Jessie Frye stumbled on one of her greatest moments of inspiration in the haven of all grandiose ideas: a bar. In her company were two notable festival operators, Charlie Hunter and Dallas Guill, who work with 35 Denton and Thin Line respectively. Hunter was discussing the details of daytime programming and overviewing the different panels he was considering hosting. That's when Frye leaned in and asked him the $6 million question: "Where are all the bad bitches?"
From this eternal inquiry, an idea materialized. Frye put together "Cherry Bombs: North Texas' Queens of the Scene" as one of three panels to be featured during this weekend's 35 Denton music festival. Along with herself, she's enlisted Jaimeson Toon of the Virgin Wolves, Amber Farris of Somebody's Darling and Kaela Sinclair, a Denton indie-pop artist. For Frye, it's a symbol of the personal growth and prominence she has reached by working with the North Texas community, and a victory lap intended to extend her own sources of inspiration to others who might not even know they needed it.
With her simple question, Frye unknowingly set in motion a domino effect that would lead to this Sunday, when the free panel will take place at Oak Street Draft House. Hunter entrusted her with complete control -- although they had to change Frye's original name, "Bad Bitches" -- to decide on the panel members and choose the direction of the discussion. For topics, Frye decided to not only celebrate female musicians but also share how the occupation is perceived. Key talking points include sexuality, musicianship, role models, stage presence and empowerment.
In fact, Frye's own sprawling career has been an exercise in nearly all of these topics, which at times has met opposition -- particularly regarding her views on sex positivity and her confident demeanor. Her progressive mindset was instilled by her mother, who made a point to approach sex as a topic to discuss rather than a taboo to shun. Frye admits that she owes a good deal to her upbringing to her mother, and that it's a large part of the reason she has the constitution to be a musician -- particularly when faced with the unique challenges of being a woman in music.
"I never felt like a female musician," Frye says. "I only felt that way after people treated me a certain way." In particular, she remembers a reviewer who once opened an article by saying that he saw her setting up her keyboard and lamented, "Oh great, another girl with a keyboard," and said he left the floor like "all the other smart people." The reviewer then was caught off guard when she turned out to be incredibly talented, which Frye understandably took issue with.
"All he knew about me when he made that judgement was that I was female," she says. "And I felt sorry for him, because that was his train of thought." Frye recalls her female peers having had people approach them after shows to offer such helpful tips as trying to lose some weight. "And I always think, 'Dude, you would never say that to a male musician after a show. It wouldn't even cross your mind. Or it would just be absurd.'"
Even the panel's name itself is a reflection for Frye, who once met the former manager of the Runaways during one of her first trips to SXSW in an elevator by a bewildering coincidence. She described the encounter as surreal and intense, and when he asked her who she was, she meekly replied "I'm playing with my band," and mentioned her influence from Tori Amos.
"And then he said, 'So, you're a sexual lioness who savages the audience?'" she says. "It was strange, but I came away thinking 'Yeah! That's who I am, I'm the sexual lioness.'" It's not the only time that one of her idols has unexpectedly given her their support -- she once met Tori Amos backstage after a show -- but it all feels like it's coming full circle. Next week, now years removed from that encounter, she's heading back to SXSW to play three shows in preparation for her upcoming EP release, taking full charge of the musician she's become.
Regarding stage presence, Frye once had a friend show a video of herself performing and she was rendered speechless. "That's what I look like?" she recalls saying, with a laugh. She had never been consciously making movements during her shows, only channeling what she felt in the song at the time. But she realized that in doing so she exuded a confidence that led audience members to approach her and tell her she's inspiring.
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"Whenever people tell me that, it ends up inspiring me back, to do what I do for the people who tell me that," she says. And through her experience, Frye wants to continue to provide perspective and inspiration to audiences -- which is why she organized the panel in the first place. On top of that, she's playing a show tonight as part of 35 Denton's music offerings.
"It's not about me, it's about what I'm making them feel," Frye insists. "Because, who knows? Maybe they want start their own band. Maybe I helped them realize they could do what they always wanted. That's what I want to put into the world."
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