The 40th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival: Save the Last Dance for Me, part two

Photo by HF Leo.

Yum! Watermellon. Photo by HF Leo.

I’m not a fan of festival food but I do enjoy granola and yogurt for breakfast. My sweetie brought back enough on Tuesday for the whole week so we could have a leisurely breakfast at our camp each morning. Friday morning was no exception. As for the other meals, one of my single friends complained, “How are you supposed to get a date when you’re always farting and your breath smells like garlic?” It’s nice that they feed you, though the lines were long. I lived on little cans of tuna and stuff I bought at The Saints, the festival-run food stand. Friday afternoon I asked a worker there if they had any more onion bagels and she informed me, “Honey, we’re a long way from New York City.” I made do with a plain bagel spread with cream cheese. Add a banana I’d gotten earlier from the kitchen and it was a full meal. I did eat the festival food on Sunday, when lines were shorter, enjoying a black bean burrito for brunch and a rice/cheese/veggie casserole for dinner.

If it's Thursday night, it must be burrito night! Photo by CT.

If it’s Thursday night, it must be burrito night! Photo by CT.

Friday morning I hula hooped! Terri Burch got me hooked on this fun art form at last year’s fest so it was great to see her there again. She taught us some of what you see in this video:

She’s such a supportive teacher and I love that she breaks everything down so that even a newbie like me can do it. Or at least, understand how to do it. She cautioned us not to say “sorry” when our hoops flew into someone else’s space. I joked that as a Canadian that was really hard for me. (I’ve only been a citizen for a few months but that counts, right?) Instead, she suggested animal sounds. The next workshop over must’ve thought there was a herd of cats nearby.

One afternoon at day stage, I had a little extra time. Thanks to Terri for leaving hoops out for us:

Photo by Shelly Kehrle-Sulser.

Photo by Shelly Kehrle-Sulser.

I heard a great story about one of the knife/tomahawk throwing workshops. A blind woman showed up. The instructor counted off the steps with her from the target, then guided her hands in the proper movements to throw. She hit the target on her first try. See, that’s how the festival is. There was no hesitation on the part of the teacher or the student. I saw that kind of fearlessness in everything from my jam to the dance lessons at the community center. Overall, there was a feeling of joy at this festival, despite it being the last one as we know it.

Community center. Photo by Andi Roberts.

Community center. Photo by Andi Roberts.

That afternoon I worked in the Goldenrod booth. In previous years I did a shift every afternoon but I’m semi-retired now so it was my first shift. I love introducing new music to women. It’s a dangerous place for me – like an alcoholic tending bar – but I think I dialed it back enough this year so I might not have used my entire paycheck on CD purchases.

It started to sprinkle toward the end of the afternoon and increased to a steady downpour by the evening. Sadly, I decided not to do the femme parade even though I’d brought my baton. I was tired of being wet and frankly, with that kind of weather, how many people would be there to cheer us on? As it turned out, there was a small parade. I hope they wore waterproof mascara.

Elvira. Notice the raindrops on her glasses. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Elvira. Notice the raindrops on her glasses. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

This is how big a wimp I am – I really wanted to hear comic Elvira Kurt on Friday night but it was still raining so I stayed cozy and dry in our trailer. We weren’t even sure the stage would still happen. It wasn’t a big storm, though, and before long we heard sound drifting through the trees.

Holly Near during her rainy set. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Holly Near. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

I was also sad to miss Holly Near, who was on next. I wonder if she sang “Fire in the Rain?”

Toshi Reagon. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Toshi Reagon. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Toshi Reagon and her band were on last. By then, I’d drifted off to lala land, thanks to a jam-packed day.

One of the many great signs seen around the festival:

 Photo by Lynn Osborn.

Photo by Lynn Osborn.

Photo by HF Leo.

Photo by HF Leo.

