Across the Queenscliff Music Festival weekend, the iconic Blues Train was hopping with stage regular, Andrea Marr bunkered down in carriage D.
Her set was an introduction to the new Women In Blues concert series from the railway, running across April and May 2024. With an incredible lineup of ladies including Miss Lou’s Blues, Snake Eyed Rollers and Anna Scionti, the series spotlights the females forging a path in the blues with Marr also returning to her home stage on wheels.
One half of the McNaMarr Project, Marr’s involvement in the blues music is bigger than her pipes, using her voice to also advocate for her fellow females in the industry. 2023 saw her coordinate and mentor emerging and established female blues artists for the Melbourne Blues Society Woman ‘N’ Blues program.
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Synonymous with the Women In Blues concert series, the Women ‘N’ Blues program aimed to celebrate the important historical, long standing connection to women in blues, providing an environment of inclusivity, safety, support, and social learning to the women involved.
“The Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society created the Women ‘N’ Blues program three years ago to basically…there were no real women in blues power but five of us in Melbourne. I’ve been in the industry about 25 / 26 years now and there were only about five of us performing in Melbourne. So we created this space where we could run workshops for women in blues, teach them about the blues, get them into the gigging and jamming and all of that,” she says.
“I’ve been part of the program for the last three years and just seeing these women have a space that they felt safe, comfortable, and grow in a genre that they didn’t even know was a genre years ago, that has been special.”
The seasoned performer and mentor is seeing changes in the industry and the Women ‘N’ Blues program and Women In Blues concert series are only strengthening the relationship women have in the industry and the blues genre.
“It’s fantastic that the Blues Train is running this because we need more programs for women and for women in blues. We’ve actually really made some huge inroads into women in blues and getting out there mentoring them through the investment in blues singers performing on that stage. So it’s just a real pleasure to see the fruition of what we try to do.”
Whilst the groundwork is being implemented, there is still a long way to go for representation on stage, in programming and in positions of power. Marr knows this play too well, acknowledging that the playing field is anything but level.
“It is quite segregated and it’s incredibly frustrating. Something that I’ve talked about for many years is that the blues section in Australia is man and guitar. That is the blues scene, so a festival can have 15 or 20 male blues artists playing guitar, but the minute that you say, “let’s have another female put on” it’s like “no, no, we’ve already got one woman in the blues”.
Explaining the diversity of the genre, she says, “It’s like Fiona Boyes is very different from what I am. So Fiona plays acoustic blues and she’s the greatest blues artist in the country. She’s the top female blues star around and plays like a cigar box guitar and she’s completely different to what I do. I make soul blues, but [festival organisers] don’t want more than one female on the stage. It’s this small minded mentality that women all do the same thing. I think it’s still in that same pocket in the blues and it hasn’t changed in all these years.”
The Women In Blues stage is the perfect eye opener to different shades of blues, from the paler folk family to the darker muds of the swamp.
“This is what we’re trying to change with the women in blue stage; creating a stage where you hear all these different sounds and all these different ideas, where people go, “oh, OK, that’s a really different flavor. I didn’t expect that from blues”.”
From carriage A to carriage D, you can hear the versatility of the blues at any weekly Blues Train showcase, but be sure to hear the range from the women this coming April and May.
To book your ride head here.