(Editor's Note: The logical stepsister to the all-women Lilith Tour, the Suffragette Sessions was a 12-date, women-centric outing that kicked off with an Aug. 19 date in Portland, Maine. The tour wound its way through the Northeast and Midwest through early September. One of the featured performers on the bill, ex-Breeders bassist Josephine Wiggs, took notes on the road and chronicled the trials and travails of the outing, which was organized by folk-rock duo Indigo Girls -- Amy Ray (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Emily Saliers (guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals). The Suffragette Sessions also featured female funk-pop act Luscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach (drums, percussion); violinist/singer Lisa Germano (keyboards, violin, mandolin, accordion); folk singer Jane Siberry (keyboard, accordion, guitar, vocals); Gail Anne Dorsey (bass, guitar, drums, vocals); Lourdes Perez (guitar, percussion, vocals); Jean Smith (slide guitar, vocals) of Mecca Normal; and Come's Thalia Zedek (guitar, clarinet, vocals). The tour was loosely based on folk legend Bob Dylan's '70s Rolling Thunder Revue, with each artist sitting in on each other's sets and songs. In her third report, Wiggs explores the challenges of disco dancing on a lurching tour bus, the benefits of laser lights on all-night drives, the dangers of loud noise in a laundromat and how to handle strange-smelling hotel rooms. The Suffragette tour ended on Sept. 3 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.)
A singer/songwriter friend of Amy [Ray] and Emily [Saliers] named Rose Polanzani is going to play a couple of songs tonight. In the dressing room, she tells us about meeting Joan Baez and hearing the following story: Joan had a very ancient Martin guitar which was in need of repair. The people at Martin told her it was so old they couldn't fix it anymore, but they had the idea to make her a new one to the same specifications and call it the Joan Baez model. Upon taking her guitar apart, they found that some previous repairer had written inside, "Too bad you're a Communist." They wrote this inside each of the 50 special-issue guitars.
We check into the hotel in Chicago at about 5 a.m., in pouring rain. Despite the fact that my room is designated as "non-smoking," it smells as if a heavy smoker who has been holed up in there has died and the body has not been discovered. I attempt to move to another room. They claim the hotel is full. (It always seems preposterous when the front desk says this.) I am too tired to find Kate [Schellenbach] and get some incense, so I shut the door and try to get some air into the room by turning on the fan in the air conditioner. There is a blast of air with its own peculiar foul smell. Lying in bed with the sheet pulled up over my nose, I am sure that by morning my person and my luggage will have become saturated with this rancid odor.
Amy tells us that the two Chicago shows are being recorded "for posterity" and not to let this affect us in any way. (???!) It's my turn to host and I am really terrible when put in front of a mic: I just can't shut up ... and, as Kate thoughtfully points out, "it's being recorded."
On the drive from Chicago to Milwaukee, the back lounge of the bus becomes a disco-dancing frenzy as Emily blasts De La Soul and Kate turns up the bass. There is a floor area approximately three feet square on which Emily, Thalia [Zedek], Lourdes [Perez] and her girlfriend Annette boogie on down, their dance moves augmented by uncontrollable and hysterical lurches as the bus speeds up, slows down or takes a corner. I look out of the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the "Mars Cheese Castle," which I remember is on this stretch of highway. Next morning, the Disco Casualties are counted: Kate discovers a scratch on her toenail polish, caused, we think, by a spectacular fall of Thalia's; Emily says she is suffering from dehydration.
Buffalo Daughter have left us to make their own way across the plains until we see them again in New York. Shonen Knife join us for the next five shows. Seeing them tonight makes me think we should have put more thought into coordinating our stagewear.
