Think Out Loud

‘She’s Speaking’ tour features women singers and musicians, highlights challenges in male dominated industry

By Allison Frost (OPB)
March 20, 2023 7:03 p.m. Updated: March 29, 2023 10:59 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, March 22

Musicians on stage as part of the "She's Speaking" tour to highlight women artists and challenges they face in the male dominated industry.

Musicians on stage as part of the "She's Speaking" tour to highlight women artists and challenges they face in the male dominated industry.

Courtesy She's Speaking


Kristen Grainger, along with Bre Gregg, Beth Wood and others, continue their series of live concerts celebrating women this weekend. The first stops on the “She’s Speaking” tour were in Lincoln City and Salem. She and seven other women will play in Portland and Ilwaco, Washington this Saturday and Sunday. The idea is to put on a series of great concerts and bring attention to the gap in representation and opportunities for women in the male-dominated music industry. Grainger joins us to tell us more about the artists involved in “She’s Speaking” and play some of her own music in the studio.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on O PB. I’m Dave Miller. We end today with the “She’s Speaking” concert tour. It was created by the Salem-based singer songwriter Kristen Grainger along with seven other women. The idea is to put on a series of rollicking shows, while also bringing attention to the gap in representation and opportunities for women in the male dominated music industry. The first stops on the “She’s Speaking” tour were in Lincoln City and Salem. They’re gonna be at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theater this Saturday evening, and at the River City Playhouse in Ilwaco Washington on Sunday afternoon, and Kristen Grainger joins me now. It’s great to have you in the studio.

Kristen Grainger: It’s lovely to be here, thanks, Dave.

Miller: What was the first spark for this tour?

Grainger: There are three of us who co-founded She’s Speaking, it’s myself, and then Portland, singer-singer songwriter Bre Gregg, and Sisters singer-songwriter Beth Wood. The three of us really connected during the shutting-down part of the pandemic, when everything was closed down, back when we were washing groceries before we put them away, you remember those days? Yeah.

We connected actually around the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And as you recall, that was also right before the presidential election, and all of us were a little panicked about that, thinking that she was the only thing standing between us and chaos. And so we wanted to do something as songwriters to commemorate her life. But of course, that was a time when we couldn’t be in the same room, let alone put on a concert. So we started off talking with our friends who were singer-songwriters around the nation, and asking them if they would write a song about a woman that inspired them. And that those videos of those songs were made into a YouTube channel.

Miller: Why start there? Why start with women who had inspired them?

Grainger: Well, because we were inspired and empowered by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her story. And each of us in our own lives have women that have inspired us that have guided us, that have mentored us. And this was something that everyone felt strongly about. So we had a whole bunch of songs, wonderful songs, about yes, moms and grandmas and aunts and, and daughters and sisters, but also Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kamala Harris and Michelle Obama and Kate Brown and Jane Goodall, all kinds of women and these wonderful songs that came from that.

Miller: What were you expecting when you first put out that call?

Grainger: I think women working in male dominated fields find each other. Collaboration is a big part of being a musician, especially when you’re traveling and when you’re touring. We are used to connecting and collaborating on various projects, so we expected to get some excellent songs and we absolutely did. But of course, it was during the pandemic. So if you look at some of the early posts to that youtube channel, it’s a woman playing a piano or a guitar or something with an iPhone propped up against something, because that’s what was possible in time when we are all isolated.

Miller: One of the first songs you got, if I’m not mistaken, was by Mandy Fer, called “I Know a Woman.” Let’s have a listen to part of this and then we can talk about it.

Mandy Fer [singing, with guitar accompaniment]:

Memories are golden leaves falling down away from me

The field glowing golden with the passing of time

Her glove, her palm, her fingers there

Was brushing back her silvered hair

She’s got an answer of where went the time

I know a woman

I hope we all know a woman

Who taught us that love is in the answer inside of our chest

No matter the question

And if you don’t know a woman

Go and find that woman,

Maybe now before the sun is yet to go

Miller: You’ve called this an anthem for you, and maybe for the other two women who created this group of songs that’s become a tour. Why, what is it about this song?

