BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Nini Camps’ world changed some after she graduated Catholic high school near South Miami in 1990 and moved to New York: She became a professional musician, came out of the closet and joined a lesbian country-rock band called Antigone Rising.
“I knew that was something I wanted, something that I connected with. And yet there wasn’t a lot, there really wasn’t an avenue for me that I could see clearly in Miami,” says Camps, now 42. “I was really interested in the theater, and New York just seemed it had all the mystery and all the answers for a young dreamer. It was the only rational place to go.”
Camps is back in South Florida for Antigone Rising’s Miami debut, Friday night at The Stage in the Design District.
“This is my first time coming back with the band. I’m so excited to do it because I love the band. It's so fun. It is like coming home to my family with my family. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Camps, who in the old days attended Our Lady of Lourdes Academy.
“I grew up in my bedroom listening to the Indigo Girls and Tracy Chapman and that’s kind of how I started really developing and learning how to play even. I learned how to play the guitar listening to those cassette tapes,” she recalls. “I had really good friends in high school and put together shows, take over someone’s backyard and throw parties and throw a band together and we’d play. We’d play anything from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jimmy Buffett.”
The came her decision to move to New York. “I was a solo singer-songwriter for a long time, for me it evolved pretty easily because I was singing and writing and playing about the experiences that I was going through without much regard for anything else. It was just a singular outlet for that,” she says.
Camps came out a few years later in her mid 20s.
“That was something that came later for me. There was always the process. It was always evolving. For me, it was a bit slower process. I came out long after I was in New York,” she says. “I have a wife. We’ve been together almost 14 years. We have two sons. I gave birth to Marco, my 4-year-old, and Brooke, my wife, gave birth to Casey, our 10-week-old. Needless to say, it’s been a busy time.”
About five years ago, Camps joined Antigone Rising, an all-female New York-based band founded in the late 1990s by sisters Cathy Henderson and Kristen Ellis-Henderson.
“I do a lot of co-writing,” Camps says. “Kristen and I write together a lot. Usually it’s in regard to our collective experiences and yet it’s still very singular because she and I live very parallel lives. We’ve both been married, we both have two kids, we live in the same town. There’s really no difference between real life and our writing life, I suppose.”
Ellis-Henderson says she, her sister and Camps (and their families) live a few houses from each other in Long Island’s North Shore. Drummer Dena Tauriello, with the band since the beginning, lives in New Jersey.
“Originally I was the drummer in the band. I play percussion, but I play bass guitar now. I was the rhythm guitarist for a while. We’re a small business. I do what I need to do,” Ellis-Henderson says. “There was a time we were on the road full-time, doing up to 280 shows a year. We’ve slowed that down obviously quite a bit. We have kids now, too. This year we’ll do 100, 120 shows.”
Ellis-Henderson has two children of her own. “A son and a daughter. They’re about to turn 5. They’re not exactly twins,” she says. “My partner —my wife — Sarah carried Kate and I carried Thomas. We got pregnant on the same day. But they were born three weeks apart.”
The Ellis-Hendersons are among the best-known LGBT activists in the nation. Last April, they appeared kissing on the cover of Time magazine, for an article headlined, “Gay marriage already won.”
“It’s certainly got us invited to a lot of pride festivals,” Kristen says. “It’s increased our visibility and our fan base. People are finding out about us. It’s so important. For me, it’s super exciting. I love being part of the community. I love being a vocal advocate for the community. I love to meet different LGBT people across the country. To be part of a community that’s so amazing. There’s a lot of love, so it’s great.”
In November, Sarah Kate Ellis-Henderson became CEO and president of GLAAD, the nation’s leading LGBT anti-defamation organization.
“For me, my life is what it is. I’m raising my kids. I’ve got a family. It’s really important to me that I’m living an honest life. It is a little bit enmeshed. We’ve written a book (Times Two: Two Women in Love and the Happy Family They Made, Simon & Schuster, $25) about the kids and their conceptions, so we’re obviously out there publicly. It’s certainly intentional. We want to help change the culture and the landscape of what’s going on in our country,” Kristen says. “We’re happy to do it, Sarah in particular, as opposed to the whole band. Although the band is active and vocal, certainly, and they show up with me when needed.”
In the beginning, the band members didn’t broadcast that they’re lesbians. But once they all came out, their lives and careers took off, Kristen says.
“I find now that we’re out and very vocal about it, our fan base feels and looks so much more diverse to me. I don’t know if its that once you’re just comfortable and telling the truth, that appeals to people. When your story’s for real,” she says. “Our room is a mixed crowd. A lot of men. A lot of married couples, straight, gay. I love that. We’re open to it all.”
Being out, also makes it difference in their music. Last fall, Antigone Rising released a Christmas song, Santa, You Owe Me.
“The song is in essence saying, ‘Santa you owe me because I’m doing all the legwork here for the kids and they think Santa is so great, but I’m the one doing all the dirty work. And you get all the glory, Santa, you owe me. This is what you owe me,’” Kristen says. “And we start rattling off a list of things: ‘I want a new car. I want this, I want that.’ And one of the things is we say, ‘I want to go away on vacation with my beautiful wife, sipping salty margaritas with my beautiful wife.’ We’re out in that way and we’re comfortable saying things like that in our lyrics.”
If you go
Antigone Rising performs 10 p.m. Friday at The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. Doors open at 8 p.m. Diane Ward Band performs at 9. Tickets $12 advance, $16 at door.
Follow Steve Rothaus on Twitter, @SteveRothaus