Pictured from left: From left: Cindy Kalmenson, Natalie Gelman and Patricia Avis Cardinali
“All right, girl, come on, show us your stuff,” says Cindy Kalmenson, remembering the early days of Girls with Guitars. It was the mid-1990s and she had moved to Nashville from her native California.“I started going to all these writers’ nights and there you’d meet a lot of people coming to do just three songs in a round.”
Kalmenson asked some of her fellow female singer-songwriters to join her onstage as Girls with Guitars.
“I was just inspired by them and apparently they were a little inspired by me,” she recalls. The group’s membership fluctuated, sometimes including as many as 10 women. “We were busting at the seams,” she recalls with a laugh. Kalmenson performed with the group for about twelve years until she left Nashville for Ojai.
The appeal of sharing the stage with other women never left her, though. When she met Patricia Avis Cardinali, Girls with Guitars WOW (Way Out West) was born. The group performed their first show together in 2012 and went on to have a regular gig at the Vine in Ojai.
“We did that once a week for a while and we would invite different girls to come in and sing,” remembers Cardinali.
“Even the young ones,” adds Kalmenson, “just to kind of get their feet wet to come open up with a song or do three songs” of their own.
The format of a Girls with Guitars WOW show always changes. Sometimes each artist will sing three songs in a row. Sometimes they’ll take turns singing a song. Other times, they’ll perform bluebird-style facing each other, with the audience all around them.
Whatever the style, the philosophy remains the same.
“It’s all about camaraderie,” says Kalmenson.
“It’s always been a very supportive thing,” Cardinali adds.
Today, the core group of Girls with Guitars includes Kalmenson, Cardinali and Natalie Gelman. Kalmenson first read an article about Gelman in the VCReporter and said to herself, “I’ve got to meet this girl!”
These days, they don’t get to perform together very often. They’re busy with solo careers and side projects. Kalmenson and Cardinali perform together in The Lucky Ducks. Cardinali heads the Patricia Avis Trio, while Gelman recently returned from a gig in London.
When Girls with Guitars do get the chance to perform together, it’s something special. “Maybe we’d do a residency again somewhere,” says Cardinali, “but I think doing it a few times a year keeps it special.”
“I love being a part of Girls with Guitars,” says Gelman. “It’s always inspiring to hear so many artists in a supportive environment at a Girls with Guitars show”
Kalmenson explains that with a solo act or a band headlined by a lead singer, the audience usually experiences just one person’s point of view. At a Girls with Guitars show, “You get three different takes on life. Three different visions. Three different experiences and backgrounds.”
“It all happens organically,” says Kalmenson. “That’s really the fun of it.” And yet, “there always seems to be a thread that weaves through the songs,” she adds.
The music they perform includes a variety of styles — from classic singer-songwriter and folk material to rock and blues. But they do have something in common.
“Most of our songs have an overarching theme of being heartfelt and kind of funny and honest,” Cardinali says.
The next show will be on Sept. 7, when Girls with Guitars will open for Dennis Quaid and the Sharks at the Rock the Wish concert at Topa Mountain Winery. Proceeds from the concert will go to Make-A-Wish® Tri-Counties, which helps “grant magical wishes to local children battling life-threatening medical conditions.” After that, sometime in November, the band members will perform at Ojai Underground Exchange.
Each Girls with Guitars show is destined to be different, but the spirit remains.
“We’re troubadours,” explains Kalmenson, “messaging the humanity inside.” That will never change.
Rock the Wish takes place on Saturday, Sept. 7, at Topa Mountain Winery, 821 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai. For more information call 805-640-1190 or visit topamountainwinery.com.