Pandy Raye on the Chicks with Picks Music Festival

Co-founded by Phoenix musicians Pandy Raye and Rhonda Hitchcock, the inaugural Chicks with Picks Music Fest — featuring Sedona-bred popster Michelle Branch, singer-songwriter (and Waylon Jennings' widow) Jessi Colter, country newcomer Sarah Buxton, and 70 other female performers — will take place Saturday, March 21, at Tempe Beach Park. We caught up with Raye, who was also American Idol winner Jordin Sparks' guitar teacher, to learn more about the festival.

How and when did the idea for Chicks with Picks first materialize?

Rhonda and I met almost a year and a half ago and we both were in bands, and we were talking about the need to help out women in music here in Arizona. We didn't know what we could do to help them out except that we had some ins at some venues around town and stuff like that. And it's weird because I'm in a fairly popular band and a lot of girls would come up to me and say, "Gosh, we just wanna try to get our music out there and it seems so hard . . ." So we came up with the idea to do this.

Do you think that in this day and age, it's still harder for women to get gigs and break into the music business than it is for men?

At the risk of sounding like I have a chip on my shoulder — yes, it is harder. I mean, this is gonna sound . . . Wow, maybe I do have a chip on my shoulder! But, yeah, I play a Gibson J200 in my band and I've had guys come up and say, "What a pretty guitar. Can you really play it, though?" And it's like, oh, wow. My general response to that is, "Would you ever ask a guy that question?"

How has it been, logistically speaking, putting together a festival of this size?

Well, it's new and it's a first-year event and I think it's always hard to do something like that. There's a lot of people sitting back and watching, like, "Okay, let's see what they're gonna do with this." So we're out there completely doing this on our own. And you know what? That's okay. Half the time we're kinda freaking out about it and half the time we're totally excited about it. We are two women doing this thing, and we have never done something like this before. It's like this vehicle that we're driving, and we have all these girls behind it, and it's working, it really is happening because of that. But we have bags under our eyes, don't get me wrong.

Was it easy to get people like Michelle Branch and Jessi Colter involved?

I wouldn't say easy, but I think once we told them what we were doing . . . I mean, we want to showcase women from Arizona; we want to say, "Look at all these up-and-coming girls. See what you can do; look what Michelle Branch did." There's a little catchphrase we have and we kinda like it, and we're not really sure that's what caught Michelle's eye, but when we put "Celebrating Women in Music," you might think it's really corny but it's really true. Maybe that's what did it.

Did you look to Lilith Fair as a model for how to stage this festival?

Well, we've been compared to Lilith Fair, you know, and I don't have a problem with that at all because what a cool thing Sarah McLachlan did. We have been asked, and we're exploring whether we might take it to other states like Lilith did. But right now, this is our hometown thing, and we want this to be a yearly thing that happens. We want that festival feel, and I think Lilith Fair did that, too, and we're not just putting on a concert. It is a festival. It's an all-day thing, and Lilith was like that. Yeah, there are definite comparisons, and we don't mind that at all. It was very successful, it brought a lot of women together, and so that's okay. When we started this, we didn't have the idea of trying to copycat Lilith Fair, we just wanted to give the girls a place to play, and then it turned into such a big thing, we thought, let's get a really big place for them to play and make a day of it.

What do you ultimately want people to take away from an event like this?

Well, I think people are starting to realize how many talented women are here and we feel very proud to bring them to the forefront so people can see. This is their hometown, these are the girls, so come out and support them because we have a lot of talent in Arizona that deserves to be seen and heard.

 
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