It's Lisa Germano's turn to host tonight. She says: "Guess who left home at 17 to go to film school? Gail Anne Dorsey! Guess who was an English major? Emily Saliers! There are two painters on stage tonight: Kate Schellenbach and Jean Smith ... (only watercolor on paper). Guess who is a philosophy major? Josephine Wiggs!" During this part of the set, there are a couple of songs I'm not playing on and I was in the dressing room making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I dashed on stage, brandishing the sandwich, to take my bow. Lisa then realized that Amy was absent: "Perhaps she's making a sandwich too. What does it mean??" (a metaphysical question), and Jane [Siberry] piped in sagely, "It Means That There Will Be No Bread Left."
A 13-hour drive from Minneapolis to Cincinnati. We stop at a truck stop at about 1 a.m. and Jane buys a clock which has different birds on the face in place of numbers, and which strikes the hour by playing the song of the bird. Kate and I buy "laser pointers," and the woman at the cash register says, "Be careful where you point these: people think they're being targeted and they'll shoot back."
We get back on the bus and resume our journey. Someone asks, "Where's Jean?" She is nowhere to be seen. Someone thinks she is in her bunk and we peer in at what looks like a rumpled blanket. We are just about to raise the alarm when Thalia sticks her hand in and feels a leg. Relief all around. The next three hours are enlivened in the front lounge by what becomes known as The Laser Light Show (lights out; music; a laser ballet, if you will, on the ceiling), which has Amy and Thalia in hysterics and sends Emily and Jane to the back of the bus. We give Laser Light interpretation to the Judds' Greatest Hits and later manage an evocation of the celestial dawn ... (I guess you had to be there.)
Amy, Thalia, Kate and I troop to Sudsy Malone's to see Buffalo Daughter play. When we arrive, the support band is giving its all at deafening volume. They are selling earplugs behind the bar and virtually everyone in the room is wearing them. (Question: Is there not some lesson to be learned here?) The loudness of the music, combined with the fact that the bar staff have earplugs firmly jammed in, makes ordering a drink difficult: I mouth, "Sierra Nevada, please" and am handed a bottle of something called Hempen Ale. I know it is useless to attempt to change it; luckily, it tastes surprisingly good. As the name might hint, Sudsy Malone's is also a laundromat, and some people are doing their laundry during the gig. We all concur that we would prefer our freshly washed items to smell of Tide rather than of cigarette smoke and stale beer.
Another very long overnight drive to Norfolk, Va. The Laser Light Show recurs by popular demand. Getting off the bus in the morning, I note that the bottle of Maker's Mark is once again dry as a bone. We check into the Best Western on Military Highway and find a surprisingly nice pool area shaded by plain trees. Our attempts at relaxation are marred, however, by the combined nuisance of a leaf-blower (what's wrong with using a rake??) and the fact that loudspeakers nailed to every tree are blaring the local radio station. Lisa asks at the front desk if it might be turned off (as we are the only people there). She is met with the blinding response that, "No, it can't be, because It Is Controlled By The Computer."
Arrive en masse at the gig to do a radio-station interview. Interviewer: "So, is this your first gig?" Emily: "Actually, it's our second to last." Interviewer: "Oh ... er, well, let me introduce everyone ... Josephine Briggs, Italia Zedek, Jane S'barro and Kate ... "
New York City
It's our last show, and some of us are a little sad. Emily (who has been touring for the last 18 months) says she wants it to go on, she's having so much fun. Thalia says she never wants to go home at the end of a tour and "I guess I have to work on that." The opening song is Luscious Jackson's "Under Your Skin" and Jill Cunniff joins in. When we do the Kostars' "Roll the Dice," she says she can't remember the words and Vivian Trimble is nowhere to be found in the VIP section, which is where you'd expect to find her. For the encore, Jane conducts "When I Was A Fisherman" and invites audience participation: a forward sweep of the arms means they should say "Walk" and an upward shrug of outstretched arms prompts "What?" It being New York, the audience is somewhat precocious, and later in the song when Jane is actually just emoting, some smart aleck shouts "Walk -- What?" and Kate and I, who are ourselves having trouble following Jane's cues tonight, exchange a knowing look.