Electric Witches Take Tucson

Women-led music workshop sticks it to mansplainers

Electric Witch
Electric Witch

Once, while Hannah Yeun McCarthy was onstage preparing to play a show, the sound guy took the guitar out of her hands and tuned it for her.

Chelsey Trejo was taking a Lyft home after playing and singing a set of original songs at Club Congress, and mentioned casually to her driver that she was a musician. "Oh, you sing?" he asked, the idea that she might play guitar and an array of other stringed instruments apparently not occurring to him.

Nirantha Balagopal once finished playing with her band and headed over to help her partner—a man and non-musician—run the merch table. A radio DJ from the town she was playing in, who had just seen her play and walk over to the merch table, directed all his questions about the band's music toward Balagopal's partner.

These young women, who have decades of experience making music between them, decided to create a way for women to ask questions and learn more about performing live music without having to worry about being mansplained to. So, they created Electric Witch, a series of workshops taught by women with a focus on music gear and instruments, troubleshooting, setting up, and playing live music in general—a lot of how-tos that don't get taught in a traditional music class, Balagopal says.

"I am certain there are girls and women that play guitar and are in bands but don't play out [at shows] because they think it's scary and intimidating," McCarthy says. "I've been playing for more than 15 years, and there's still a lot I don't know."

The first workshop is this Sunday, Nov. 18, and will include presentations by the likes of Amy Mendoza, of Sugar Stains and The Surfbroads; Jillian Bessett, of Jillian and the Giants and Gigi Owens of Scar Eater. Guests of all ages, gender identities and abilities—basically, anyone who has any level of interest in playing live music—will learn about everything from distortion guitar pedals to how to put together a basic coffee shop PA setup. McCarthy will also interview several musicians about their pedal board setups for an ongoing segment called "What's on Your Board?"

In advance of the event, community members can submit questions to the Electric Witch Facebook or Instagram page, to be asked anonymously at the event, to encourage people to ask questions they might be too embarrassed to ask in person.

Local high school band Hang the Bassist is closing out the night, in part because Electric Witch wants to demonstrate these workshops are a safe space for people under 21 to play, and in part because McCarthy saw them play a show once and thought they were incredible.

"I've never seen a 16-year-old girl play guitar like that," she says.

The night will also include a zine full of art, writings and gear reviews submitted by the community. Anything people want to submit, Trejo says, that empowers women and LGBTQ+ people. So, a night full of music, art and plenty of opportunities to learn. Do they have anything else to add?

"Mansplainers stay home," McCarthy says with a grin.

There is a pause.

"Or maybe, mansplainers welcome," Trejo suggests. "I think it's important for them to come and see that there are empowered women."