The US State Department may not be making much headway in solving the Iranian
nuclear threat or the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, but in the role of concert
tour promoters, they’re doing just fine.
The US Embassy in Tel Aviv, as
part of the State Department’s Cultural Envoy program, is hosting a full slate
of shows and workshops this week featuring the talents of the all-female New
York-based country-rockers Antigone Rising – 2012’s designated US arts
And they’ve been chosen for good reason. The New York-based
quartet is the missing link that connects the quintessential Americana sounds of
the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow and Martina McBride with the spunky pop rock of
1980s all-female bands like The Bangles and The Go Gos. The results, according
to the Allmusic.com’s assessment of their latest album 23 Red
smooth adult pop” that’s “almost old-fashioned in its celebration of
“We all come together with different influences,” says
guitarist Kathy Henderson who, together with her bass-playing sister Kristen,
founded Antigone Rising in the early 1990s in Greenwich Village. “Mine is a more
classic American rock influence; Kristen comes from the folk side, and Nini
[guitarist and lead vocalist Nini Camps] has that country feel with a bit of
Latin thrown in. It results in an interesting mix with lots of different
Henderson was speaking from New York a couple days before the
band, rounded out by drummer Dena Tauriello, was slated to fly to Israel for the
first time for a jam-packed week of shows and workshops in Israeli and
Palestinian cities. The public is invited to free shows on Tuesday night in
Jerusalem at Beit Massia; on Wednesday in Zoran at Heichal Hatarbut Kadima; and
on Thursday in Tel Aviv at the Rothschild 12 club.
In addition, the band
will be giving free shows on Saturday in Bethlehem; Sunday in Ramallah; and
Monday in east Jerusalem, as well as performing for Jewish and Arab high school
students at Kaye College in Beersheba and conducting workshops at Beit Issie
Shapiro, the Tabita school in Jaffa, and the Ni’lin village in the West
According to Henderson, the band doesn’t feel any apprehension over
figurative potential explosions inherent in stepping into the region’s political
minefields “We play music, and our music is universal, representing love and
peace,” she says. “And if we can bring those elements to anybody, we will do it,
regardless of any conflict that is going on. We’re really excited about the
performances and the workshops. They allow us to interact with people and get to
know them. The interactive element is really rewarding, and we’re really excited
about that prospect. People get so involved with learning about different
aspects of music and writing songs, it really charges them up.”
Rising has been charging up audiences ever since exploding into the American
spotlight in 2005, after becoming the first band signed to Starbucks Hear Music
(Lava Records). They had already picked up a substantial grassroots following a
number of albums released on independent labels and financed through fan
donations, as well as relentless touring. But thanks to the in-store promotion
provided by Starbucks, as well as the novelty of offering a self-contained
female musical unit, their EP “From the Ground Up” sold more than 450,000 in its
“There’s something really cool and fun about women playing
together,” says Henderson. “Kristen and I have always had bands since junior
high school with the people closest to us – our friends. It wasn’t intentional
playing with just women, even though groups like The Bangles and The Go Gos were
a big inspiration to us. But as we grew and evolved, we realized there was
something special about playing with other women,” she says.
amazing to me there aren’t more self-contained women bands,” she continues.
“We’ve played with and become quite close with The Bangles, and it’s something
we’ve talked about. They were trail blazers in the 1980s, and 30 years later,
there’s still just a handful of female bands. That’s pretty mind
Despite the exposure and success afforded them by the Starbucks
deal, by last year the band was back to doing things the indie way. 23 Red
made through $40,000 of fan donations, released on their own Rising Shine label
and distributed via Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records.
“The industry began
changing around five years ago when downloading took over and the labels weren’t
quite sure how they were going to sustain themselves. They were never
artist-friendly to begin with, and they became even more unfriendly,” says
Henderson.“Because you can do global marketing and distribution via the Internet
and social networking, it became a natural decision for us to do it on our own.
And it’s become quite enjoyable and liberating not having that middle man
dictating what you can or can’t do.”
Henderson might have been referring
to drawing attention to one of the band’s most ardent fan bases – the gay and
lesbian community – and their ongoing musical messages of gender equality and
women’s empowerment. While the band has always had a large following in the LGBT
community, it became more public last year when Henderson’s sister Kristen
published her memoirs for Simon & Schuster entitled Times Two
book chronicles the journey she and her partner, Sarah Ellis, took to start a
family – the two of them eventually getting pregnant on exactly the same day and
giving birth to their son and daughter, respectively “The book has been really
successful and has opened a lot of people’s eyes to the struggles that go on
with gay and lesbian couples who want to have children together,” says
Henderson, adding that adopting a high profile on the potentially divisive
subject has not alienated the group among the more conservative country music
“Of course, there are people who have some strong opinions on this;
but for the most part, it hasn’t had any negative effect on us. I think people
tend to look past it and and enjoy the band for the music,” she says.
the other side of the spectrum, Henderson explains that the group, since its
inception, has attracted a sizable gay following and embraces it.
segment of the population that has always been drawn to us, and it’s a natural
audience for us,” she says, adding that the band’s performance in Tel Aviv at
Rothschild 12 is geared toward the LGBT community.
The Jerusalem show
will also feature social issues content.
The evening, entitled Spotlight
on Women, will include the Theater Company Jerusalem performing Ancient Loves,
called “a collection of evocative love stories from ancient Jewish sources about
women who choose to live outside the consensus in their relationships with men.”
There will also be a warm-up performance by the all-women Israeli rock band
Henderson and the rest of Antigone Rising will likely be in
their element. But first and foremost for the guitarist and her sister – ahead
of labels and causes – is the music.
“I can’t think of a time in my life
when we didn’t have a band, and I can’t imagine not having a band. It’s
not an extension of us anymore – it is us,” she says.
It looks like the
US State Department has picked a winner this time.