Unsurprisingly, the Sister Wives get asked about their name a lot. So much, in fact, that the all-female “rock’n’blues band” has added the following explanation to their Web site: “None of us are sisters … at least to each other. Some of us are wives, but that’s really beside the point. ‘Sister Wives’ is term used to describe the relationship of wives in a polygamous relationship and is generally considered a term of endearment. And no, none of us is in a polygamous relationship either. It’s just a great band name, people!”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fun story behind that great band name. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Mona Stevens said the band got its name when two of its members, bass player Jani Gamble and drummer Amy Boettger, were sharing a house together during the 2002 Olympics. One morning, Boettger’s husband called the two women to the breakfast table by shouting, “Sister wives! Breakfast is ready!” The rest, as they say, is history.
“They had the band named before I showed up, and here I am from Utah, and I had no idea that’s what polygamist wives called each other!” laughed Stevens.
The quartet of Sister Wives (which includes lead guitarist Jesse Luckett) actually began as a duo and a church band at Holiday’s United Church of Christ. In early 2003, Boettger and Gamble decided that they wanted to put together — in Gamble’s words — “an all-female band that really rocked.” The two got together with a keyboard player, and soon met Mona through the church as well. After practicing together for awhile, the band decided to hold a concert in order to begin building their repertoire. They sent out a few emails and expected that a handful of friends and family would show up.
“We wound up having like 300 people,” said Gamble. “It was just so amazing for our debut concert, and we were scared shitless, let me tell you. We were brand new, and we weren’t very good at that point, because we hadn’t played together — not that we aren’t incredibly talented, of course!”
The quartet played together for about six months before adding Luckett, who is their youngest member. After a time, they parted ways with their keyboardist to become the line-up Utah audiences — and audiences across the West — know and love.
And know and love them they should. Between the four of them, the Sister Wives have not only boundless talent, but decades of musical experience. Stevens has studied classical, blues and folk guitar and spent four years in Nashville writing and performing songs alone and with her Mona Rae Stevens Band. Many of the songs she wrote during this time are now part of the Sister Wives’ repertoire. Boettger played drums and other percussion instruments in high school and college and has experience in rock, jazz, punk, blues, big band and country music bands, as well as experience as a music teacher. Gamble is classically trained and proficient in several musical styles, and also plays guitar and mandolin. Although she didn’t start out as a bass player, Gamble, who doubles as the band’s webmistress, says the instrument is now her favorite.
“I played a little bass when the bass wasn’t there, but I didn’t really pick it up until we started the band because we had too many guitar players,” she explained. “That was really fun for me because I’d never paid attention to bass lines. I still insist that if a song has an interesting bass line, it’s a great song.”
And when it comes to Luckett, her band mates have nothing but praise.
“She is a prodigy,” said Boettger. “She played a lot of things growing up, kind of dabbling to see what she really liked, but when she was about 17 she learned how to play lead blues guitar and just took to it. By the time she joined us she had only been playing six months, and she was amazing. She’s getting better. She’s equally as good as anybody you might hear on the radio. She’s still growing into it and she’s got a ways to go, but the sky’s the limit with her talent. I’d say that with any of us. The sky’s the limit. The more we play together.”
When it comes to the kind of music the women play together, Stevens identifies it mostly as blues — though not the kind of blues you might think of when you hear the term.
“We’re a blues band, but we’re very high energy,” she said. “You won’t hear a lot of open a vein kind of blues. It’s almost more Southern rock.”
But whatever you want to call the Sister Wives’ style, its very popular throughout the West. In the six years they’ve played together, the band has performed at a number of venues in California, Nevada, Idaho, Washington (including the San Juan islands), Oregon, and at just about every music festival in Utah, including the Utah Arts Festival and Moab’s Red Rock Women’s Music Festival. While the group hopes to play in Colorado and Arizona in the future, they see themselves as being a regional band for the time being.
“For us to go much further than that, we’d have to have really high paying gigs or a bunch of gigs that could help us afford the gas,” said Stevens.
And out of all the festivals they’ve played, the group identifies Utah Pride as one of their favorites. So much so, in fact, that the group will appear there again on June 7.
“It is a great stage with a great sound system and we sound big there,” said Gamble. “We love to sound big. It’s a very enthusiastic audience and we love to play there.”
The band is, as Stevens describes it, an “even split” between gay and straight members. But regardless of its individual members’ sexual orientations, Stevens says the band plays at the festival because they believe in the message it promotes — that of acceptance of people of all orientations and gender identities.
“We just feel strongly about the rights of other people and everything that Pride represents,” said Stevens. “We would cert be remiss in who we are as people if we wouldn’t play Pride.”
Wherever they play, be that for a blues festival or a Pride festival, the women all say that they have a great time.
“What’s fun about this is the energy we have and our connection on stage,” said Gamble. “People will come up after and say, ‘Wow, you girls look like you’re having fun,” and we say of course we are. How can you not have fun when you’re playing with a bunch of women?”
To date, the Sister Wives have released two CDs and hope to unveil a live CD later in June. They will also release a DVD of one of their concerts. To learn more about the Sister Wives and to hear or purchase their music, visit home.comcast.net/~sisterwives. They are scheduled to play at the Utah Pride Festival on Sunday, June 7 at 1:00 p.m. on the North Stage.