Women Who Rock Light Up The Harbor For James House

Women Who Rock Festival 2020 at Harbor Blast Concert Series on September 12, 2020. Photo Credit: Dave Pearson.

Prince George, VA – The year of 2020 has had a range of implications due to the impact from COVID. The need for shelters and resources to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse has never been greater. On September 12, 2020, five female-fronted Richmond area bands came together at Harbor Blast Concert Series in Prince George, VA to raise money for the James House, one of the area’s resources providing assistance to victims. Despite all the issues associated with COVID, Harbor Blast owner Crista Cato Manieri and event organizer, Josie Smith were determined to let the show go on.

The first band to take the stage was Mama-Juana, fronted by Kelly Schutt and known for playing a mix of classic soul and funk, as well as modern upbeat hits. Sadly, I was not able to see them perform, however, I did have the chance to view a video of Kelly belting her own rendition of the Melissa Etheridge tune, “Come to My Window”.

A socially distant audience taking in the Susan DePhillip Band at Women Who Rock 2020. Photo Credit: Dave Pearson 2020

The next band was the Susan DePhillip Band, also known for performing around the Richmond area. Their mix of rock, blues, and folk not only rocked the socially-distanced audience on the lawn, but also pleased the listening boat owners seated on their decks at the nearby marina. The band is fronted by Susan DePhillip, who released her first CD in 2016 as part of Suzie and the G-Tones.

The lineup on this night was very special for the third artist. “Without passion, a performance would be empty” was how the third artist described her approach to the Women Who Rock stage. What made this night so special was this was not only Sherry Viar’s first performance at Women Who Rock, this was her first performance on the big stage. Organizer and seasoned performer, Josie Smith (of Bombshell RVA) did an excellent job of easing her nerves before the performance by engaging in some warmup banter. Sherry’s quick responses told me that she was ready. Sherry later shared that she had a lot of nervous energy as she prepared to go on, questioning whether she deserved to share the stage with so many RVA veterans. Sometimes all it takes is a sign, and that is exactly what she received when a small yellow butterfly did the happy dance around her during sound checks. Her confidence was quite apparent as she performed a mix of Sherry Viar originals for an enthusiastic crowd.

Josie Smith introducing first timer, Sherry Viar at Women Who Rock 2020. Photo Credit: Dave Pearson

The final three acts called themselves tribute bands, which usually means a band that sounds similar to a big-name band and sings their songs. Women Who Rock was blessed with a mix of tribute bands that could almost pass as the real thing.

Crystal Visions, a Fleetwood Mac / Stevie Nicks Tribute Band is fronted by local artist Barbie Firooz. She waltzed on to the stage with medium length blonde hair obscured by a Stevie – esque hood and cape. For the next 45 minutes or so, Barbie and several very talented musicians accompanying her, belted out a variety Fleetwood Mac and Stevie hits. I half expected to see the USC Trojan band come out and accompany them in a Women Who Rock rendition of “Tusk“. A non-musical element to their performance was the number and speed of costume changes done by Barbie. Every one of the outfits were reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, adding to the experience.

What would a night of Women Who Rock be without Ann and Nancy Wilson? Played by Suzie Mojo and Megan Aldridge, respectively, These Dreams, Heart Tribute Band has been around for a few years bringing Ann and Nancy to stages all across the Richmond area. Donning appropriate Ann and Nancy Wigs, Suzie hit the notes Ann is so famous for while Megan riffed away, paying homage to Nancy. Performing a mix of electric and acoustic pieces, accompanied by several local artists, who also took part in other performances, this was the show I always wanted to see when Heart was at the top of their game.

One name that comes to my musical mind when I think Richmond is none other than Pat Benatar. The final band of the night was Bombshell RVA, led by event organizer and lead singer Josie Smith. With the recent return of local guitar phenom, Juno DeVere and a special guest appearance by local artist Deborah Leone (keys), they were able to put on an ordinance shortened set fit for any Benatar aficionado.

As fate would have it, the show was forced to end too early due to local rules. Josie closed out the night, thanking the crowd for their support for local music and the James House…  then silence fell over the harbor. This was a special night for a very worthy cause. For six hours we were able to forget about the news of the day while being treated to an awesome night of music.

Women Who Rock Festival 2020 Photo Gallery 

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Dave Pearson is based out of Richmond, VA by way of Hayward, WI. He has long had a passion for music. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, he rocked out to the likes of Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, and The Lettermen. Then, one Saturday night, being the rebel he was born to be, he caught an Alice Cooper interview (it may have been on The Midnight Special) and saw him perform, “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Dave was hooked on Rock and Roll (and many other genres as well). Dave has enjoyed (amateur) photography to some degree most of his adult life. Recently Dave started to apply his event photography skills in various music settings with success. He finds that photographing a performance gives him a much greater appreciation for the artist.