Antigone Rising never planned to be festival planners. And they really never expected to run their own foundation. They just wanted to rock.
“We would play these festivals and get great response and then the following year we would not be able to get back on the festival because they were having other female artists,” says Antigone Rising drummer Kristen Ellis-Henderson, of Sea Cliff. “We were like, ‘Wait a minute, there's only one slot for female artists? And yet all the guy bands will be back again?’ Year over year, it was frustrating us and we just said, ‘You know what? Let's start our own festival and then we can play it. Then we know for sure we have one festival to play every year.’ ”
Six years later, the Girls Rising Festival has grown into a two-day event. The Game Changer Awards ceremony on Friday, June 21, at My Father’s Place at The Roslyn Hotel (which Ellis-Henderson plans to rename “My Mother’s Place” for the night) will honor “I Don’t Want to Wait” singer-songwriter Paula Cole and include a performance from Sophie B. Hawkins. On Saturday, June 22, there will be a free, daylong concert at Morgan Memorial Park in Glen Cove featuring Cole, Jill Sobule and Lucy Kaplansky. Antigone Rising will play in its current incarnation as a trio, with Ellis-Henderson, singer-guitarist Nini Camps and guitarist-singer Cathy Henderson. But to celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary, the Henderson sisters will also reunite with original members Kokines Sanborne and Suzanne Obolsky.
The Game Changer Awards serve as a fundraiser for the band’s “Girls Rising” charity, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring girls and LGBT youth to pursue nontraditional career paths and encourage all kids to be themselves. “I don't want to say we stumbled into a creating a nonprofit, but it fell into our laps in a way,” says Ellis-Henderson, adding that it grew out of the band being chosen as cultural ambassadors to the Middle East and seeing how so many children, especially girls, around the world had low self-esteem. “We wanted to see if we could do something about it. And we thought that we could share our story of the journey we took and what it took to persevere and be successful in our career.”
The Girls Rising Festival also gives the band a chance to introduce fans to up-and-coming bands like Kalliope Jones and Jackknife Stiletto, as well as new local artists like Glen Cove’s Nikolina Keissling and Wantagh’s Lindsay Whiteman. Each of the main stage artists has also mentored a young local musician to join them for a song.
And previous festival performers often continue to be involved through Girls Rising grants and scholarships. This year, the Melissa Etheridge Grant goes to Robert M. Finley Middle School (Glen Cove) sixth-grader Max Dahlke-Moll, the Joan Jett & the Blackhearts Grant goes to the rising first- graders at Deasy Elementary School in Glen Cove, and the Carnie Wilson Grant goes to Finley Middle School eighth-grader Gabriela Joya.
“You look at these women who paved the way before us and none of them took the easy route,” Ellis-Henderson says. “That’s why it's so important for women to help women.”