And another one:

I had great fun on Saturday morning cheering on the participants of the 29th annual Lois Lane run/walk. I think it’s a 5K but my wife did a half-marathon ‘cause she’s nuts that way. (I love you, honey.) After that, I made my way to the day stage again. I thought I might like new duo Mouths of Babes because Ty Greenstein was from Girlyman and Ingrid Elizabeth from Coyote Grace, and I like those bands. Wowsa. They were like the best of both bands and more. Great harmonies, solid songs and they’re so damn adorable. I ran right over to Goldenrod after their set and snatched up their EP Faith and Fumes.

I drifted around the crafts area again because well, the ice cream is there. I watched a friend’s crafts booth while she took a break, then skidaddled off to the barter market. I love, love, love the barter market.  I brought CDs and books and traded for a wealth of earrings, a necklace, scarves and CHICKEN … a hot steaming plate of chicken. The woman who got my CD definitely got the better part of that deal. But. Chicken.

View of main stage from light tower. Photo by Lisa A. Snyder.

View of main stage from light tower. Photo by Lisa A. Snyder.

As I arrived at the Saturday night stage, I wondered where the hell the week had gone. Hanifah Walidah was strutting up and down the stage’s catwalk. I was in the back, though, and couldn’t hear a lot of the words. That’s okay. It was great to hang out with friends with her music as backdrop.

I think it was that night that emcee Elvira Kurt announced that there were 6,609 of us there. Now that’s a party.

Elvira does an annual top ten list. She sat down on the catwalk and read us this year’s:

Elvira’s Top Ten Coping Strategies for Life Outside of Michigan*

  • When you leave here and go home, tarp your house.
  • Expand the meaning of holding space to include using the toilet.
  • Why not live by Mich fest mottos, “Keep calm and fern on.” Or “What the fern?”
  • Starting next week, until forever, guess what’s for dinner on Tuesday? (Nutloaf, of course.)
  • Start a line-up for no reason.
  • Next August, why don’t we all meet in Oakland and crash at LV’s (Lisa Vogel’s) place?
  • When we go back to Area 51, let people know you’ve converted to the Church of Amazontology.
  • Shower outside Sundays.
  • Frame your acorn. (I think this had something to do with wooden acorns handed out at the opening. Elvira joked that she’d already seen them on eBay.)
  • Never, ever, forget, sisters … no matter how hard patriarchy pushes up into your face, no matter how anything holds you down, please, my sisters, always remember … your pussy is a gangsta!

Even my private parts are empowered at this festival.

Festival quilt. Photo by Marilyn Fuchs.

Festival quilt. Photo by Marilyn Fuchs.

Also that night, the festival quilt was raffled off. This too is an annual thing. Constructed of squares made by women from all over, they are sewn together and at the festival, festie-goers make the final touches. This year’s quilt was quite spectacular.

Melissa Ferrick was supposed to appear but had to cancel because of shoulder issues. We wish her well. As an independent musician myself, I know how reluctant I am to cancel gigs. We don’t get sick pay or vacations.

In her place was Ferron. I’m a huge fan. Someone once described her as our Dylan and I agree with that. However, I know that she’s had health issues the last few years and given her earlier round robin performance, I wasn’t sure if we’d see a train wreck. Dressed in a dapper suit and armed with a crack shot band of Barbara Higbie, Teresa Trull, Vicki Randle and Julie Wolf, she killed it. Absolutely killed it. She had a wonderful set, including well-loved songs “Girl on a Road,” “Misty Mountain” and “Our Purpose Here.” I sang along to the latter, remembering how it carried me through many lonely hours on the road — “I watch the last cab turn its headlights down to today’s sunrise / I must have wanted you in every town and it’s no surprise.” It was then that I started to cry, knowing that the music will always be there but this festival will not.

Ferron. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Ferron. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Photo by Shelly Kehrle-Sulser.

Photo by Shelly Kehrle-Sulser.

