Ashley said.

Trash Cat’s in-your-face attitude and provocative lyrics have made them an increasingly hot ticket across area stages. For both Hannah and Ashley, tackling crucial societal issues through their work—original songs that relate to subjects like gun control, police brutality, the #MeToo movement and more—is central to their identity as musicians.

The group has evolved over time as both women have grown in confidence, evidenced by their increasingly impactful stage presence and continuously evolving lyrical sophistication.

“I never really wrote a song until we started Trash Cat,” Hannah admits, “And every time I write a song, I think ‘Oh my God, this is the stupidest thing ever!’ And then we end up putting music to it, and I think, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense! That actually sounds like a real song!’”

Though punk rock is their canvas, both Hannah and Ashley say that the deeper goals of Trash Cat are what really inspire them to continue creating. “I hope that listeners feel all the passion that we put out,” Ashley said. “I think most people realize that Hannah and I are very progressive women who advocate acceptance, and the best, for every human.”

“We kid of try to let that our through our music and keep it relatable,” Ashley said. “We want people of every type, ‘of every race and gender’, to come out to our show and know that they’re here to be loved. Punk rock, as aggressive as it can be, is trying to be about togetherness and uniting.”

To learn more, visit facebook.com/trashcatpunk. To listen to Trash Cat, check out trashcatpunk.bandcamp.com.

Sarah Cohen

Passionate advocate and virtuoso
by Courtney Probert

Classic rock and reggae filled Cohen’s house throughout her childhood. In junior high, Cohen began to sculpt those influences into her own musical style through singing and guitar playing.

“Listening to rock at a young age really touched me. The idea of people getting together, listening to music outdoors and being kind to one another made me want to be on stage in that setting.”

Now 36, Cohen continues to fulfill her dream of playing shows where activism is part if the objective. Her band, The Antivillians (with her brother Ben as a member), appreciates performances linked with supporting an issue, such as Michigan’s Farm Block Festival where proceeds benefit music education.

Photo by Courtney Probert.

Photo by Courtney Probert.

Americana evolved

Cohen’s style has evolved from writing about love and relationship struggles to creating songs with a different approach. “I like to take stuff from American history because I think that’s a unique way to tell a story and get away from the personal stuff,” she explained, “keeping it original and from the heart is a big deal.”

The band’s inviting scene has never made her feel, that being a woman, she was an object on stage. Treating everyone, men and women, as equal is a belief she maintains, working with her friends and brothers throughout her lifetime.

“I’m very lucky to be able to create and perform with honest to god gentlemen, all of whom respect and honor the female and I can’t thank them enough. It’s pretty seamless the way we collaborate.”

“Sometimes writing comes easy, but I’ve gone a year without writing, and that’s okay.” She said, “I think as a musician, it’s important to travel, read literature and poetry, and see what other bands are doing.

Sarah is also a calendar editor for Toledo City Paper.

The Antivillains are currently recording new material in the studio and plays Farmblock Fest Friday, July 27- Sunday, July 29. Check out the band’s website at theantivillains.com.