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Island author sings for feminism, motherhood

Clare Meeker is many things — a wife, a mother, a former lawyer, an award-winning author, a talented musician, a political activist and a Righteous Mother. None of these identities stands out above the rest. Yet they all find life in Meeker’s music, which she creates, performs and celebrates with her three closest friends.

The Righteous Mothers is a band of four women, all mothers, whose friendship is as strong as their musical philosophy. In a style that has been defined as “feminist progressive folk,” this dynamic quartet of highly talented, witty and humorous women has created an entirely new niche of music in the Pacific Northwest. They have won awards. They have earned acclaim. They have a fan base of hundreds, one that — like the subject of their music — hop-scotches across the demographic map.

As stated on the group’s Web site, “the Righteous Mothers grab hearts and funny bones with songs about ice cream, labor pains, annoying dreams and Supreme Court decisions. They surprise and delight young and old, gay and straight, male and female, with their quirky humor and open hearts.”

Meeker, an Island resident and the wife of City Councilmember Dan Grausz, has been a part of the Righteous Mothers since the beginning, 28 years ago.

“Our first concert was in a friend’s living room in 1981,” she said. “Then we were invited to Folklife [Seattle music festival], and things just picked up from there.”

Since that time, the group of four has released six recordings, performed at hundreds of concerts, benefits and festivals, raised a combined total of seven “Righteous Children” and maintained successful careers which include a professor, Tribal Court Judge, children’s book author and high school teacher. But perhaps most noteworthy, according to Meeker, is the fact that the Righteous Mothers have kept their music alive for nearly three decades.

“I think that’s our secret,” the Islander said. “Despite all the distractions in our life, every once in a while we were able to all get together and put on a concert.”

Lisa Brodoff, a college friend of Meeker’s and the only Righteous Mother to know all three members before they collaborated as a band, echoed this point.

“We’ve just made it work; around pregnancies, careers, child care. To keep staying together is to keep creating,” the Lacey resident said.

Despite the miles between each Righteous Mother’s home — Seattle, Lacey, Olympia, Mercer Island — the women have managed to meet frequently throughout the year. Sometimes every weekend, other times once a month, less often days at a time during a Righteous Mothers retreat. Enough to keep the band alive.

Much of their success has to do with the fact that the four women — percussionist Marla Elliot, acoustic guitarist Wendy Crocker, electric bassist Brodoff and pianist Meeker — are the dearest of friends.

“We’re very, very close. When we’re on stage, there’s such support. We know that if somebody misses a beat, one of us will step in. It’s a wonderful thing,” Meeker said.

Meeker and Brodoff have been friends since attending Hofstra Law School in New York. In 1980, Brodoff convinced Meeker and her husband, Grausz, to move to Seattle after falling in love with the city herself. Once the three had relocated, Brodoff invited Elliot and Crocker — acquainted through the Seattle music scene — to form a musical group.

“I’m the one who brought us all in,” Brodoff said, adding that years of playing together have bonded the women. “We became the best of friends through our singing.”

The Righteous Mothers has always had political flare; embracing elements of feminism, liberalism, environmentalism, pacifism and several other “isms” with political headlines, social parody and humanitarian credos. Many of the group’s songs, Meeker admitted, have feminist themes — whether maternal or rebellious.

“Feminism has gotten a bad rap in the past, but we stick by it,” Meeker commented.

Perhaps the group’s latest hit, “Old Fat Naked Women for Peace,” says it all.

“Knock it off, or we’ll take it off. We’re old, fat, naked women for justice... It seems too me [that] this strategy could definitely work cross culturally. Even Dick Cheney doesn’t want to see his granny’s tities in the breeze,” the lyrics read.

The song became an online sensation when the Righteous Mothers posted a video of it on YouTube last fall. The video has garnered nearly 500,000 hits since. As a result, the band’s record sales have soared.

“It’s really been a renaissance,” Meeker said. “To think that 500,000 people have watched that video is amazing. We’ve had so much response.”

A majority of the Righteous Mothers’ gigs are benefit concerts. The group has performed at women’s rights events, charitable folk festivals and concerts for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. On average, the Righteous Mothers put on about 10 shows a year, Meeker said.

The group’s upcoming concert, a Mother’s Day show on May 9 at the Triple Door in downtown Seattle, will be one of its biggest.

“We just love the Triple Door,” said Meeker, adding that the group has performed at this venue twice before. “The sound system is incredible there. Playing at the Triple Door — it’s like you’ve died and gone to heaven.”

This weekend’s show is special for the Righteous Mothers, as two of their children will join them on stage. Brodoff’s son, Micha, and daughter, Evan, who she raised with her partner, Lynn Grotsky, the band’s manager, will make a stage presence in honor of Mother’s Day.

The band will also have some additional percussion this Saturday, as longtime friend Don Kinney will be playing drums. The Righteous Mothers will perform both old and new songs, with a few lyrical creations never heard before. As always, the new songs — witty as ever — are destined to surprise.

“This concert is a celebration of mothers. We once were young mothers. Now we’re empty nesters, but we’re still creating. This concert is about looking back and looking forward,” Brodoff said.

For more information on the Righteous Mothers, visit www.righteousmothers.com; for tickets to the Triple Door concert, visit www.thetripledoor.net.

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