Girls rock in classic style

Antigone Rising (l-r): Kristen Henderson (rhythm guitar), Cassidy (lead vocals), Dena Tauriello (drums), Cathy Henderson (lead guitar), Anne-Marie Stehn (bass guitar)

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., March 24, 2003) – The classic rock bands of the Sixties and Seventies – groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Eagles, Cheap Trick, Queen, Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin – have one obvious thing in common. They are all testosterone heavy, comprised entirely by men.

So when a listener first hears the music of Antigone Rising – pop-rock songs solidly based in that classic-rock style, with muscular guitar riffs, operatic lead vocals and dramatic crescendos – what is perhaps most remarkable is to hear that sound portrayed entirely by women.

As a result, the five members of the New York-based band – performing at Club Helsinki on Saturday at 9 – often have to prove themselves worthy of tackling their genre simply on account of their lack of a Y chromosome.

“People don’t take women musicians seriously because there aren’t enough of them out there,” said lead guitarist and vocalist Cathy Henderson, in a recent interview from her home in Glen Cove, N.Y.

“Women have always bought into the ‘we can’t do what boys can do’ attitude that’s been spoon-fed to them, but that’s changing,” said Henderson, 28, who formed the band three and a half years ago with her younger sister, Kristen, who plays rhythm guitar and sings, and the group’s lead vocalist, who goes by the name Cassidy.

In spite of the prevailingly negative socialization against female rockers at the time, Henderson said that she and her sister dreamed of being rock musicians since they were girls.

“Kristen and I used to take tennis rackets and tie strings to them and attach them to a bulletin board, which we pretended was an amplifier,” said Henderson. “It seemed so appealing and fun to be in a band. And then to grow up and find out you can make a living and have fun? It’s almost like we don’t deserve it. It’s crazy. If it was that easy, wouldn’t everyone else do that?”

Henderson credits their father with exposing them to the music that inspired them to want to pick up their tennis rackets – and eventually their guitars -- and play.

“Our father has the most extensive record collection,” she said. “We didn’t realize how blessed we were to have a dad who loved music so much. He really had the knack for pop music, and has all the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, all that great stuff. Melanie, that ‘60’s stuff. Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles.”

Now that his daughters are out on the circuit playing original music styled on his favorite bands at renowned rock clubs like Maxwell’s in Hoboken, the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J., and the Trocadero in Philadelphia, Mr. Henderson always has a stage-side seat when one of New York’s hottest, up-and-coming rock bands performs.

“He definitely is an obsessed fan, there’s no two ways about it,” said Henderson. “If he can get to the show, he’ll get there. He works in New York City, and when we play there, he’ll drive home to Long Island from New York to see if our mother wants to drive back in to see the show.”

The Henderson sisters met up with Cassidy, as well as bassist Anne-Marie Stehn and drummer Dena Tauriello, on the New York scene in the late-‘90s. The Hendersons and Cassidy share the primary songwriting duties, and all the members contribute to the live and recorded arrangements.

The group has three CDs to its credit – “New and Used,” “Rock Album,” and “Say It! An-TIG-uh-nee,” a live album recorded at the Bitter End nightclub in New York. The group has a particularly strong following in the Capitol District, where it frequently performs college gigs and at the Northern Lights nightclub. Last summer, the group performed before 20,000 fans at the Egg in the opening slot for Joan Jett, a gig that Henderson describes as “the absolute coolest moment” of their career so far.

Antigone Rising also has a devoted, hardcore following of mostly female fans, a base it shares with similar artists like Melissa Etheridge and Ani DiFranco.

“We certainly don’t want to alienate ourselves from men -- that’s not what we’re about at all,” said Henderson. “But naturally, there’s something about women supporting women. There’s definitely a camaraderie. The girls in the audience are inspired to find their own thing.

“We write from a universal viewpoint of human experience, that’s what it all comes down to. But because we are women, we naturally have an element of our following that is lesbian. They are tremendously loyal and avid music fans. That just comes with the terrritory, at least at this stage of the game. It also depends on where we’re playing. When we play in Northampton, the majority of the audience is lesbian.”

Henderson takes comfort in what she sees when the group is out on the road, touring in their white van, aptly nicknamed “Vanna White.”

“I’ve seen women out here on the road really playing the s--- out of their instruments and doing it well, playing from the heart,” she said.

“It’s so cool to see it happening, and to know that more will play and not be inhibited and feel free to express themselves the way they wish to.

“Women are good enough and women have the ability, the human, innate ability, to express their spirit. That’s what we do.”

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 28, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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