If it's the first Friday, it's time for Ladies Night Out

Anne Perry knows, without needing to check a calendar, where she’ll be at about 7 p.m. on Feb. 1 – and any first Friday of 2013.

The same applies for a number of women in the Milwaukee LGBT community.

First Friday is Ladies Night Out at Hotwater, 818 S. Water St., Milwaukee, with drinks at the bar, conversation at the tables, couples on the dance floor and entertainers – usually DJ Chris Hill and musician Carol Alms – on the job.

LNO, courtesy of the informal Ladies Out Milwaukee, debuted in December 2011 and took place monthly throughout 2012.

On the first Friday in February, Ladies Night Out, with sponsorship from the Wisconsin Gazette, presents The Dianna Jones Trio. The event will move to Hotwater’s Wherehouse to accommodate a larger crowd, says Perry, a founding organizer.

Regular Peg Dyer, who often volunteers to take photographs at the socials, “first heard about LNO around the holidays last year, just in time to make the Jan. 6, 2012, event. I was excited by the idea of meeting new women, as well as catching up with friends, in a casual setting with good music and full bar service. It sounded like the place to be, and every month’s event has fulfilled that promise.”

Many of the women who favor Ladies Night Out weren’t into the regular club scene – the late-night start, the partying into morning, the Saturday afternoon hangover.

LNO is “an event for women who still like to party, but don’t want to wait until 11 p.m. to get started,” says regular and volunteer Leigh White. “It’s laid-back; it’s not a pick-up scene.”

The event began with a discussion among a small group of friends about a need for activities for “women of a certain age” – 40 and older – to socialize.

“I, as a new member of the community, was frustrated that there was really nothing for lesbians who didn’t want to wait until 9 or 10 at night to start partying,” Perry says. “When you get to a certain age, you enjoy your mornings and don’t want to sleep until noon. I thought, ‘If I’m feeling this way, probably a lot of other people feel this way.’”

When Perry suggested a Friday night social, Jane Ottow says, “Immediately I was sold on the idea,” She became an original organizer and remains an enthusiast.

“Before LNO, I was resigned to the idea that my dancing days were over,” Ottow says. “Not so now, as Hotwater is a cool venue, has a great dance floor and the DJ plays the music we want to hear. I have met many new friends this past year.”

To launch LNO, organizers promoted the event by word of mouth and through other local groups, including Wander Womyn and Out to Brunch Milwaukee.

“It was really a very viral start,” Perry says. “We immediately had a respectable turnout.”

A marketing professional, Perry says the event is easy to put together, in part because there are always volunteers eager to assist. “The great thing is there is such a sense of shared ownership for these events,” she says.

Ottow says the loosely organized group of volunteers is called the “welcome wagon,” and there is a “concerted effort to make everyone feel welcome and included at each and every LNO event. We ensure that we learn people’s names and a little bit about them, so that we can be the conduits to meeting others throughout the night. We are proud to have created a warm and accepting atmosphere. If you arrive alone, chances are you will depart with potential opportunities to get together with others.”

Women have made new friends, romanced their partners, found partners and renewed old friendships at LNO.

Wendy Young is an LNO regular and a member of the “welcome wagon.”

“I’ve reconnected with women I knew 20 years ago and refreshed many of those friendships,” Young says. “I’ve met new friends I would never have met otherwise.”

Perry says on average about 100 people attend, but in June, a record of 175 was set. Many attendees are local residents, but some drive in from Madison or Chicago or elsewhere.

LNO regularly features piano-player Carol Alms, who “sets the tone early in the evening with relaxing music,” Dyer says. Then there is “the variety of great dance music played by DJ Chris Hill.”

“It’s a lot of fun to dance to music that I actually know, by people I’ve actually heard of,” says White.

LNO regular Mary Singer, who attended the inaugural event and volunteered soon afterward, adds, “I love the piano music happy hour, and then the DJ. (LNO) has something for everyone. And I have made and met a lot of new friendships. Just what the doctor would order for anyone. … I’m at a point in my life where companionship and friendship is more important than ever to me.”

In the house

Ladies Night Out takes place on the first Friday of each month at Hotwater, 818 S. Water St., Milwaukee, usually beginning at 5 p.m. The Feb. 1 event, with different hours – 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. – features The Dianna Jones Trio.

Jones says she performs “adult contemporary soft rock. My original material tells stories, with a danceable groove in some, ballad in some, easy listening in some as well.”

And, she adds, “When it comes to cover songs, we aim for the ‘adult,’ 40 to 60 age group.”

Jones has opened for Jerry Jeff Walker, Maria Muldaur, Paul Butterfield and Rick Danko and shared billing with Suzzy Bogguss.

The trio includes Cheryl Staats and Katie Elliott.

Admission is $3.

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