Live music and a few hundred or thousand women frolicking in the woods? Where do I sign up? I’ve been attending women’s music festivals for over 30 years. I also go to folk and bluegrass festivals but there’s a big difference.
Most notably, there are men. I don’t have anything against guys. In fact, if you’ll pardon a creaky cliché, some are my best friends, my favorite students and my loving family members. It’s just that when you go to a big event where women do everything, it does something to a gal. Makes her think she’s an amazon. Rising. (For those of you scratching your head about now, that’s from a song by Maxine Feldman that I’ve heard at festivals. While I love it – have even sung it on stage – sometimes it makes me giggle ‘cause I think of women with bows and arrows, wearing loincloths, floating around up there.)
A couple of festivals – the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and the National Women’s Music Festival – have been going strong since the 70’s. (And actually, National isn’t held outdoors. My middle aged body thanks them for the real beds and indoor stages.) There are other women’s festivals too. Women do everything. They organize them, they run sound and lights, they emcee and they perform. Some festivals, like Michigan, have a stage large enough for a big band, with huge speaker stacks on each side and a light system sophisticated enough for any mainstream rock act. One year at Michigan it started to rain. I sat in the audience with my mouth hanging open, watching women scramble up those stories-high speaker stacks and in minutes, cover everything with tarps. It’s a wonder I didn’t drown.
That’s not something you’d see at a folk or bluegrass festival.
In the early nineties I attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. One day I sat at the main stage enjoying the music and saw one woman on stage. One. In six hours. She was a fiddle player who sat in with a band. All of the technicians, the musicians and even the emcee were men. You can’t tell me that there weren’t competent women out there who could do those jobs. How can we inspire our little girls to become great musicians and technicians? How can we show little boys that girls can do anything they can do?
I’d like to think that things have changed since then but I don’t see it.
When I’ve offered feedback they usually sputter back at me, “We hire based on talent and experience, not on gender.” Sure you do. Does that mean all of the women at the women’s festivals stink?
Of course not. And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have hired James Taylor. I like him too. But please make an effort to hire women. If you do, I’ll be in the front row. Don’t expect a loincloth – I look lousy in them – but I’ll be the one rising. Actually, there’ll be many of us. We’ll try not to get in the way of the lights.
The photo above is of comic Suzanne Westenhoefer and me at the recent Michigan Women’s Music Festival.
Some festivals choose alternate spellings of “women.” It always looks weird to me, so I lean toward the conventional spelling.