It’s a quandary every musical group has faced at some point: playing with shitty bands.
Sometimes, you just gotta do it — to fill out a lineup, to secure a gig, to get in with a particular venue; it goes with the territory.
Even in such a musically rich city as Detroit where the talented, envelope-pushing bands far outweigh the sucky ones, musicians can still have a tough time creating a flowing lineup, often being forced into playing with bands with drastically mismatched sounds.
It was this universal conundrum that initially prodded songstress Diana Balsama to organize the Venus Ball collective — and the fact that it focuses on chicks in rock just makes it that much cooler.
Balsama, singer for the band S.A.R. (and a junior high choir teacher by day) spent many years flexing her pipes in the blues scene, along with such luminaries as Thornetta Davis. A few years ago, she was asking to sing backup for the Orbitsuns’ appearance at the Detroit Music Awards. When she showed up for rehearsal, she was blown away by the number of talented female musicians she ran into — one was nationally celebrated singer songwriter Liz Larin.
“We were all talking about how we never get to see each other play,” recalls Balsama, “because we’re busy doing our own shows, and I thought it would be great to book a show with all these women so we could play together.”
Larin and Balsama put their heads together, and brought in Emily Rogers, bass player for RIB, who was recommended for her organization and management skills.
The first Venus Ball was held in December 2002, closely followed by a Valentine’s show in 2003 and a gig at Mount Clemens’ Emerald Theatre shortly thereafter. Each show sported a diverse lineup of female musicians, ranging from folk to rock to singer-songwriters.
“I definitely feel more camaraderie playing with other women,” says Balsama. “For some reason there’s a lot more energy. There’s this myth that women are competitive, and I haven’t seen it [with the Venus Ball]. It’s very open and supportive.”
And not hostile to the Y chromosomes either. Men are welcome to perform; organizers only ask that at least one band member be female.
“We didn’t want it to be, ‘If you have boys you can’t play,’” says Rogers. “And the guys love it — at least, the guys in my band do!”
This year, the Valentine’s show will spread over an entire weekend, with scheduled performers including Liz Larin, Whit Hill and the Postcards, Thornetta Davis, Carolyn Striho, Tamara Bedricky, S.A.R., RIB, the Killer Flamingos, Iris, and Rachel White.
The lineup for the Venus Ball is also unusual in that no single performer is featured as a headliner. Instead, the evening begins with more subdued acoustic acts, and gradually builds to a crescendo of rock, rhythm and blues by the end of the evening.
“It’s something the audience has really enjoyed in past shows,” says Balsama.
And, of course, an event organized by women is bound to pay attention to the finer little details: the venue will be decorated in a Middle Eastern theme, with draped fabrics, carpets and statues. Artist Chris Kastor will set up a large canvas onstage alongside the bands, and paint throughout the night.
“He doesn’t come in with a fixed idea. He just lets the music dictate it,” says Balsama. “The musicians just love it.”
A woman’s touch, indeed.
Catch the Venus Ball’s Valentine’s show at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward, Ferndale) on Friday, Feb. 13 and Saturday, Feb. 14. Call 248-544-3030 for lineups.Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org