Another annual tradition is the last set on the night stage, Chix Lix. Centered on a theme, performers who’ve appeared earlier in the festival are joined by a house band and dancers. This year’s theme was Songs of Passion, Protest and Power – which pretty much covers every song on the planet and explains why we heard everything from Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Every Woman Who Ever Loved a Woman” to Tracy Chapman’s “Revolution.” Starting off this ambitious set was the deaf choir doing “We Will Rock You.”  Cris Williamson and friends offered James Taylor’s “Shower the People,” sung in beautiful harmony. I loved hearing Betty do a medley of TV show theme songs. For the last song, a group of girls (The Chixies) gave us a spirited rendition of several songs including Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Feldman’s “Amazon.” We sang. We danced. And then came spectacular fireworks. We stood, transfixed, as splashes of light boomed all around us, a chorus of “Oohs” from the crowd. I looked over and saw a friend, hands stretched to the sky, tears streaming down her face. As the fireworks stopped, my wife wrapped her arms around our friend. I could see their shoulders moving up and down as they sobbed. I joined them as did a few other friends, including one who was holding her two year old. When the child started screaming, “Out!” we knew it was time.

My wife and I walked back to camp, mostly in silence.

Carolyn GageIt ain’t over ‘til it’s over, though. I had plans for Sunday, the next day. I’m a big Carolyn Gage fan so I caught the last Lesbian Tent Revival.  Radical feminist Sister Carolyn did not disappoint, regaling us with a greatest hits presentation of her last few years of revivals. I love how she mixes intense dialogue with humor, always leaving us with a lot to consider. We ended with song and dance – the Hokey Pokey. Of course.

My body was pretty worn out from all the walking to and from our campsite over the past few days – a walk downtown took 20-25 minutes and I did it at least four times a day, sometimes with a heavy day pack. So on Sunday, I decided to wait on a shuttle. The first one along was a DART shuttle. Usually they’re already packed with DART women but this one was nearly empty. I asked the driver if I could get on and added that I’d get off if she filled up. She welcomed me on. After me boarded a woman about my age who stood beside me and commented, “Good, the windows are down so I can get some air.” She went on to explain that as a result of her time in the service, she’d returned with health issues that made exhaust and other smells extremely toxic to her. I commiserated about the sometimes smoky exhaust of the old buses.  She talked about how very moving it was to march with the other veterans into the night stage bowl the night before. I’d seen them from afar and was glad they were there. I can’t remember how many there were – maybe twenty – some dressed in uniform. I thought about my dad, an Air Force vet, and my two brothers who joined the Army because as working class kids, they didn’t have much of an option. It was either McDonalds or the service. She and I talked about class issues and tears came to her eyes as she told me about the hurtful protest by some of the women at the festival. One woman had a sign saying that she supported the vets but not what they did. “She had a right to hold that sign,” the vet commented, but it still hurt her. Women surrounded the veterans group to protect them. My fellow shuttle rider told me that she was grateful to the VA for sending her through college, a privilege she would not have otherwise afforded. I sympathized. I wish I could’ve been there the previous night. I’m a peace activist but I can see both sides.

This was an example of some of the intense feelings swirling around at this festival. I heard discussions about everything from trans inclusion to why it’s hard to find women to date as you get older. The latter discussion happened during a meal. I commented that when you’re older, it seems that the dating pool consists mostly of women who have undealt issues. A friend laughed and added, “I don’t know if I’m in that group or just unlucky enough to be in the other group.”

Some of the beautiful ferns that are all over the land. Photo by Lynn O'Dell.

Some of the beautiful ferns that are all over the land. Photo by Lynn O’Dell.

There was so much I didn’t make it to – workshops, music and just seeing friends I hoped to hang with. Better to be too busy, I suppose, then the other way around.

Sunday afternoon I had another shift at Goldenrod. With the comedy stage burbling in the background, I helped women with their CD purchases. So much great music, so little time.

