Amazon women rise

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.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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9 Responses to Amazon women rise

  1. Allison says:

    The rise of Girls Rock Camps are another place that serve this purpose. My band just played for the campers at Girls Rock Camp Boston today and now that I think about it, the only guy I saw there was our keyboard player’s boyfriend (hey…I’m not too proud to refuse his offer to help us move our gear). While men don’t seem to be banned outright, it’s implicitly a women-only space: ALL of the teachers and counselors are women, and all the campers are girls. The youngsters learn how to play, how to write songs, how to promote themselves, how to negotiate band dynamics and even the proper way to treat roadies (with respect and courtesy, of course)! I believe there’s also exposure to tech (I know they had a DJ seminar, not sure if they’re learning to run sound – but they see the female counselors doing it at least). They have local bands which are have at least 50% women personnel play lunchtime shows to “show them how it’s done.” Then, at the end of the week, they have a big show in a local club.

    The organizers also put together a Ladies Rock Camp for adults over the winter, and I know at least one band formed at another one of these (in RI) have gone on to form their own band and are continuing on their own, so they’re also valuable for networking.

  2. Johannah says:

    This subject is AMAZINGLY timely for me! Long story short, I’d never even thought about audio/visual engineering/technicians as something I’d be interested in, until I had a chance to attend 2 live performances recently. I realized I was as equally enamored by the “behind the scenes” operations as I was by the actual performances! I’d LOVE to figure out how to get into this field! I’ve started volunteering with a local band to help them set up/break down their equipment for gigs, but would LOVE any suggestions on how I could make this a career. I’m going to reach out to girl rock camps for starters 😉 — I’m a bit bummed at the idea that maybe I won’t be hired because I’m a woman, but I’ll just have to push through I guess! Any other suggestions?

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Find someone to apprentice with – someone who works sound in a club, a lighting tech at a theater, etc. Many men will train you too so don’t think you have to find a woman. Glad you’re interested! We musicians would sound and look like crap if we didn’t have a good tech crew.

      There are schools too but I couldn’t tell you much about them.

  3. Johannah says:

    Thanks! This is a great idea! I’ve looked into schools as well — AIR in NY seems to be an industry leader but I can’t afford that just yet. I think finding someone to take me under their wing is key — thanks for this suggestion!

  4. Jamie,
    I know this is an older blog of yours, but I’ve got a question. How come it seems (to me lately) that the WMFs I go to can’t seem to attract a younger crowd. I started going to the Virginia Women’s Music Festival when I was 21 and I am now still one of the youngest who attends at 27 (aside from the women’s children). Nothing wrong with an older crowd, I think I have so much to learn from older women, but I’m wondering it if its a generational shift where younger women don’t “need” women-only spaces anymore or if I’m just attending the wrong festivals?
    Thoughts? From you or from anyone.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Great question. I think the Michigan festival draws more younger women than the others – probably because of the kind of acts they book.

      It could be what you said – that younger women don’t feel the need for women’s festivals any more. Many festivals started in the 70’s when there was nothing else for us. It also could be the perception that festivals are trans phobic. Younger women seem to be the most sensitive about this although I’ve heard it from older women too. Only the Michigan festival limits participation to women-born-women. (I don’t want a debate here. There are plenty of other places for that.)

  5. JD Doyle says:

    Glad you re-posted…this message cannot be repeated enough, and the comments were also right on.

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