Women on the Verge of a Breakthrough

On-stage and behind the scenes, a diverse and determined group is carving off a big piece of the local rock

"Jimmy's really great to work with -- like he says, 'It's a great summer job.' Everything runs like clockwork. Top-of-the-line organization. There are fifteen people in the band and over 50 in the entourage, so it's a logistical nightmare. But the crew's like one big party -- no throwing TVs out hotel windows or anything like that; no dirt. Remember, I have to work with these people," Yarling laughs.

Yet the Little Nicky in her is still fighting for respect. "We've been playing original music for years and probably have as much name recognition as anyone. But the rock clubs don't take us seriously. Maybe it's because we don't play a lot of jangly guitar; it seems like that's something all the alternative bands have. Maybe it's because we're a little selective about what gigs we'll play. I understand that you've got a lot of young bands around that will play for whatever. I've worked with all the jazz people, Dizzy [Gillespie], Ira [Sullivan]. I've worked with all the blues people. I'm touring with Jimmy [Buffett]. I have a track record. People have known me for a long time. But I come home and sometimes I can't get a gig.

"One of the last things we did as the Slicks was Miami Rocks's opening night," Yarling says. "Something like that means a lot more to me than just going out and banging out tunes, knocking around the bar scene and playing for shitty money. It's like the difference between eating a real meal when you're really hungry as opposed to munching on cheese doodles and potato chips."

Yarling knows she will never be consigned to a cheese doodle diet as long as Linda Lou Nelson owns the Cactus Cantina on Sixth Street on South Beach. Nelson opened the joint in 1989 aspiring to "become the Tobacco Road of South Beach, a place where there would be live music every night," as she puts it.

"I've made a conscious effort to include women in the spotlight," Nelson asserts. "I grew up in the Sixties, I've always been involved in women's issues as a lawyer, and I may be the only female live music club owner in South Florida. This will be the fourth year we've held a Women in Music month in September, featuring a woman performing every night for the entire month, and we've sponsored the Women Rock Miami night of Miami Rocks the last two years."

The Cactus provides a regular venue for local acts such as the irrepressible Magda Hiller, an earthy singer-songwriter with a knockout voice and a bawdy sense of humor who has cooked up the club's Sunday night musical fare for the better part of a year. Vesper Sparrow, Mary Karlzen, Diane Ward (with and without Voidville), and Nicole Yarling have all played the club several times, as have countless other women over the years.

And the distaff influence doesn't end there. The Cactus is one of the few local clubs almost completely staffed by women, from general manager Nicole Hoge and kitchen boss Pattie Behnstedt to promotions director Ulla Nielsen and "slave laborers" (Behnstedt's description) Megan Saperstein and Jennifer Fletcher. (Not that Nelson discriminates; the Cactus also employs three male bartenders.)

While Nelson may be the only woman in South Florida who actually owns a rock-oriented live music club, Helaine Blum knows firsthand what it's like to manage one. From 1991 through April of this year, Blum served as promotions director at Squeeze, the popular Broward alternative nightclub, before assuming the reins as Black Janet's manager. Blum got involved in the local music scene later than most A she has a fifteen-year-old son who accompanied her to last year's Lollapalooza festival A after spending some time as the adult program director at Piper High School's alternative radio station, WKPX-FM, in the late Eighties.

Blum's duties at Squeeze were assumed by Lisa Cillo, a onetime substitute teacher at Piper High who had also followed Blum as the adult supervisor at WKPX. And continuing in Blum's footsteps, Cillo's long-range goals include band management; to that end she's taken rising talents Six Silver Spiders into her web.

Like Squeeze, Miami Beach's Stephen Talkhouse and Fort Lauderdale's Musicians Exchange are popular destinations for fans of homegrown music. Mia Johnson moved to Miami from Tampa in October and immediately immersed herself in original music, helping to organize the South Florida Rock Awards. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, Johnson is currently involved in booking and promotions at the Talkhouse, specializing in original bands. Rose Tucci is Johnson's counterpart at Musicians Exchange, booking the Broward nightlife fixture's original rock fare on Wednesdays.

The president of Broward-based Long Distance Entertainment, a multifaceted entertainment company that manages and promotes bands and books clubs and concerts, Darlene Delano has worked her share of original bands into clubs over the years. "I can remember when the roster of available original acts was less than one sheet of notebook paper long," she says. "Now it's more than twenty pages of computer printouts -- over 360 rock and alternative acts, and those are just the bands that we do business with. I've got way too many gray hairs for a woman my age; I've got a six-year-old daughter and a very understanding significant other and I've quit smoking three times already."

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