Sweet Sounds of Nectar – All-Female Band Is Capturing Ears and Hearts on St. John

Wanda, Gretchen and Cat take it away Saturday night at the Beach Bar.

It’s a Saturday night and the Beach Bar is brimming with kinetically-charged bodies fueled by the funky, eclectic music emanating from the small wooden stage in the front of the popular venue.

The modern, bluesy tunes projected by the diva triumvirate create a natural force on the harbor of Cruz Bay – luring in passersby from the street and beckoning listeners to abandon their barstools as well as inhibitions to dance to the sweet musical secretions of a band ringing true to its name – Nectar.

Lead vocalist Gretchen Rhodes, singer and guitarist Cat Braaten and conga and percussion musician Wanda Burgos have been deemed the goddesses of music on St. John, and the island hasn’t been the same island since the forming of this all-female band about one and one-half years ago.

“We are the first to do this – start an all female band on St. John,” said Gretchen with a modest pride in her voice. “It’s empowering for women and little girls on the island – they are seeing something they haven’t seen before,” added Wanda.

How They Came Together
It all started during a “Girls on the Beach” show Cat put on at the Beach Bar almost two years ago when the three musicians happened to be there performing individually and inevitably stumbled upon one another’s talents.

“It was a collective thing – I’d been working with other people, but I was looking for a little more,” said Wanda. “I thought the island needed a little spunky-styled sexiness – not just women who looked good but who could play good.”

“And it was the friendship – for me it just felt right,” the percussionist added.

After witnessing the band in action, I am not sure if it is the uniquely powerful feminine bond or perfect combination of sheer talent that creates the kind of chemistry and energy strong enough to influence the bodies of their listeners, transforming even the most reserved person into an all-out dancing fool for the evening.

“I love to wear sunglasses when I play – it’s like watching my own video,” said Wanda. “No matter how serious the person looks – to see them moving, getting into the music, that’s my greatest thrill.”

“I love the energy exchange between us and the crowd – to hear people stop, look, sing with us and dance,” said Gretchen. “And if they are dancing, I am dancing with them, I just can’t help myself,” she added laughing as her two musical comrades nodded in confirmation of her notorious dancing habit.

Keeping It Fresh
Nectar performs two or three Saturdays a month at the Beach Bar and plays occasional gigs at Island Blues and in various venues on St. Thomas although they are invited to play much more frequently than they accept.

“A lot of people want us to play every weekend, but we don’t want that; we want to keep it interesting,” said Wanda. “We practice as much as we can and we try to come up with new things to keep it fresh.”

“We are very picky about how often we play, we don’t want to get burnt out or bore people – we want to learn new things and keep it exciting,” added Gretchen.

Although I doubt any one would ever be bored listening to – and watching – the talent projected by these three women, I’m sure all it would take is a few morocco-like hip shakes from Gretchen to get the crowd going again.

Listening to the three talk, finishing each other’s sentences and picking up on the thought the other recently abandoned, it comes as no surprise to realize the three women mesh as cohesively off stage as they do on stage.

“This whole band is so music- and vibe-oriented compared to other bands I’ve been in,” said Cat. “The band is very rhythmically-oriented.”

“The groove starts with Wanda, and Gretchen does the lion’s share of the lead singing – and all of the dancing,” Cat added laughing.

Women Making It Work
The three musicians feel a part of Nectar’s success comes from the fact that they each share a common love for music and are free of the power struggles which often taint other bands.

“It’s all women – there is no bull, no power struggles, we like the whole chick-vibe,” said Cat. “There are no egos here,” added Gretchen.

The band is not selfish with the stage either – the trio is constantly inviting other talented musicians to share in the spotlight.

“We invite people to play with us all the time,” said Cat.

Saturday night’s performance included the talented Barbie Barry as she hopped on stage armed only with her harmonica to accompany Nectar with sweet tunes as well as a few songs with an additional flutist and percussionist.

When asked to classify Nectar’s style, the three musicians coined the term “Eclectic funk with a kiss of Latin.”

Nectar entertains the crowd with locally-famous eclectic songs they wrote themselves like Gretchen’s “Filter” and Cat’s “Angels and Me” and “Hole in the Atmosphere,” but they also add their own twist to popular covers like “Hits from the Bong” by Cyprus Hill and Prince’s “Seven.”

“Any covers we do, we don’t do strictly as they are – we add our own unique flavors,” said Wanda.

Some even prefer Nectar’s versions a little better than the classics.

“One of the best compliments was when this woman was sitting at Beach Bar one night and she said she heard the original Jane’s Addiction ‘Jane Says’ and she said she liked ours better,” Wanda said smiling.

All-Female Band Has Vibes
But most of what is performed on stage is derived from the all-female band’s vibes bouncing off one another.

“Lots of the time Wanda starts the night with a groove on the congas, I jump in there playing the guitar and Gretchen will free form and improvise from the top of her head,” said Cat.

Nectar’s biggest island debut and one of the most significant moments came during the third annual St. John Blues Festival this past March.

“I think we were all close to tears at the St. John Blues Festival,” said Cat. “The support – and the love – of St. John was amazing.”

The third annual St. John Blues Festival, presented by St. John resident and blues musician Steve Simon, showcased female blues musicians keeping to an overall theme of “Women in Blues” for the event.

“Steve Simon really bent over backwards to make sure we had a big all-female band,” said Cat. “He hired a drummer and a horn player from the states to play with us.”

One of the greatest compliments the band ever got came after their performance at the St. John Blues Festival.

“Some people said we were better than both of the headlining groups at the blues festival,” said Gretchen proudly, with a modest smile on her face. “And we heard that over and over and over and over again.”

How did the band come up with a name which epitomizes the feeling you get when listening to their music?

One night after a gig, they were all sitting around trying to come up with a name – sipping champagne, “of course,” at La Tapa, and a friend came up with Nectar, according to Gretchen.

“And it’s us – you look at us and you think Nectar,” said the lead vocalist.

The three musicians all have secondary careers – Cat is co-owner of the Beach Bar with husband Allan MacPhee, Gretchen is a “damn good” masseuse and Wanda is a server at Asolare – and they could get used to the idea of making six-figure salaries as musicians.

Future Fame and Fortune
But when asked about taking their careers to the next level, they all contemplated the thought of putting themselves out there, the money and the accompanying fame.

“We want to be pretty much in charge of our own career – we are women, not children, and we are intelligent women,” said Wanda. “But I’m bound by nothing but what I want to do.”

“I can see a grandiose future with this band, but it’s a hard road, intense.” said Cat. “Being here and doing music is such as wonderful thing, we don’t want that to change.”

As for plans in the near future, Nectar has a few goals on the horizon.

“We want to do an inter-island tour – St. Croix, St. Barths, Puerto Rico,” said Gretchen, adding that the band is shooting for the beginning of next year for the tour.

The band is also working on a demo to make their first CD.

Watching the band, it is obvious the girls up there are having just as much fun playing as those who are listening to them, communicating with each other through glances as they wrap up one song and flow seamlessly into the next, pausing only long enough to sip from a glass of champagne from a bottle of Veuve Clicquot they share.

“It’s great because we are having a good time ourselves playing the music and people pick up on that,” said Gretchen.

Wherever and whatever these talented women have lying in the paths of their future, one thing remains certain. “We are all having the time of our lives,” said Wanda, smiling, holding up her glass to toast her two gleaming friends.