Nikki Wonder gathers city's 'bright fires' for woman-celebrating She Burns Bright

Andy Downing
She Burns Bright performers photographed at Strongwater

Nikki Wonder initially landed a Friday at Ace of Cups as a standalone gig for her band, Bloodthirsty Virgins. But as the singer considered other musicians to partner with for the evening, an idea started to build.

“The first person I asked was Sue Harshe [of Scrawl], and when Sue said yes I was like, ‘Damn, awesome.’ And then I was like … ‘Why can’t this just be an all-women driven show?’” Wonder said recently in an Olde Towne East interview. “‘Why can’t this be something wonderful and weird and unexpected?’”

From there, Wonder’s wheels started turning, and the concert, now billed as She Burns Bright and taking place at Ace of Cups on Friday, Jan. 17, continued to expand, incorporating comic folk acts (Tickles and Pokes), teenage alt-rockers (Forever Unknown), poets (Amy Turn Sharp), burlesque performers (coordinated by Krista Kitty of Dick’s Den), visual artists (Vanessa Jean Speckman and Meagan Alwood-Karcic) and more.

“I can’t even put it fully into words, but I feel like in the world, as I’ve always known it to be, it’s kind of hard to connect, and it’s hard to make stuff happen, and it’s especially hard for women to make stuff happen,” Wonder said. “We’re kind of frenemies from birth, like, ‘Oh, she’s prettier. Her music is cooler.’ And it shouldn’t be contentious. It should be, ‘I know that chick. She’s my friend.’ … It just feels like now is the time to be a tough bitch together. … Women are creating fierce, amazing, beautiful things.”

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While some of the performers are newer to Wonder, all have had at least some effect on how she approaches music, up to and including recent discovery Forever Unknown. “These kids, they’re so fresh, man,” Wonder said. “You see a video, and they’re behind the scenes at Donatos Basement — and this is what really got my heart going — and they’re like, ‘Dudes, we’re here. We’re playing at Donatos Basement, but they didn’t tell us WE’RE THE HEADLINER! THAT MEANS WE’RE GOING LAST!’ And they were so, so pumped.

“I mean, how can you not love that? I want to tap into that. You start to feel a little jaded doing this, and I want to get some of that [excitement] back.”

A similar sense of renewal has accompanied Wonder’s developing friendship with poet Turn Sharp, whose art she has celebrated for years but whom she has only more recently started to know on a more personal level.

“I actually went to a couple of open poetry readings that she would host at Seventh Son … and she was like, ‘Get up and sing a song!’ I’m like, ‘What? This is a poetry reading. Should I just say my song like it’s a poem?’ ‘Hell no! Sing your song!’” Wonder said. “So I get up and I sing my song, and my voice is shaking, and I didn’t have my band backing me, and I heard my song completely differently. … And it made me connect with it in a different way, which was really cool, actually.”

The collective energy generated by assembling She Burns Bright has even started to influence the songs Wonder pens for Bloodthirsty Virgins, whose dark, sweeping, Ennio Morricone-influenced ballads previously tended toward the more shadowy end of the music spectrum.

“I just wrote a new song, in fact, and it’s interesting because it’s happy sounding, which is very un-Bloodthirsty,” Wonder said, and laughed. “It’s very chime-y and Beatles-inspired … but the lyrics are still a little bitter [because] you can’t get rid of all the blood.”

Moving forward, Wonder hopes to establish She Burns Bright as a quarterly event, with a second iteration ideally taking place in April, continuing to tap into what she views as a growing energy within the city’s arts scene.

“There are so many bright fires in this town … and this is a cool opportunity to be friends with all of them, and have them become friends, and then from there grow something else,” Wonder said. “This show might have been my idea, but hopefully there are 500 more ideas that come out of this. If three of the bands who play on this night end up having another gig together and people rally around it, that’s fantastic. … It sounds cliché saying ‘sisterhood,’ but I like that idea that all of these girls have my back and I have their backs, and I don’t want what they have, but I want to support what they have, and they are amazing.”

Ace of Cups

9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17

2619 N. High St., Old North

With appearances by: Bloodthirsty Virgins, Sue Harshe, Tickles and Pokes, Forever Unknown, Call Me Rita, Krista Kitty Burlesque, Vanessa Jean Speckman and Meagan Alwood-Karcic

She Burns Bright