Buried deep beneath the floorboards of the Trademark Building on East Washington Avenue lies one of Madison’s most well-kept secrets: the Brink Lounge, home to a low-key, yet highly underrated music scene. Reigning over the Brink Lounge music scene is an event called Chick Singer Night (CSN), during which a line-up of local female artists take the stage and, with the help of the house band, provide three hours of sheer musical joy and genius.
Having begun in Chicago more than 25 year ago, CSN has grown to become the world’s most distinguished songfest for female artists and has expanded to numerous cities across the United States, one of which being Madison. In support of its success, it has featured a handful of well-known female artists, including Sheryl Crow and Paula Cole. Regardless of its global presence and immeasurable prosperity, the musical showcase stays true to its fundamental values, providing an empowering environment for performers and acting as a medium through which the voices, lyrics and instrumental talents of local musicians can be heard and furthermore celebrated.
These values were more than evident at the Brink Lounge last Wednesday night as five female musicians and one male musician took the stage for Chick Singer Night. Being that CSN welcomes all singers of all styles of all levels and of all ages, the performances spanned across an array of genres, ranging from singer-songwriter to caberet to a jazz-rock combination.
The night kicked off with a three-song set, played by a young woman named Karen Wheelock, whose music dug down to the roots of a classic singer-songwriter. Shortly after, the youngest of the bunch, Kiley Penn, who is but 16 years of age, stepped on stage with a ukulele, which, in harmony with her contemporary singer-songwriter lyrics, put a unique and mature twist on her pop voice. The show continued across the genre map as Jennie Stitgen took the stage. Though she only performed covers, her projecting caberet style vocals made up for it. She belted a few Adele songs, hitting each note of the acoustic-ballads with precision and control, filling the bar with a silence. The silence was broken when the only man in the lineup stepped up to the microphone. Having played back-up for other artists nearly his entire life, Michael Mood courageously shared his original work with the audience. Although he can play guitar, bass and drums at an expert level, he decided to claim the keyboard for the performance, taking the audience by pleasant surprise with his instrumental skills. Sporting a cherry-red Gibson, Meghan Rose followed, turning it up a notch with her punk-rock edge and her Avril Lavigne-like voice and style.
Though all of the acts filled the bar with beautiful melodies and good vibes, the best act of the night most definitely had to be the last, as well as the most unexpected. This act was Blythe Gamble, single mother and local blues singer. With her lip ring, tattoos and feathery short hair, she grabbed the microphone and belted the first notes of an original piece. A powerhouse bluesy vocals projected across the room, causing the audience to clap to the beat. The tune choice was spot on, exemplifying her abilities and giving room for instrumental improvisation (though unrehearsed, Gamble insisted mid-song, that each band player take a long improvisational solo). During the extended solos, she jammed out with the guitar player and danced with the keyboardist, creating a stage presence that lit up the room and made me, among others, smile from ear to ear.
Two flights of stairs below the Trademark Building is about as far underground as music gets. Though the event only occurs four times per year, it makes up for its scarcity with its musical genius, raw talent and big personality.
The next Chick Singer Night is Wednesday, May 18, at 8 p.m. at the Brink Lounge.