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Tara Vaughan leads a show that emphasizes 'girl power'

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FARMINGTON — Shortly after beginning her first season on the road in 2019 with her nationally touring show "She Rocks" — a revue-type concert that focuses on the songs of many of the greatest female artists in rock and pop history — Tara Vaughan realized something rather obvious was missing.

Vaughan — a member of Rave On Productions, a touring company of musicians that performs shows honoring the music of the likes of Buddy Holly, the Beatles and others serves as the bandleader for the show. She developed the idea herself, eager to find a way to promote the music that had inspired her as a girl and made her believe that a career in rock 'n' roll wasn't the exclusive domain of one gender.

For her backing band, it was only made sense for Vaughan to rely upon the same Rave On Productions musicians who appeared in the company's other shows. The only problem was, that group was comprised entirely of men — something that didn't feel quite right in a show that was launched to celebrate the artistry of women.

"I wanted to bring more girl power to it," Vaughan said of the show, which will be performed this weekend at San Juan College.

Vaughan remedied that situation by welcoming aboard guitarist and vocalist Natalie Thomas, who she describes as a powerhouse performer who helped take the show to another level.

"There's a great dynamic between the two of us," Vaughan said last week during a telephone interview from her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where she was recharging her batteries after an extended Rave On Productions residency in Atlanta to begin the new year.

The "She Rocks" set list stretches from a half-century ago to the contemporary era, marking the contributions of girl groups, soul and R&B legends Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, rockers ranging from Janis Joplin and Linda Ronstadt to Sheryl Crow, and genre-jumping artists such as Carly Simon, Amy Winehouse and Adele.

Vaughan tops it all off with performances of a few tunes she's penned herself, some of which can be heard on her well-regarded 2016 release "Dandelion Wine."

Her affection for the material is obvious, beginning with her thoughtful, often-personalized introductions to the songs and continuing with the performances, which are rendered with heaping doses of Midwestern wholesomeness and heartfelt enthusiasm.

Vaughan never strays too far from the original arrangements, but "She Rocks" is no mere note-for-note tribute show. Fast paced and energetic, it features a charismatic star who manages to put her own stamp on a catalog of challenging pop and rock classics, and her choice to rely on a tone of earnestness rather than hipster irony or cynicism is well placed.

Vaughan said she spent a good deal of time researching the lives and careers of the women whose material she interprets in the show at the urging of Billy McGuigan, the owner and creative director of Rave On Productions.

"He kept encouraging me to know the stories of these artists backward and forward," she said, explaining that some of the little-known facts she dug up about the performers are included in her introductions to the songs.

Vaughan described the show as fluid, meaning it has evolved considerably since she premiered it with a series of sold-out shows in Omaha in October 2018. The set list changes regularly, though Vaughan usually finds room in a given performance for songs by the artists who have made the biggest impression on her.

"It's all my heroes," she said of the music included in the show, quickly ticking off Joplin, Ronstadt and Crow as members of that list.

"But there are so many of them," she said. "The set list is kind of a walk through my childhood."

Vaughan believes the show resonates with people precisely for that reason.

"I think that's a common experience for a lot of us," she said, referring to the way people associate certain songs with a specific period in their life.

As an example, she cited the tune "Wedding Bell Blues," which Vaughan performs during "She Rocks." The song was written by Laura Nyro in 1966, but Vaughan became aware of it when a version by the Fifth Dimension was featured on the soundtrack of the 1991 film "My Girl" — something she recalled when she began playing it during "She Rocks" rehearsals.

"I had totally forgotten that's how I discovered that song in my childhood," she said.

Not all the material featured in "She Rocks" was written by the women artists who made the songs famous. Vaughan noted that during the late 1950s and early 1960s, female groups or artists often were pressured to perform the work of male songwriters. So even as they were building performing careers for themselves, many of those female artists were deprived of the opportunity to use their own writing voice — an injustice not lost on Vaughan.

"I don't take that for granted now," she said, referring to the way her road was paved by so many other women artists.

"She Rocks" will be performed at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Center on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors and students, $18 for those 18 to 13 and $12 for children 12 and younger at sanjuancollege.edu/silhouette or at the box office. Call 505-566-3430.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/216TU0e

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