Grainger: It’s definitely true that the three of us agree this is an excellent anthem, and it’s because it’s really emblematic of the idea that we all rest in the shade of trees planted long ago, that we all have women in the generation in front of us, our older sisters or older friends, that have helped advise us and inform us and inspire us. And that’s what that song is about. It’s about the value of those kinds of relationships, and our own responsibility in carrying it forward for the next generation.

Miller: Where did she record this?

Grainger: It looks like from the video she recorded it in her touring bus. It might be a VW bus or some kind of a travel bus. But she obviously has very good microphones and sound equipment. That song sounds wonderful.

Miller: Where does the title “She’s Speaking” come from?

Grainger: Well, so as you recall, we started right before the presidential election in 2020. We were all glued to all the media coverage. And Kamala Harris was debating Mike Pence in the only vice presidential debate, where he frequently sought to interrupt her, and would come in over the top of whatever she was saying. And she would raise a hand and look at him and say “I’m speaking.” And for those of us in the music industry, or really women in the world, we’ve all been thwarted and interrupted and spoken over. And it was a moment for all three of us of “that’s just awesome.” So we named it for her in that little quip.

Miller: Let’s hear one of your songs if you don’t mind. And I should say that you have come with your husband, the guitarist, Dan Wetzel. You’re gonna play “She Flies With Her Own Wings.” For people who don’t know, that’s Oregon’s state motto. Anything we should know about this song before we hear it?

Grainger: Yes. Well, I know that some of your staff have been referring it as the political song. It’s really just a song I wrote for a friend who happened to work in politics, it’s a song I wrote for Kate Brown when she first was unintentionally thrust into office in 2015. She asked me if I could drop everything and come be on her staff, and I did. And I got to see first hand a woman trying to do a hard job and do it well. She has a different leadership style, and I thought it was completely in alignment with our Oregon state motto.

Miller: Let’s have a listen.

Grainger [singing, with guitar accompaniment]:

She says come on over, we’ve got work to do

She says don’t just stand there, there’s a place for you, and you, and you, and you

‘Cause it’s true, with different points of view,

More hands and eyes and hearts to make a plan and follow through

She flies with her own wings

She’s on the lookout for better things

She’s keeping her eyes on that western horizon

And if a storm is blowing, she’s going to get where she’s going

In spite of bruises and bee stings

She relies on her own wings

She says it’s only thunder, don’t be frightened

The thing to watch for is the lightning, yeah the lightning is the thing

That destroys, the thunder’s just the noise

A bully with a megaphone that threatens and annoys

She flies with her own wings

She’s on the lookout for better things

She’s keeping her eyes on that western horizon

And if a storm is blowing, she’s going to get where she’s going

In spite of bruises and bee stings

She relies on her own wings

Up on the timberline in a tall stand of trees

She’s waiting for the sun to rise again

Night fades to morning new, sky shades of rose and blue

She takes a breath and leaps into the currents of the wind

She flies with her own wings

She’s on the lookout for better things

She’s keeping her eyes on that western horizon

And if a storm is blowing, she’s going to get where she’s going

In spite of bruises and bee stings

She relies on her own wings

And she says come on over, we’ve got work to do


Miller: You mentioned that you were the communications director for Kate Brown for a couple of years. Was it a challenge to, to balance these two lives, one this high profile political job, the other this pretty high profile musician?

Grainger: I loved being part of Kate’s executive team, it was a privilege to do that work. It really curtailed a lot of my songwriting and performing, though I do recall telling the chief of staff  “I have to leave because I’m in MerleFest songwriting competition, and I have to go out to North Carolina to do that.” But mostly, that was a time where I was really focused on the work that needed to be done there. And I’ve always been in a band since I was 15, even when I was growing up, making my way in the world, and when I had a baby. It’s in me and it’s got to come out.

Miller: And you make time for it.

Grainger: I do.

