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With A Band Of Their Own, These Women Celebrate Feminism And Rock 'N' Roll

Members of Band of Their Own on stage. (Courtesy Joshua Pickering)
Members of Band of Their Own on stage. (Courtesy Joshua Pickering)

The band has no singles and no album. They don’t write songs or tour. They have no career goals or Bandcamp presence. There are a few famous Boston-associated names involved — Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley, Belly’s Tanya Donelly and Jennifer Trynin, among them — but it is very much a part-time band for all concerned.

“This is a joyful side project for all of us,” says singer-guitarist Donelly. “We each have other bands and this is a way for us to connect around the music that shaped us.”

They are called Band of Their Own (or BOTO), an all-female rock group that makes a rare appearance at Boston’s multi-band Harpoonfest in the Seaport District on May 18. And the expectation is they’ll provide a jolt of some of the best straight-up, old-school rock ‘n’ roll you could want on a Saturday afternoon.

Belly’s Tanya Donelly performing with BOTO. (Courtesy Kelly Davidson)
Belly’s Tanya Donelly performing with BOTO. (Courtesy Kelly Davidson)

It's not a band that begs for deep critical analysis — they're about overt fun, implicit feminism and good-time rock ‘n’ roll. Nearly every song they cover was played, written and/or sung by women: ‘Til Tuesday, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Pat Benatar, the Runaways, the Cranberries and Eurythmics are all in the mix.

“It’s crazy that we feel like we can pick up the mantle from the giants of our industry,” says Hanley.

BOTO came into existence in 2016 because of Red Sox baseball and the long-running, multi-band rock-and-jock benefit called Hot Stove Cool Music that happens every winter in Boston at the Paradise, and also lately, on a summer night, in Chicago. The funds raised benefit the charity A Foundation to be Named Later.

All the women involved in BOTO have joined the Hot Stove guys on stage in various combinations, but as Belly bassist Gail Greenwood put it: “This was a way of adding a distaff element to the Hot Stove Cool Music sausage party. Nothing wrong with sausages, mind you, just that it needed more women musicians. And Boston is lousy with fantastic woman players so why not?”

The band’s name plays off Penny Marshall’s 1992 movie "A League of Their Own" — about the short-lived women’s professional baseball league — and ironically riffs on the notion that these female Boston rockers finally have their own rock band. (Note: There have been other all-female Boston rock bands — Dangerous Birds, Malachite and Petty Morals to name three.)

“I think when you come up on more of a national stage or industry-centric stage, there’s more talk about being a ‘woman in rock,’ ” Hanley says, “but when you come up in Boston, that’s kind of the awesome thing — a lot of the women weren’t just relegated to being the lead singer. There were amazing guitar players, bass players, drummers.”

There have, indeed, been countless “women in rock” stories over the decades. Aquanutz singer-guitarist Melissa Gibbs has wearily looked at those, tired of it being “treated as if it is a fad or whatever."

"Ultimately, I don't think anyone in BOTO gives a s--- about that because we're all lifers," she says. "We're not going anywhere and we can work with both men and women and be productive.”

The BOTO crew: In the front row, Michelle Paulhus, Kay Hanley, Tanya Donelly, Jennifer D'Angora, Tamora Gooding. In the back row, Magen Tracy, Melissa Gibbs, Hilken Mancini, Jen Trynin, Kate Tucker, Gail Greenwood. (Courtesy Joshua Pickering)
The BOTO crew: In the front row, Michelle Paulhus, Kay Hanley, Tanya Donelly, Jennifer D'Angora, Tamora Gooding. In the back row, Magen Tracy, Melissa Gibbs, Hilken Mancini, Jen Trynin, Kate Tucker, Gail Greenwood. (Courtesy Joshua Pickering)

Band of Their Own has evolved into a core of eight or nine musicians, says Hanley, with various others coming in and out. BOTO doesn’t exactly have a motto but if it did, it might be what singer-guitarist Jen D’Angora says: “We don't tell you we're female and we kick ass — we just get out there and kick it, and we happen to be female.”

Hanley says most of the people in BOTO are women she’s either played with or emulated for the past three decades. “There’s something about sisterhood that’s baked into who I am. Everything I do is a testament to the feminists who have come before me. And thanks to women who have blazed these trails I get to enjoy the fruits of their revolutionary zest.”

Band of Their Own was the brainchild of former Blake Babies drummer and BOTO musical director Freda Love Smith; she is nicknamed MOBOTO (Mother of BOTO). By its nature, Smith says, BOTO is an inherently feminist outfit, “in that it's in part a response to women being excluded, marginalized or underrepresented in rock. It functions as a very loud, deliberate and glorious correction.” (Smith won’t be at upcoming show; she’s currently on the injured list, recovering from back surgery.)

Hilken Mancini, former singer-guitarist of Fuzzy and co-founder of Girls Rock Campaign Boston, considers how female musicians are perceived by the music industry and fans. “In the post-#MeToo era, we may have sparked a conscious decision towards more female representation at these events,” she says. “By being an all-female band up there, I hope to help transform attitudes and assumptions around what women stand for and what female success is. We can enjoy sisterhood and not be eaten up by competition.”

Members of Band of Their Own on stage. (Courtesy Joshua Pickering)
Members of Band of Their Own on stage. (Courtesy Joshua Pickering)

When BOTO began, Trynin says, “The criteria was songs by chicks and then that blurred into songs made famous by chick singers and then further stretched — to my delight — to songs about chicks like [Tommy Tutone’s] ‘867-5309/Jenny.’ And by ‘chicks’ I mean ‘girls’ and by ‘girls’ I mean ‘women.’ ”

“We're all long-time performers, with varied histories of being in the ‘only chick band’ in a given scene, or the only woman in our respective bands,” adds singer-keyboardist Magen Tracy. “We share an immense pleasure and awe in getting to share a stage with each other, playing songs by our heroes.”

Like the cast of “A League of Their Own,” the musicians will be wearing baseball-style uniforms, tops created by Greenwood and her “long-suffering paramour” Chil Mott.

“I always say, ‘Please feel free to wear your usual rock ‘n’ roll cape or assless chaps or whatever you girls usually wear to feel rock,’ ” says Greenwood, “but to paraphrase Magen Tracy's usual response, ‘Hell no, we've all drunk the BOTO Kool Aid and we're a team, dammit!' "

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Jim Sullivan Twitter Music Writer
Jim Sullivan writes about rock 'n' roll and other music for The ARTery.

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