Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Girliegig: Band of mothers rocks Silver Spring

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Courtesy of the Artist
Rockin’ rollin’ and raising a family: Patrice Moerman joins the Mamapalooza tour this Mother’s Day weekend.
From soccer mom to rocker mom — that’s Patrice Moerman.

Sure, the Bethesda artist has a home and a husband, two teenagers and a pair of Chesapeake Bay retrievers — but the hand that rocked the cradle now rocks a Fender Stratocaster.

Which is why she’ll spend part of this Mother’s Day weekend at the Austin Grill in Silver Spring, sharing the stage with other mothers-who-rock as part of the Mamapalooza Festival.

‘‘It’s open to the public; it’s a family-friendly event,” explains Moerman. ‘‘It’s mostly women bands — woman musicians — it’s just a woman-themed show. Everybody gets 15 minutes. Some have ‘mommy material.’ It’s really cute.

‘‘It’s kind of an empowering thing.”

Empowerment: Moerman is 53, and while she was growing up in Bethesda (her family moved here when she was 14), she did most of her rocking out while she was hiding out.

‘‘I picked up a guitar when I was about 8,” she remembers. ‘‘I’d hide in my room and figure out songs.”

She had taken piano lessons in fourth and fifth grade, but in high school, friends turned her on to Joni Mitchell.

‘‘‘Blue,’” she remembers, ‘‘that did me in. She was an artist, too.”

Midlife crisis

Every generation, as Paul Simon sang in ‘‘Boy in the Bubble” on his album ‘‘Graceland,” throws a hero up the pop charts. Girl rockers are common now, but for a woman of Moerman’s generation, guitar-wielding women like Chrysse Hynde, Bonnie Raitt and Ann and Nancy Wilson came a little too late.

‘‘I’d played guitar,” Moerman says, ‘‘but not in front of people.”

She found a sensible outlet for her creative urges, earning a bachelor of fine arts degree from Syracuse University and settling into the life of a commercial artist, then balancing work and motherhood.

‘‘I am just your basic suburban mother,” she says solemnly, ‘‘who had a midlife crisis seven years ago.”

She dealt with it not by purchasing a two-seater convertible or a pair of leather pants. Instead, Moerman sat down at the piano and wrote a song.

‘‘I was 46,” she says. ‘‘I was trying to do what you would do if you were 20.”

Well, sort of. Her husband — a psychologist — told her she should do more. And she did: 75 songs in six years, one album and a bunch of demo tapes. She also hit the open mic nights, where she was frequently the only female performer.

‘‘It was weird — scary,” she says. ‘‘I had just started getting a few paid gigs and I was trying to find people to play with — a band — when somebody gave me this article in the Wall Street Journal.”

That was 2002. Mamapalooza was about to break nationwide.

Funk and flash

Here’s the thing: These Mamapalooza Festivals started just five years ago to ‘‘foster a supportive community that inspires, educates and offers opportunities for mother performers, fine artists, craftswomen, educators, community leaders, business owners, their families and their audience.”

Founded by New Yorker Joy Rose, a singer⁄songwriter, mother of four and frontwoman of the band Housewives on Prozac, Mamapalooza is a series of concerts across America and around the world.

For Moerman, ‘‘it’s a great networking thing.”

She figures that despite living in the suburbs (great for the kids and the Chesapeake Bay retrievers), she’s open to a network of wailing women far away and so close. Like the Noisy Neighbors, a Virginia band she hooked up with (their lineup is like their name, she reports cheerfully: ‘‘a revolving door.”) Or, the Razors, the classic rock band she performs Beatles and Rolling Stones covers with, or Hot Flash, the four-woman band she formed.

‘‘Believe me, I was having them,” she laughs.

For now, Moerman says that teaching guitar to her (mostly male) students is more lucrative than performing.

‘‘I started teaching guitar a few years ago,” she explains. ‘‘It’s mostly boys. I have a steady stream of elementary and middle school boys.

‘‘It’s kind of a guy thing.”

As rock and roll is, usually. But not at Mamapalooza. Should you choose to come, Moerman cautions, be prepared to have an open — and maternal — mind.

‘‘Mamapalooza means original music,” the rocker mom says. ‘‘Hopefully about motherhood or woman hood, but ... it has to rock.”

Mamapalooza 2007 comes to Austin Grill, 919 Ellsworth Drive, Silver Spring, on Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m. Admission is free. Call 240-247-8969.