I appreciate that many of the other women’s festivals feed you. Really. But the Virginia Women’s Music Festival offers fried chicken at dinner, and real half and half for your coffee in the morning. And homemade dessert with lunch and dinner. Lest you think vegetarians are left out – there was always a veggie entrée option. Oh yeah, and there’s the music. Lots of variety and lots of talent, from a drumming group to a dance band to soulful singer-songwriters.
I’m a teeny bit biased because they hired me to perform and frankly, any festival with taste that good can’t be bad. But this one is special in many ways. I’ve already mentioned the food and I’ll tell you more about the other stuff, but first, let me tell you about the culture. It’s Southern comfort all the way, and I don’t mean the kind that comes in a bottle, although there was some imbibing going on. What I mean is, it’s laid back at times and other times, a big party. Everyone’s friendly. If you want to talk about religion or country music or your favorite food, go to it, whether it’s with the woman in front of you in the dinner line or the couple sitting next to you at a concert. Here’s Shirley telling me about something her grandma used to say:
I had the pleasure of chatting with kitchen worker Sheila. She has a honey-sweet drawl and almost every one of her entertaining stories starts with “When I was ten or eleven …” Apparently, they’ve tried to get her on stage but she refuses. You’ll just have to catch her one night at the bonfire like I did, and ask her to tell you a story.
Ah, the bonfire. It’s in the back at night where you can hear the stage music. They light it right around the time a chill sets in. So, if you’re cold or just wanting some conversation, get your hiney there and settle into one of the chairs they so kindly set out. One night I came upon two of the organizers. They were watching a woman on the other side of the fire. I overheard one of them say, “She got a little too close to the fire twice now.” They kept an eye on her and I knew that if she came into any trouble, someone would guide her safely to her tent. It’s like that here. There’s no official security but women watch out for each other. If you don’t drink, there’s plenty for you too. If you’re trying to stay sober, there’s a daily AA meeting. And if you’re like me and just want to kiss the woman who gave you the one drink you had all weekend, a frosty pina colada on a warm Sunday night, there’s room for you also.
The land is beautiful, on several acres in central Virginia, with a lake, gorgeous woods, rustic cabins, and lots of room for RVs and tents. Here’s a short clip of the view from my cabin porch:
The stages are set in an area in the middle. That’s where the craft booths are, too, selling a variety, from CDs to beautiful artwork. I always get some cards from Flame Bilyue.
Ooh, and I got a massage. There’s only two therapists, so if you want one, better sign up early.
And the music … holy crap ya’ll. There was everything from the tight harmonies of Mama’s Black Sheep on Friday night to Tory Trujillo’s spiritual and calming set on Saturday afternoon. In the middle of her performance, there were a dozen hawks making lazy circles above the stage.
Also on Friday night was Alma Hesson, a personable performer with a powerful voice. Finishing the night was veteran musician Tret Fure, always a treat to hear. I love that she included “That Side of the Moon,” as well as newer songs.
We could be Bonnie Raitt up there and no one would know if we didn’t have a stellar sound crew, led by engineer Kris Koth.
This whole festival is run by a little over thirty women. Amazing for all they do, from garbage pickup to parking.
Saturday night was Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, an awesome drum ensemble, and charming band-in-a-body performer Zoe Lewis. Is there anything the woman doesn’t play well? I love her endearing stories and songs. Here’s Zoe backstage:
Gaye Adegbalola and the Wild Rutz is a favorite here. I had the pleasure of emceeing Saturday evening and in their intro they had me say that they’ve been compared to Sweet Honey in the Rock, but they’re a bit different. Apt description. They are four African-American women who sing mostly acappella and while they include songs that might be covered by Sweet Honey, they also perform Gaye’s somewhat off-kilter material that had women laughing their arses off. (If you’ve heard Gaye’s previous band, Uppity Blues Women, you know what I mean.)
