Eve Rising Music Festival succeeds on the level of talent gathered

Big things have small beginnings. The first ever Eve Rising Music Festival was sparsely attended in the first hours but quite a few people started trickling in later in the day, when the full bands took over from the acoustic acts. A celebration of women in music and an event to support self-empowerment, the festival took place on the high grounds of Winnekennie Castle in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Opener Patti Derosa played solo acoustic guitar, with percussionist Phil Punch adding some fills and some punch(sorry, couldn’t help it) to her songs. She was into a pleasant story song about her family when I got to the top of the hilly driveway and onto the festival grounds. Using a 12-bar blues pattern, she went into a comedy piece called “Big Butt Blues” in which she talked about the clothing perils of women everywhere.

The area blues singer known as Lisa Marie sang a gospel intro to her set of vintage blues, backed by electric guitarist Jay Aptt. Her bluesy voice sounded better than ever on “Love Her With A Feeling.” Carrie Rowan came up next, with percussionist Phil Punch, acoustic guitar player Oen Kennedy, and electric guitarist Jim Wise, and backing singer Lori Diamond in tow. The extra help added more color and dimension to Rowan’s gems. Rowan sang her original song “Almost Home” about her mother, who was in attendance. Rowan’s song “Brilliant Chameleon” got an extra kick from Wise’s electric.

Let’s be clear. Eve Rising also had something to offer men, like food. I was partial to the meatball sub and the Italian sausage served under the Castle Food tent. It was the vendors and their specialty goods that created the friendly atmosphere for browsers and shoppers. The even was supported charities Emmaus and YWCA.

The mayor of Haverhill and recent Massachusetts pageant winners were on hand to make statements promoting the event and the themes of community and empowerment. Big name presenters in the greater-Boston music scene introduced the women singers to the audience.

Singer-songwriter Karen Grenier performed her songs “Right Here In My Soul” and “Crazy Love” to enthusiastic response. Salem singer-songwriter Julie Dougherty, with backing from bassist Woody Woodward, unveiled her new song “Salvation And Second Chances” for the Eve Rising audience. A fine guitar melody from Jim Scopa pulled the spiritual yoke of Dougherty’s song to the surface at just the right moment. Dougherty also sang her song “The Wall” which is about a wall she and her husband of 20 years walked along during their courtship. She closed her set with the John Prine tune “Angel From Montgomery” after she called to the microphones several of the day’s singers to accompany her.

The Erinn Brown Band came on and rocked things up a bit, raising the intensity level a few notches above the singer-songwriters and their mellower, acoustic-based offerings. Brown’s band is Jay Aptt on guitar, Allison Keslow on bass, and Steve Peabody on drums. Brown’s bluesy ballad “Cool Summer Rain” was a strong, slow boil that ended with emotional oomph. Her new song “Ruled My Life” was a self-empowerment anthem powered by Appt’s guitar breaks. An up-tempo version of Brown’s “And In The End” showed that girls can rock. Brown slammed out the rhythm on guitar while her bassist, Keslow, known as A.K.A.K., anchored the beat and the lead guitar with a palpable, throbbing base line.

A New York singer-songwriter, Laura Vecchione give it her all in her song “Penelope,” which is Homer’s Odyssey from the wife’s perspective. This woman has a rangy voice with an easy reach into the high notes. She sang her tune “Tell Them About The Dream” which was an ode to Dr. Martin Luther King, and she delivered a feisty protest song called “Don’t Come Creepin’” that was aided by her electric guitarist Rollie Green, his lead giving it immediacy and urgency. Vechhione’s most touching ballad “You’re The One” about adopting the daughter of a friend who died from Aids came across with a heart-aching sincerity that added to the scope of this woman’s talents.

Pianist-singer-songwriter Lori Diamond got some support from bassist Fred Abatelli and backing singer Kim Jennings. Diamond’s gentle piano tinkling creates a very individualized voice in her music. Even in the live festival setting, under a hot mid-day sun, with people moving about on the grass, Diamond’s words revealed emotional truths that occur in day to day activities. With Jenning’s assist, the chorus in “Mystery,” Diamonds title track to her latest CD, received an additional dose of loveliness. Diamond let Jennings close out her set with Jenning’s original “One More Time.” Next up was singer-songwriter Amy Petty, a woman with a strong, beautiful voice that shined in her song “Promises Denied,” backed by her husband Billy on keyboards.

Jen Kearney and the Lost Onion brought the sound back to a rocking beat. Kearney’s heavy-duty, down and dirty, funky keyboards and driving back up band was the appropriate vehicle to launch her Stevie Wonder influenced vocal attack. Kearney belted, sustained, and did everything else a powerhouse singer can. She also uses dynamics and contrasts in her music to keep things interesting, such as belting over a hypnotic rhythm and swirl of lead guitar phrases. Her guitarist Carl Johnson doesn’t rely on a pick but uses all five fingers to manipulate his strings, weaving his spell on multiple strings at once. Trumpeter Mark Mullins was on hand to deliver some beauties, horn melodies, so mellifluous and sweet, like a candy bar with multiple flavors.

Elle Gallo Band came on last to close out this first ever Eve Rising Music Festival. Gallo had Steve Peabody filling in on drums but her bass player Dave Gagnon and guitarist Russ Hahn were on hand to help her rock it to a close. Hahn’s pedal effects had his guitar hitting highs and lows in the scale in a funky phrase, and Gallo’s soulful rasp drew everybody into a chorus of “Hey Everybody, Get Down.”

Fortunately, Peabody is a quick study and learned Gallo’s songs. She could belt out her self-empowerment anthem “Yes I Am,” and, with Danielle Burnette on backing vocals, made an impression with a lot of belting, a lot of powder keg extra wallop going on. In un usual feat, Gallo called bassist Alison Keslow up to play a dual bass attack with her own bass player, Gagnon, and all I can say about that is sweet pearl, holy mother of God did the two have a lot of funk gymnastics happening.

As always, Gallo gathered everybody around her, children seated on the edge of the stage, women singers at the microphones, to end it with her rendition of “Over The Rainbow,” a song that has become important to her, as she feels her life could’ve ended up quite differently due to choices she was making when she was young.