Girls may just wanna have fun, but these women take the stage and the microphone and seize your attention as they rock and sing the blues.
Soulful songstresses Annie Mack, Mary Lieser, Dianna Parks, and Kasey Kuker entertain crowds in southeastern Minnesota with power ballads, pop and blues.
“I love coming up here,” Mack said as we sat at the Bravo Espresso cafe, on the second level of the Shops at University Square. The cafe sells her CD “Baptized in the Blues,” with 10 originals she co-wrote with her husband.
“I’m not afraid of doing different voicings,” Mack said of the eclectic mix of blues, roots, gospel, country and soul that make up the sound of her and her six-piece band. She grew up on a variety of music in her North Minneapolis home. “A lot of soul music. Etta James. A lot of Blue Note artists.”
Mack, who feels called to music, has been pursuing it professionally for the past two years after getting serious about it in 2006.
“I’ve gotten to a point where music is an awesome tool. It’s a job,” she said. “I have family as a priority. It (music) comes after everything else I do. I have more of a working relationship with it. I really enjoy having a life. I don’t know that it’s an answer people want to hear from a musician.”
“Summers are busy for every musician,” Mack said. “You can hit a broader audience.”
See Annie Mack and band perform in Rochester on June 19 as part of Thursdays on First, and on June 20 at Mayo Civic Center.
Lieser has been singing with Incognito, an 11-piece pop cover band featuring five horns, for 23 years. She is also one-third of the acoustic trio Smash and Grab, and performs with the Pink Floyd Tribute Band, recently seen at the Wicked Moose.
Lieser is no stranger to the summer festival scene. Incognito has played Rochesterfest for eight years, including last year. They can be seen on June 28 at Lewiston Heartland Days Street Dance, starting at 8:30 p.m.
“I broke into Incognito singing karaoke at Max’s on Broadway,” Leiser said. She was up against 30 other female vocalists when she auditioned.
She applies classical training to pop music. “I would say pop and rock is much more chest voice than head voice,” she said. “You can still use good form.”
“This is a challenging place to break in and play,” Lieser said. For those looking for a home in the Rochester music scene, Lieser suggests seeking out “karaoke or open mic nights, just so they can get some sort of exposure.”
Lieser is schedule-driven. She works her 8-5 day job, teaches classes at the Rochester Athletic Club on weekdays, and performs with her music groups on the weekends. She serves on the board of directors at Rochester Golf and Country Club, is involved with charities, collects wine, and travels a ton.
On women and rock in Rochester, Lieser said, “There’s just not a lot of women in Rochester doing music. It’s not like there’s any female drummers, female bass players that I’ve run into other than orchestras and concert band. Most male musicians, when they think about songs they want to play, 99 percent of them will be male vocal songs, so it’s tough.”
Chatting the morning after she performed with Nite Shift at the North Star Bar, Kuker is breathless and excited, “Last night at the North Star I had several women approach me and say that it’s really rare to see a female vocalist here,” she said. “It’s refreshing.”
“Both running and performing live is such a rush,” said Kuker who is also an avid runner. “The crowd in front of you and around you. When running, the crowd on both sides cheering.”
Kuker hails from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and has been living in Rochester for about six years. She has been performing with Nite Shift, a rock n’ roll band that plays everything from classic to modern, for about two years. “Five guys. Me. They’re awesome. They’re like the brothers I never had.”
As a singer with a drumming background, Kuker is comfortable playing on cowbell or shaking a tambourine.
“I think the drummer is the backbone, does the most work, but doesn’t get the credit,” she said. “The drummer is the glue.”
She likes singing big, powerful vocal songs. Think Pat Benatar, Heart, Joan Jett or Evanescence.
“I just love, love singing and music,” she said. “I can’t believe I get paid to do this. It’s so much fun. Making people happy. Putting smiles on people’s faces. Connecting with the crowd. It’s a blast.”
Kuker can be seen performing next with Nite Shift on July 19 at Boomers Outside Bash.
“I had really bad stage fright. I mean debilitating bad,” Parks said. “I was always a student of music. I was always too timid to do it in front of people except for limited circumstances.”
A town wide talent show began to change Parks’ perspective. She was told, “Anything you can do in your living room, you can do in front of people.”
So, she made the talent show stage into her living room by bringing her piano bench, scattering dog toys over the stage, and inviting friends to be in the audience.
“It took a few more years,” she said. “Wade in Come out. Wade in. Come out.”
Of performing music now, Parks said, “It’s kind of consuming. It’s the best kind of consumption. I try to leave it all out on the stage. I really work at being present when I perform.”
Recalling a Thursdays on First & Third performance, Parks said, “Playing that solo was pretty heady. Those massive speakers and all of those people. It was terrifying. Maybe it’s just fun that I survived it.”
“I think for cover bands there are fewer female artists,” she said. “When you think about classic rock, who are the women? Heart and Pat Benatar. I’m a huge Madonna fan. Whitney Houston, Sheryl Crow, Linda Ronstadt. I’ve never had to worry about playing ‘Brown Eyed Girl. More than it being a challenge, it’s more of an opportunity.”
These days, she’s at work on a CD of original material. And, of course, performing live.
“I love summer in Minnesota,” Parks said. “Singing onstage in the summertime is so much fun.”
She will be performing on July 25 and Aug. 15 with Dianna Parks & Friends on the summer patio stage at the Civic Live Free Friday Concert Series hosted by the Rochester Civic Theatre.