The festival is brave to give me a mike and a stage when I’m not holding a guitar. During one set change, I played the ukulele and hula hooped:
Here’s further proof, in a still photo taken by Alma Hesson:
Saturday night ended with a booty shaking set by dance band divas Wicked Jezabel. It’s the first time I’ve heard them with their newest member, keys/sax player Heather Haze. Not only can she PLAY, but I want to know how she can balance on that teeny guitar amp before jumping to the front of the stage. With a rockin’ set of Motown, disco, and classic rock, the Jezabels had the dance floor packed the entire time. They even invited yours truly to sing a little back-up. I gave my phone to a woman in the front so I could have actual proof that a folksinger can sing for a rock band, but she’d had a bit to drink and all I got was footage of the floor. Ah well, I got my phone back and took this video myself. At least you can hear a little of the band:
As you can see, this is no loungey lukewarm bar band. There’s a reason the festival hires them every year.
I missed Indigie Femme the next day – a tired middle-aged folksinger can only do so much, especially when she’d stayed up past midnight the night before. I heard they were great. Soulful singer-songwriter Julie Clark was up next, followed by acoustic guitarist Christie Lenee. Her finger picked instrumentals are so delicious. In my next life, can I play guitar like that? Please?
That night, Someone’s Sister did their thing. Always a good time, especially with Georgia Winfree chatting us up. I love their Indigo-Girl-like harmonies. Festival entertainment ended with dynamic SONiA, of Disappear Fear. She had the audience in the palm of her hand the whole time, especially with a tribute to the military women in the audience.
Because there are bases in the area, there are a lot of veterans and active military at this festival. They are thanked multiple times from the stage and there’s a special memorial celebration at the lake on Sunday evening. This year’s moving ceremony included floating candles.
There are workshops during the festival, including a meeting for Buddhists, a gathering for veterans, and a fun jam that I led. There’s lots of games, also. I saw a pretty raucous game of Frisbee that I’m not sure I understood but with that much laughing, who cares? There was a 5K run on Saturday morning. I’m not a runner; however, I got to cheer for some of them. Sunday afternoon there was a wedding ceremony at the lake (same-sex marriage is now legal in Virginia) where long-time festival organizer Billie Hall married her sweetie. Tret Fure provided the music. How cool is that?
And like I said, there was lots of conversation. Here’s artist liaison Katie talking about her festival experience and how it empowered her:
My favorite place to talk with women was at the picnic tables at mealtimes. After we were done wrapping our lips around scrambled eggs and potatoes, we could hang out. Here’s a bunch I settled in with one morning.
I completely missed the lake. I hear you can get in it and float on it … what can I say? I was raised in a desert and I forgot to look for water.
There’s not much in the way of politics here, unless you count an announcement from the stage that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Ireland. However, if you wanted to organize a workshop around anything like that, I’m sure you’d be welcome. And while I’m on sometimes-hot topics, I saw trans women there who were having a great time. Me too. It was unusual to see anyone not having a good time, unless you count the poor sunburned individual who really should’ve listened to her mama about wearing sunblock.
I’m hard pressed to name anything about this festival that I don’t like. In previous years, there weren’t many women of color. My friend Gwen, who’s African-American, said there were times when she was the only one. It’s better now – maybe the word is out or perhaps it has to do with the performers and activities scheduled. Still, I’d like to see more African-Americans and other women of color. Also, parts of the festival aren’t accessible for women with mobility limitations although there are ramps leading to some (all?) of the cabins and there’s at least one accessible porta-potty. The land is fairly level and I did see a few women with casts getting around okay. It’s an outdoor festival, so the organizers do what they can with a limited budget.
On Monday morning, it was with heavy heart that I pointed my car toward the front gate. I hope to see you all next year. Save some biscuits and gravy for me.
The festival happens yearly for women over Memorial Day weekend. Find out more at www.campoutva.com
I took the majority of these photos and video and got permission from most of the people. If I missed talking with you and you want me to remove an image, let me know.
Please leave comments below. I’m especially interested to hear from other women who’ve attended the festival. Respectful dialogue only, please.
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