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John Lamb, Published August 01 2010

WE Fest lineup light on female acts

The crowd at WE Fest is usually pretty well split between males and females.

Up on the stage this year, the gender divide won’t be as equal.

Of the national acts in this year’s lineup only two are female driven – Gretchen Wilson and Gloriana, which is fronted by two women and two men. And both acts will take the stage earlier in the day – Gloriana the second act at 4:15 p.m. Thursday and Wilson the middle act at 6:15 p.m. Saturday, much earlier than the headlining slots that close down each night of the country music festival.

(Minneapolis-based Hitchville, which features a female and male lead singer, opens on Saturday at 2:45 p.m., and closes the festival with a 12:15 a.m. show Saturday night on the Ranch Stage.)

By comparison, the previous three years have featured more women higher on the bill including Taylor Swift who headlined WE Fest in 2009 and ’08. Last year’s lineup also included Kellie Pickler, Joey + Rory and Jetty Road. Sugarland, LeAnn Rimes, Wynona Judd and Little Big Town (two female and two male singers) rounded out the bill in ’08. Carrie Underwood, Sheryl Crow and The Wreckers played the event in ’07.

Rand Levy, WE Fest vice president, says there was no plan to make this year’s show less feminine.

“That’s just the rhythm of life. It’s just chance, you never know,” he says.

Levy tried to sign Miranda Lambert to this year’s lineup, but she was unavailable.

“You just buy the best bands you can,” Levy says. “Knock on wood we sign Gretchen Wilson, and she’s riding a hit (‘Work Hard, Play Harder’) coming into the show.”

Wilson’s publicist did not respond to an interview request.

The lack of women on WE Fest’s talent roster might be a reflection of the times in the country genre. At least one man on the bill thinks it isn’t easy for female performers to find stardom in today’s country music scene.

“I think it’s hard to be a female in country,” says singer Eric Church, who performs at 4:15 p.m. Friday.

He says there’s seldom a time when there are more than two or three dominant female country singers on the road.

“Even now, when you’re talking headliners, you’re talking one or two. You’re talking Carrie (Underwood) or Miranda (Lambert) or Taylor (Swift),” he says.

Of that trio, Underwood is the oldest at 27, suggesting a changing of the guard.

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s easier for men to find a start in Nashville. And, there’s some thought female performers have a bit of an advantage.

“I feel it may be harder for guys to make it in country music,” says Cheyenne Kimball, singer/mandolin player in the group Gloriana.

The quartet, which she co-fronts with Rachel Reinert and brothers Tom and Mike Gossin, was recently on the road with Swift, where they made a lot of fans among 16 to 25-year-old women, Kimball says.

Kimball, who just turned 20, the same age as Swift, says young women singers have an advantage over male counterparts because of song content.

“Most of the men are singing about really mature things,” she says. “That’s probably why there’s really not a young guy artist out there.”

In other words, a 20-year-old woman can sing a song about falling in and out of love and people believe it. It’s harder to take a 20-year-old man singing about his hard life and times.

While there may not be many – if any – underage male country singers making it big right now, Church says that adolescent market is a key demographic, not only for himself but for the industry.

“It’s the fan base that at times country music has tried to run off,” the 33-year-old says. “We’ve went hard to the soccer mom world. I’m not a soccer mom, so I don’t relate to that. It’s neat to see that young male fanbase running back to the format. I think we’re stupid if we don’t welcome them back with open arms because I think they’re a vital part to what the format is about, who it’s made up of.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533