Irene Young
Photographer Irene Young has been documenting women's music for five decades. Credit: Tracy Baim

This piece was originally published by Windy City Times.

BERKELEY, Calif. — “Something About the Women” was appropriately the closing song for two sold-out, stellar concerts at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage November 19, in celebration of the new book of the same name by Irene Young, the legendary photographer of women’s music and culture for the past 50 years.

Subtitled “Five Decades of Seeing,” this book is a must-have for followers of what is known as “women’s music,” but really, as singer-songwriter Holly Near said herself, is 98 percent lesbian-feminist music. At more than 400 pages and with more than 900 photos, this book is an incredible walk down memory lane. While Young admits she did not cross paths with everyone in the genre, she certainly has captured more than anyone else in the movement.

Holly Near
Holly Near Credit: Tracy Baim

I remember way back in 1984 when I started at GayLife, and through the Windy City Times and Outlines, getting Young’s wonderful black-and-white 8x10s of the women musicians coming through Mountain Moving Coffeehouse and other Chicago venues. They helped illustrate the talents in an inviting, compelling way. You wanted to go to see these performers in person as a result of her professional work.

Margie Adam
Margie Adam Credit: Tracy Baim

Women’s music pioneer Margie Adam spoke at the first show, and prolific women’s culture writer and professor Bonnie Morris spoke at the second. 
“For so many of us, the women’s music movement was the soundtrack of our awakening,” said Morris. “The soundtrack to our lives now has its own yearbook in these photographs Irene took. … To catch it in a still, to frame the mood forever, kept the life force pulsing.” She said Young’s photography “electrified rather than objectified” women.

Young spoke of her great thanks to all the people who helped make the book possible. In the opening to the book, she writes, in part: “My role is not about clicking a shutter and opening a lens. It is about opening the aperture of my own heart to another human being so that they can open yours.”

Young’s care in her work is what compelled so many to join her for her California book launch. There were legends and newbies, and everything in between. A wide range of styles and eras, and an incomparable day of lesbian-feminist herstory.

I hesitate to even say there were highlights since both shows were wonderful. Though the first show had two amazing sign language interpreters: Sherry Hicks and Jennie O’Shaughnessy DeLeon. Some of the performers were in both shows, but there were many just in one, so I’m glad we went to both.

Mary Watkins and Melanie DeMore
Mary Watkins and Melanie DeMore Credit: Tracy Baim

Near and friends closed out the two shows and certainly brought the room to their feet. Mary Watkins and Melanie DeMore did an incredible rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” that I would love to see repeated across the country. 
Ferron, with Barbara Higbie on violin, singing “Testimony,” her 48-year-old classic, was superb. Shelley Jennings on guitar and Chris Webster on vocals added to the fantastic set. Jennings, Higbie and Webster were also key parts of other performances.

Linda Tillery
Linda Tillery Credit: Tracy Baim

Linda Tillery, one of the biggest names in women’s music for decades, performed in the first show, bringing her music to life, the music that is the magic to the “secret world.”

Deadly Nightshade (Helen Hooke, Anne Bowen, Lisa Koch) performed a song written when they first started in 1974, and one more recently. Original co-founder Pamela Brandt passed away in 2015, so Koch more recently joined the group. Deadly Nightshade was among the first all-female bands to record on a major record label.

Credit: Tracy Baim

There was a reuniting of The Washington Sisters (Sändra and Sharon), Alive!, Emma’s Revolution, Rhiannon, Carolyn Brandy, Christelle Durandy, Jennifer Berezan, Barbara Borden, Tret Fure, Tammy Hall, Terry Garthwaite, Nina Gerber, Melanie Monsur, Suzanne DiVincenzo, Michaelle Goerlitz, Debbie Fier, Nancy Vogl, Suzanne Shanbaum, Deidre McCalla, Lisa Zeiler and Jennie Chabon, Eve Decker, Inge Hoogerhuis, Robin Flower, Libby McLaren, Sheila Glover, Mary Ford, Laurie Lewis, Margaret Belton, Jean Fineberg, Rachel Garlin, plus the rockin’ band Skip the Needle (Vicki Randle, Katie Cash, Shelley Doty, Kofy Brown), and introductions by Terri Lynn Delk.  

Freight & Salvage staff did a perfect job navigating such complex performances. The shows were recorded so hopefully we will be able to stream or purchase a concert movie soon.

Over the course of the past 39 years, I’ve seen maybe half of these performers live. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the talent of the women’s music and culture movement. What a treat that Irene Young brought them all together to celebrate her book launch. And what an even bigger treat that we have this 50-year yearbook of a critical part of the movement for equality.

Something About the Women” has sold out of its first printing, but more are on the way.