- Rebecca Wittemore
Many a musical woman who’s raised kids lets go reluctantly of her rock-star fantasies. After dealing with poopy diapers, it’s hard to feel glamorous enough for the bright lights. But last Sunday night at Higher Ground, Burlington’s Advance Music resurrected those dreams for 25 contestants, aged twenties through fifties, in the “Moms Who Rock” competition. While the skill levels varied, the women’s spirits were uniformly high, and the audience — which included a lot of kids — roared its support. It was an all-ages crowd unlike any other.
Advance Music store owner and Quadra guitarist Mike Trombley led the backing band, along with manager and Mr. French guitarist Jeff Wheel. The band prepared a repertoire of 22 songs, primarily from the ’80s, from which the women could choose; 17 were selected, so there was some repetition on stage. Clear Channel rep Nancy Reno was the emcee. Oh, and — full disclosure — I was one of three judges. The other two were chanteuse Jennie Johnson of the Jazz Junkateers; and Tracie Cassarino, a singer herself, as well as wife and mother to musicians — Paul and Nick, respectively.
Trombley explained that the concept of “Moms Who Rock” emerged from a discussion with a female customer who “was lamenting the fact that she was having a tough time finding people to sing and play music with, given her busy family schedule.” He decided to give her and other like-minded moms an opportunity. Partnerships with the radio station, the club and the event’s nonprofit beneficiary, the Women’s Rape Crisis Center, sealed the deal. On top of the 25 contestants, 20 “alternates” were waiting in the wings, Trombley reveals. Four women bailed at the last minute — apparently nearly dying of pre-stage fright — so “we tapped into that list,” he says.
This year’s rock royalty? “All the women were winners,” Trombley says democratically. (All went home with gift bags, at least.) But he agreed that the three women with the highest scores — on vocal presentation, stage presence and audience response — could declare victory. Two of them were sisters blessed with magnificent pipes: Bonnie Drake and Melody Tomczyk of South Burlington, who belted out “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (Pat Benatar) and “Walking on Sunshine” (Katrina and the Waves), respectively. The other was Mona Piette of Irasburg, who also nailed the Benatar classic.
Advance has hit on an instantly popular event with a built-in audience, sure to become annual. And music lovers, take note: The show doesn’t just appeal to contestants’ family and friends. Any fan of “American Idol” could tell you why.