Camp and vamp

Whether in five-inch stilettos or a pair of threadbare Chuck Taylors, lady rockers of Detroit will stand tall this weekend.

The Under My Heels festival, celebrating its second year, is a concert co-founded by three of Detroit’s ever-present XX-chromosomed musicians: Alicia Gbur of the Nice Device, Claudia Leo of the Avatars and the Coronados, and Melody Baetens of the Sirens and the Coronados.

But don’t take the Zippo to the bra just yet; unlike Lilith Fair and many other female-oriented music festivals, Heels’ agenda is thin on pistil-packing politics and thick on levity. It’s really just a spectral rock show that spotlights the sometimes softer, often nicer-to-look-at side of rock.

“I don’t know that we were trying to make any huge statement with it, but just make it a fun festival celebrating the women in the Detroit music scene,” Gbur says. “We wanted a diverse lineup and to showcase bands that have been working hard.”

The threesome, who named the festival as a shout-out to the Alice Cooper song “Under My Wheels,” are all close friends. One night, while sitting around chatting about music, they came up with the idea to put together a female-oriented showcase. And then they talked about making it a yearly event.

If this year is as successful as last, turning Heels into another Motor City tradition should be a snap.

At 2004’s Heels, the Nice Device, the Avatars, the Sirens, the Coronados and then-unknown Hard Lessons played to a packed house. “We all really wanted to play again this year, but thought it would be cool to feature different bands each year,” Gbur says.

For 2005, concertgoers will enjoy Outrageous Cherry, whose all-female rhythm section (Carey Gustafson on drums and Courtney Sheedy on bass) is equal parts dreamy and talented; the Demolition Doll Rods, featuring Motor City’s pro-nudity iconoclast, Margaret Dollrod; esQuire, the epicene rapper whose fabulously gammed go-go dancers are almost as pretty as he is; Kelly Jean Caldwell, whose recent solo release, Banner of a Hundred Hearts, on Ypsilanti Records, has made her Ann Arbor’s own twee pop darling; and newcomers Loretta Lucas and the Larkspurs, whose earthy mien and superior songwriting abilities have made the group the focus of this summer’s most audible buzz.

Though the lineup is a terrific cross-section of the diverse kinds of music that are coming from Detroit these days, greenhorn Loretta Lucas deserves special attention. While shunning many of the burgeoning Detroit rock group conventions (they do not, in any way, look or sound like the MC5, nor do they adhere to any prefab sense of style), this mostly female singer-songwriter outfit has earned the hype. Lucas’ Siouxsie Sioux-meets-Kitty Wells flutter, ear for melody and ability to write quirky-yet-clever lyrics make her a genuine joy to watch.

If all goes well, Gbur and cohorts hope to take the festival on a national tour. Gbur believes there’s a market for this type of festival.

“It’s a matter of getting sponsorship and funding, and making the time to make it all work,” she says. “But, it’s a campy statement of the power of the girls involved in making Detroit rock ’n’ roll.” Who wouldn’t like that?


8 p.m., Saturday, July 16, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030. Tickets are $8.

Melanie Seasons is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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