Miller: I wonder if you could play us another song immediately. It’s called “Doris Dean,” but we should probably know who Doris is before we hear the song.

Grainger: Sure. This is based on a family story. Doris Dean is my mother’s mother. When she was born they named her Bertha, and she was Bertha for a few weeks. And then they went to an old wild west show, and the ringmaster announced that next up is Doris Dean, and this trick rider rides in with one foot on each horse and rides around the ring in this spangly outfit, and she looks just like she’s got the world by the tail. And apparently my great grandmother turned to my great grandfather and said “that’s it, we’re naming her Doris Dean.”

Miller: And they changed the name.

Grainger: They changed her name.

Miller: Alright, let’s have a listen.

Grainger [with guitar accompaniment]:

My name’s Doris Dean

I was born in 1917

I turned 90 years old today

Or it could have been yesterday,

I really couldn’t say

My mother named me Doris Dean

For a trick rider she had seen

Some kind of old time wild west show

It was part circus, part rodeo

They don’t have those anymore

That’s something that I wish I’d seen

The brave and beautiful Doris Dean,

Perform feats of courage and grace

Never break a sweat, every hair in place

I wish I could learn to ride like that

A split skirt and a star spangled cowboy hat

Maybe everything woulda turned out different for me

Doris Dean McConaughey

Farming beans down in Oregon

Got us through the depression

And the winter I turned 23.

I married Robert McConaughey

He ran the cannery

Months later, maybe four

Rob went off to fight the big war

Shot down on the Sea of Japan

So sad, the telegram I got from Uncle Sam

That’s something that I wish I’d seen

The brave and beautiful Doris Dean

Perform feats of courage and grace

And never break a sweat, big smile on her face.

I wish I could learn like that

In a sun shirt and a star spangled cowboy hat

Maybe then I’d see differently

And me, Doris Dean McConaughey

Sometimes I lie here thinkin’

And sometimes I just lie.

Pretend that there’s some greater plan

It’s not my place to wonder why

But ninety years later

I must petition my creator

Is this all there is, this hill of beans

For lesser of two Doris Deans?

That’s something that I wish I’d been

The brave and beautiful Doris Dean

Who could look back with courage and grace

And see my ordinary life was no disgrace

Sure I could learn to ride like that

Though I’d probably do without that cowboy hat

Maybe then I’d see it all differently

And me, Doris Doris McConaughey

Doris Dean McConaughey

Miller: I want to go back to the big messages you were hoping audiences would get from this tour, in addition to just hearing great music, which is to call attention to gaps in representation and opportunities and power for women in the music industry. I think it might be tempting to see megastars like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, and the fact that Congress held hearings to figure out why people couldn’t get tickets to Taylor Swift, and then say, it seems like women are doing all right. What are people who are not in the music business not seeing about the realities of the business?

Grainger: Well, the realities are that those women have done amazing, wonderful things, a lot of them have blazed trails for artists that are from underrepresented groups. But the fact is that, for example, Grammy nominations, 91% of them are male. Across the music industry, women are grossly underrepresented. If you think about the University of Southern California Annenberg Center study that shows that of all of the roles, for example, artists, songwriters, label owners,

producers, engineers, the largest percentage of representation by women is performing artists, which is still one in four. It’s 22% actually, it’s less than one in four. And everything’s less than that. Engineers are 3%, venue owners, label owners, these are all very small percentages. And so they’re really not very well represented.

And then there’s these more recent stories that show streaming platforms algorithms that recommend music, especially to young listeners, as I understand, it’s based on consumer behavior in the past. So if in the past, male voices have dominated and those are what sells, then chances are, and studies confirm, male voices are gonna be what you’re hearing on Spotify and what’s gonna be recommended to you.

Miller: Kristen Grainger, thanks very much for coming in.

Grainger: You’re welcome. I hope to see you at the Alberta Rose.

Miller: Kristen Grainger is a part of the “She’s Speaking” tour. The Alberta Rose Theatre stop is this Saturday in Portland. And then Sunday, the tour will be at Ilwaco, Washington.

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