Raised on the women of rock

Holon’s Woman Festival features ‘Mrs. Me’ tribute to Joni, Aretha and Adele

 Anat Hitman from 'MRS. ME' (photo credit: MAYA TEL-AVIVI DAR)
Anat Hitman from 'MRS. ME'
(photo credit: MAYA TEL-AVIVI DAR)

As event banners go, it is hard to think of anything that spells out the intent, and location, more unambiguously than Woman Festival at the Holon Theater. 

The 27th edition of the female-focused event, which started yesterday in Holon, will rock and roll this evening (March 2 at 9 p.m.) when the Mrs. Me show takes the stage in Auditorium 2 at the theater.

The cast for the cover outing includes keyboardist-vocalist Vered Picker, who also dons the musical director’s hat, alongside guitarist-singers Anat Hitman and Tzili Yanko. Together they will proffer their own readings of hits by the likes of female ’60s and ’70s big guns such as Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin and Karen Carpenter, as well as some more contemporary acts like Adele and Lady Gaga.

Picker says the salute to the celebrated songstresses is a natural fit for all concerned. “Each of us grew up listening to the music of some of the stars in the show. We all brought our own heroines to the program.” Sounds like a perfectly healthy accommodating ethos to bring to a collaborative artistic effort.

I guessed it was the younger members of the trio who went for the current crowd-pullers. I got that right, although I was advised that thirtysomething Hitman likes the “old stuff” too. “Anat went for Lady Gaga and Adele, but she also went for Janis Joplin,” laughs Picker, at 51, the senior of the bunch. 

 'Mrs. Me' member Vered Picker. (credit: BEN COHEN) 'Mrs. Me' member Vered Picker. (credit: BEN COHEN)

Picker confesses to realizing a childhood dream with the Mrs. Me – the name references the MeToo protest movement – project. “When I was a kid in Upper Nazareth, I wanted to be Carole King,” she says. There were more in the pipeline, such as Chrissie Hynde, leader of The Pretenders. 

“We couldn’t have them all in,” Picker adds. “We had to whittle it down to manageable proportions, for all three of us. We wanted to have artists who resonate with what we like, who enable us to express ourselves the way we want.”

The three did not exactly plan to share a stage.

“Nili Peterson [widow of late blues star Ronnie Peterson] brought us together,” Picker explains. “We did not know each other beforehand. We knew of each other, but we’d never worked together.”

How did 'Mrs. Me' come to life?

THE INITIATIVE may not have come from the musicians but, once they got together, it was just a matter of going with the flow. “We all hit it off from the first moment,” says Picker. “We felt we were a team from the start – on a personal and musical level. We have a lot of fun.” 

She says that carries over. “The audience feels everything. You can’t lie to an audience. If we are enjoying ourselves on stage, the people in the auditorium will too.”

While the personal chemistry was clearly there, and the requisite musical experience had been individually acquired, actually putting the ideas into practice was easier said than done. 

“To begin with, each of us suggested five names. That was via WhatsApp. We hadn’t even met yet. We had to understand where each of us was coming from,” Picker says.

That was partly down to their tools of the trade. “They play guitar and I play piano so that, automatically, takes us in slightly different directions,” Picker notes. The sonic spread in Holon will also be enhanced by the inclusion of Ofer Shapira playing a broad range of wind instruments. 

It was time to get together and check out the proof of the seemingly harmonious pudding. Picker says they got off to a flyer. “We had to see how we sang together, not just one or the other of us doing the vocals. And it worked right away. Each of us sang in our own range. We mesh so well.” 

It was a pleasant surprise. “I work with lots of artists. I produce them and work with singers and instrumentalists. I can tell you I never experienced anything like this before. The three of us fit so well – artistic chemistry and compatibility chemistry. That’s really rare,” she observes.

They may have brought their individual musical bucket lists to the fray, but there were some unanimous selections in there too. “We all grew up on the music of Dolly Parton,” Picker says. “It sounds like comfortable folk-country music that is really simple. Then we decided to open the show with [Parton hits] ‘Jolene’ and ‘Nine to Five’, and we worked really hard on them. They are really complicated songs to do. They may seem like easy songs to the listener, but they really aren’t.”

Were there any reservations about that, and other numbers they thought of working into the set list? “No way!” comes the response. “We really got stuck in. We rose to the challenge.” 

There were some revelations along the way too. “There are some tough phrasings and lines in there. And ‘Nine to Five’ is a protest song. I didn’t get that as a kid.”

Presumably, that may have come partly down to the fact that, at that age, Picker’s command of English was not exactly Shakespearean. “That’s part of it,” she confesses. “I more or less understood the English, but I really got it later on.” 

It wasn’t just a matter of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Picker says you have to get down and dirty with the material if you are going to get the whole story, and do it justice. “It was only when we started playing the songs that we really got them.”

Being a non-native English speaker also comes into the equation, and affects the way she addresses the job at hand. “I start listening to Hebrew songs from the lyrics but, with English, I always start with the music,” she observes, adding that the challenge of grappling with a foreign language has its rewards. “I really pay attention to every single word in English. That’s how I get into it.”

The preliminaries for Mrs. Me also involved writing new arrangements for the songs. “We don’t do copy-paste covers,” says Picker. “We bring our own baggage and understanding to the songs we love.”

That should provide for a rich varied musical experience for everyone, both on and off the stage.

For tickets and more information: (03) 502-3991 and woman-festival.co.il