Eleven years ago, four college friends started playing music in an underground open mic in Isla Vista, California. While hanging out in their shared apartment, the team of multi-instrumentalists discovered they had something special with their combined songwriting and vocal harmonies. On time, rainbow girls took to the stage, lighting up festivals from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and across Europe.
The Rainbow Girls play two nights in Savannah — Feb. 2 and 3 — on a doubleheader with Americana’s stompers Dead South at Victory North.
They made their way through Europe for several summers on the streets and on the couch before finally landing in the golden hills of San Francisco’s North Bay, where their music career took off.
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There, the group became a quintet, breaking ceilings and making history above all when they produced the first-ever all-female musical night at the Fillmore. From sound, lighting, stage, bartenders and ticket takers – that night, the women ran it all at the iconic San Francisco venue.
A line-up change in 2016 transformed the ensemble into the current trio of Erin Chapin, Caitlin Gowdey and Vanessa Wilbourn. They honed their songwriting and harmonies, creating a sound reminiscent of Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit. In 2017, the Rainbow Girls released their third album, “American Dream”, which highlighted a new approach to acoustic less is more.
“We work hard on the harmonies. The process changes for each song or type of song,” said Caitlin Gowdey, founding member of the group. “We usually start by hearing the melody and then drop into general areas. I usually go higher and Vanessa usually goes lower, but that changes too. We sing what we hear by ear and if we get stuck on a section, we go to any type of piano (real or digital) and work out what chords we’re trying to make, then tweak the parts of each from there. ”
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A stroke of luck happened in 2018 when an impromptu promotional video for “Down Home Girl” gone viral. In the video, the women sit casually on a California hill. One is wearing overalls. Two are sipping beers. There is a tractor parked in the background. They bring the song to life with slide guitar, acoustics, double bass, and catchy, pitch-perfect harmonies.
At the end of the song, the tractor starts and starts, much to the surprise of the musicians. This video now has nearly 7 million views since its debut three years ago.
What makes it special is how close the video gets to the essence of Rainbow Girls. They are masters of their craft, relaxed, with a carefree sensibility that effortlessly pushes and tugs between them when they perform.
“Part of the reason we started playing music was because we all lived together in the same downstairs duplex and thought it would be fun,” Gowdey recalled. “Now, eleven years later, we’re still living together and it’s still fun. We’ve become sisters, both spiritually cool and also in the way that moved my stuff and you feel a bit. So our show on stage is truly how we interact in any situation. We just happened to be in front of a mic at the time. None of us know how it’s going to be, but we know each other and we do so well confidence that we can bounce the pressure back and forth.
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The band are currently touring North America in support of their fifth recording, “Rolling Dumpster Fire”, and like their previous releases, it’s all crowd funded. Like many artists producing now, the music is a bit of a reflection of what it’s been like for them as musicians during the pandemic where shows often change, pivot and disappear.
“‘Rolling Dumpster Fire’ was born because we were sitting on that other 2019 album that still hasn’t been released due to Frustrating Business Reasons,” Gowdey said. “Then it was 2020, and the music industry jumped off a cliff. Everything was falling apart, but we still wanted to release new music. So in 2021, we decided to record something back home and put it out on our own. We sat in the back room with microphones, a Tascam, and my fiancé Jeremy, who’s spent the pandemic locked up learning how to design music. We wanted to let it feel fresh so it all gets recorded pretty quickly, live vocals with guitar together, inevitably creaking chairs and lots of parts to come as you go.
A Rainbow Girls performance ranges from classic rock to jazz standards, their own Americana, with surprises. At Victory North, the sets will be different every night with highlights from the new EP and “American Dream.” As independent artists who book, travel, write and record, they have seen a lot and continue to overcome obstacles.
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“There’s always someone trying to tell you what they think you should do, so it’s essential to listen to you first. Build your team around people you really like and trust, people who can help you and who are there because they love what you do, not just because they think they can use you “said Gowdey.
“Also bring extra socks and be really nice to the sound people and bartenders because they hold all the secrets, and some roadhouses have really banging Indian food.”
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
What: Rainbow Girls and Dead South
Where: Victory North, 2603 Whitaker St.
When: Wednesday February 2 and Thursday February 3
Cost: $28.50 to $65