WhatsUp Interview: Christine Ohlman, Playing Rhythm and Roots Festival September 1

The "Beehive Queen" Returns

Christine Ohlman at the 2018 Rhythm and Roots Festival (Photo: Ken Abrams)

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Christine Ohlman may not be a household name, but you’ve probably seen her before. Ohlman has been dubbed the “Beehive Queen” due to her signature Ronnie Spector-inspired hair style. She’s best known for her regular vocalist gig in the Saturday Night Live band, appearing there since 1991.

Ohlman has had a long, rich career in music, as a solo artist with her band Rebel Montez, and alongside accomplished musicians as widespread as George Harrison, The O’Jays, Chrissy Hynde, G.E. Smith, Jim James and many others. We spoke to her earlier this week as she was preparing for the upcoming Rhythm and Roots Festival in Charlestown.

Rhythm and Roots

“This will be our third year doing the ‘Sunday School’ gospel show in what we call the Gospel Tent (officially the Roots Stage). Sarah Potenza will be there with us, we’re really looking forward to it,” explained Ohlman.

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“The set is structured just for this show. There is one original, a song called ‘The Storm.’ We’ll have the Sin Sisters with us, who sang on it on my album Strip. It’s pretty much roots/gospel -not a religious show – we’ll be doing things like “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield and “I’ll Fly Away” by Hank Williams, and a great Percy Sledge gospel tune … called “The Devil Don’t Bother Me.” It’s quite different from my regular show, and that’s by design.

She’s extra psyched to being playing with RI hometown hero, Sarah Potenza. “Sarah and I will be going on to Nashville to the AMA Festival in the middle of September to do basically the same set, which we’ve done before.”

Christine Ohlman at the 2018 Rhythm and Roots Festival (Photo: Ken Abrams)

As noted above, Ohlman’s credentials are impressive. We asked her about some of her memorable moments over her 35+ year career.

“I’m Blessed to say there are so many,” replied Ohlman. She performed at the famous Bob Dylan 30th anniversary concert in 1991 where a highlight “was the four or five days of rehearsals with Booker T and the MGs, who were the house band. I have wonderful memories of that night. Also singing with Ian Hunter recently at his 80th birthday bash in New York. And anytime I go to Muscle Shoals (Alabama), I’m there every year now headlining the Handy Festival. I’m in a band with the great bassist David Hood and Spooner Oldham. It’s been wonderful.”

“Of course, my career on Saturday Night Live is a gift. Every time we walk into that studio, we try not to take it for granted. It is one of the most amazing bands in the world. I have six records out, I write my own music, we’re working on a new one called “The Grown Up Thing.” When I go out to sing with other people, it generally is ‘deep southern soul,’ which I’ve collected and written about for years.”

Back in October

She returns to the area in October, where she plays a benefit show, “Women’s Voices 3,” at the Knickerbocker Music Center in Westerly. Ohlman shared some details.

“The beneficiary of the show is very important to me. It benefits the Institute for the Musical Arts (www.ima.org) in Goshen, MA. It was founded by June Millington who was the guitarist from the iconic girl group Fanny back in the 70’s and runs a rock and rock camp for girls. I’m on the Board along with people like Bonnie Raitt and Ani DiFranco. This will be the third year we’ve done this show.

Ohlman explained how female artists still face extra challenges in the music business.

“I got into the business by joining my brother’s garage band, that positioned me, in a way, with a very supportive group of guys around me. We were the opening act, the baby band act, for this group called the Wild Weeds, and the lead singer of that band was Big Al Anderson. I right away had a really supportive group of men around me who never took advantage of me.”

She is however, quite aware that women in the music industry face unique challenges and extra hurdles.  “I’ve observed it, it happens all the time. What I tell girls is that you have to be better, you have to be smarter, you have to definitely have more knowledge. You have to know your instrument, what key you sing in. Knowledge is power. Things that a guy can get away with, you may not be able to get away with. I really don’t think it’s changed that much.”

“What I think has changed is that women are able to do things in social media and put their music out there in a way that might not have always happened. You still see this problem of women in a band in not being treated the same. I say start learning about publishing, start learning about contracts, the nuts and bolts about what you’re singing. And if you’re playing, you better be good, you better know what you’re doing.”

You can experience “Sunday School” with Christine Oldham and her band Rebel Montez along with Sarah Potenza Sunday September 1st at 2PM at the Rhythm and Roots Festival. Tickets and further details available here. Don’t miss it!