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Local female musicians raise their voices

Annual International Women's Day concert takes place on March 8 at the Maury Young Arts Centre

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When Susan Holden looks back on this year's installment of Raising Our Voices — Whistler's International Women's Day Celebration, chances are it will mark a turning point.

The event started out as an evening at Dusty's to showcase and support local female musicians as part of International Women's Day. But this year, with help from Arts Whistler, the event is expanding and moving into the theatre at the Maury Young Arts Centre. It has also included music workshops — ranging from improving vocal performance to recording demos — leading up to the big night.

"There is talk about how it could look going forward," says Holden, a local musician who organizes the event. "It does feel like a turning point to move from stage to stage and with the changes that have been made. But (next year) during the second year in this venue with Arts Whistler support, I can see it really will continue to blossom."

The event has undergone changes in the last couple weeks as Holden has attempted to include every musician who's interested in participating. It started out as two shows — an après from 4 until 6 p.m. and the main event from 7 until 10 p.m. — but now, organizers have scrapped the break in between and extended it until 11 p.m.

"The intention was I wanted to make sure we had a really broad audience," Holden says. "It's a fundraiser for the Howe Sound Women's Centre (HWSC) and I was concerned we were limiting our fundraising audience... The only outreach (for artists) was a call out in Pique and on Facebook; we wanted to attract youth (performers as well). That happened far more organically than I thought it would. I have several younger acts."

In total, there will be 22 performances featuring around 40 musicians (with a few men in some of the bands). Each will be given the opportunity to play up to three songs. Some of the artists will be more established — ranging from women like Lozen, Jenna Mae and the musicians who make up Holden's band, Venus Envy — while others will be on stage for the first time. Some will be playing covers, others will perform original music, and songs will span all genres.

"It's really evident we have a lot of male talent in town, but now we're bringing to the forefront people who may feel they don't have a place and they're getting support to realize they do," Holden says.

The workshops — meant to offer support — held last month were an extension of the less formal workshops of past years. "This has evolved from my living room," Holden says. "In past years I've gotten groups together — some people have had experience with collaboration before and some haven't...We have a lot of talented musicians I didn't know about until I started doing this. We brought some folks who had never performed before."

To that end, some performers have been nervous about moving the event from its less formal atmosphere in Dusty's to a more formal theatre setting. To help give the room a more relaxed feel, Holden has decided to rearrange it.

"We're using a smaller stage, setting it up cabaret-style," she says. "You can also sit in the theatre. There will also be a silent auction throughout the gallery and an open bar... I think it's going to be more casual than your average Maury Young Arts Centre theatre show."

Entry to the show will be by donation. Funds raised in the silent auction will also go towards the HSWC. This year, Holden says they're excited to have a guitar donated by Long & McQuade and signed by Jann Arden. "I'd like that to be a theme, to have a celebrity guitar (every year)," she adds.

While the last year has seen a focus on women's rights with the #metoo movement and the women's march, Holden says the event is no more meaningful this year compared to the past. "How brave to get up on stage and pour your heart out in front of people," she says. "We're all being brave and getting up there together. But to me it doesn't align any more now than it did before. With support through the Howe Sound Women's Centre or collaborating (musicians), I have watched as these women have supported each wholeheartedly."

Raising Our Voices – A Celebration of International Women's Day takes place at the Maury Young Arts Centre on Thursday, March 8 from 4 p.m. until 11 p.m.

Entry is by donation.

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