Rainbow Girls are bringing their happy-go-lucky sensibilities and rock music to Savannah

·5 min read

Eleven years ago, four college friends took up playing music at an underground open mic in Isla Vista, California. Hanging out in their shared apartment, the crew of multi-instrumentalists found they had something special with their combined songwriting and vocal harmonies. In time, the 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 double bill with Americana boot-stompers, Dead South, at Victory North.

They busked and couch-surfed their way through Europe multiple summers 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 band grew to a quintet, shattering ceilings and especially making history when they produced the first-ever all-women night of music at the Fillmore. From sound, lighting, stage, bar tenders and ticket takers — that night, women ran everything at the iconic San Francisco venue.

A lineup change in 2016 remade the ensemble into the present day 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, less-is-more acoustic approach.

“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 fall into general areas. I usually go higher and Vanessa usually goes lower, but that also changes. We sing what we’re hearing by ear and if we get stuck on a section, we head over to any sort of piano (real or digital) and figure out which chords we’re trying to make and then adjust everyone’s parts from there.”

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A lucky break came in 2018 when an impromptu promo video of “Down Home Girl” went viral. In the video, the women sit casually on a California hillside. One is wearing overalls. Two are sipping beers. There’s a tractor parked in the background. They bring the song to life with slide guitar, acoustic, upright bass and catchy, spot-on harmonies.

When the song concludes, the tractor starts up and drives away — much to the surprise of the musicians. That video now has nearly 7 million views since it debuted three years ago.

What made it special is how close the video gets to the essence of Rainbow Girls. They are masters of their craft, relaxed, with a happy-go-lucky sensibility that pushes and pulls effortlessly between them when they perform.

“Part of why we started playing music was because we all lived together in the same bottom floor duplex and thought it would be fun,” recalled Gowdey. “Now somehow it’s 11 years later, we’re still living together and it’s still fun. We’ve become sisters, both in the spiritual cool way and also in the who-moved-my-stuff-you-smell kinda way. So our stage show is genuinely how we interact in any situation. We just happen to be in front of a mic at the time. None of us know how it’s going to go, but we know and trust each other so well that we can bounce the pressure back and forth.”

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The band is 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 reflects a bit of what it’s been like for them as musicians during the pandemic where shows shift, pivot, and often disappear.

“'Rolling Dumpster Fire' came about because we had been sitting on this other album from 2019 that still hasn’t been released because of Frustrating Business Reasons,” said Gowdey. “Then, it was 2020, and the music industry jumped off a cliff. Everything was falling apart, but we still wanted to put out new music. So in 2021, we decided to record something new at our house and release it on our own. We set up in the back room with some mics, a Tascam, and my fiancé Jeremy, who has spent the pandemic holed up learning how to engineer music. We wanted it to feel fresh so everything was recorded pretty quickly, live vocals with guitar together, unavoidably squeaky chairs and lots of coming up with parts as we went.”

A Rainbow Girls performance ranges from keen takes on classic rock to jazz standards, their own Americana, with surprises thrown in. At Victory North, the sets will be different each night with highlights from the new EP and "American Dream." As independent artists booking, traveling, writing, and recording, they’ve seen a lot, and keep rolling through the obstacles.

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Rainbow Girls
Rainbow Girls

“There’s always someone trying to tell you what they think you should do, and so it’s critical to listen to yourself first. Build your team around people you genuinely like and trust, people who can help and are in it because they like what you’re doing, not just because they think they can use you,” emphasized Gowdey.

“Also bring extra socks and be extra nice to sound people and bartenders ‘cause they hold all the secrets, and also certain truck stops have really slammin’ Indian food."

IF YOU GO

What: Rainbow Girls and Dead South

Where: Victory North, 2603 Whitaker St.

When: Wednesday, Feb. 2 and Thursday, Feb. 3

Cost: $28.50 to $65

Info: victorynorthsavannah.com

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Rainbow Girls talk American Dream and new EP, Rolling Dumpster Fire

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