Many women were looking forward to the Sunday night candlelight ceremony at the acoustic stage, the last scheduled festival event. While I’ve performed in that concert in previous years, I decided not to ask this year. I’m not a spiritual person although organizer Ruth Barrett has always welcomed me. I knew I couldn’t be in the audience either because, as I mentioned in part one, I’d probably burst out in a fit of giggles, especially when it came time to clap and we were only allowed to hum. Like other spiritual happenings, I totally support it and know why women, including my wife, need it. It’s just not my thing.

Instead, I invited friends to our campsite for a drunken party. Or something like that. We had great snacks, wine and told funny stories. I think I might have danced. We knew the concert was over when we heard howling sailing through the night air. A few women joined us after the concert was over. When I went to bed at one am, there was still a small group of women whooping it up. I popped in earplugs and fell instantly into a deep sleep.

We packed up slowly the next day. On the way to empty our garbage, two different women stopped and thanked me for my music. That happened throughout the festival and it always meant so much to me. The Michigan festival has only booked me once, in 2004, so I’ve always felt like the red headed stepchild. Other festivals booked me a lot – one summer alone I was booked at nine — but not this one. I’m not sure why. Also that morning, I passed a woman with her nose deep into my book. Another feel-good moment and a fitting ending to this wonderful last dance.

We waved goodbye as we drove out. The response from years past was “See you in August” but this year, we didn’t know what to say.

After returning home, I felt inspired by Elvira’s lists so I made my own, only there’s 12 things because I’m an overachiever.

Things to remember now that you’re away from fest

  1. Do not hug random strangers. Half of them will appreciate it. The other half will dial 911.
  2. Wear clothing when stepping outside the house.
  3. Wear a bra at work unless you work in a vegan restaurant.
  4. Don’t expect anyone to know why you must have nutloaf on Tuesday.
  5. Tutus should only be worn at costume parties, if you’re a ballerina, or if you want attention.
  6. “Taking space” means something entirely different.
  7. You may not have ice cream every day.
  8. Don’t assume everyone with facial hair is a bearded woman.
  9. It’s a good idea to clean out the dirt between your toes.
  10. Use last names – no one else will know who Elvira, Lisa or Ubaka is.
  11. Drumming around a campfire in your backyard may not be appreciated by the neighbors. Half will love it. The other half will dial 911 and tell them a satanic cult lives next door.
  12. Don’t sob at the mention of “Michigan.” On the other hand, go ahead. Let them guess.

I posted that to my Facebook page and friends added their own including “flush” and “don’t honk when you see men, you’ll just run down your battery.”

Every August, I’m going to do the Hokey Pokey and think about all you wonderful women. Who knows what comes next? Maybe there is no last dance.

Lisa Vogel at the opening ceremony. We would like to thank you, also, and all the wonderful workers through the years. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Thank YOU Lisa Vogel, and to all the wonderful workers through the years. Photo by MJ Stephenson.

Did you find this post entertaining and informative? Please consider making a $2 donation to help keep me in coffee and my cats in kibble. Merci y’all. 



Want part one? Find it here.

*This list should be numbered from 10 to 1 but the formatting here won’t allow it.

Did you attend the festival? I welcome your comments. Keep it peace and love, sisters. Angry diatribes will not be approved for posting.

I credited and asked permission for most of the photos posted. If I used your photo and missed crediting you, please let me know and I can remove the photo or credit you. I tried to use only photos where I had permission of the woman/women in the photo or if no one was recognizable. Again, if I goofed, please let me know.

My phone died on the way home from the festival so I depended heavily on generous festie goers for photos. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. If not for you, I would have no pictures to help me remember.

Just because Michigan as we know it is over, doesn’t mean women’s culture has died. There are lots of gatherings. I talk about them here.

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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4 Responses to The 40th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival: Save the Last Dance for Me, part two

  1. Julie Nicolay says:

    I’m so glad I read the first part immediately before this part as it made for a continued immersion of Fest! I think I hear distant drumming…

  2. Kimberly from the Fern Tribe says:

    This was so much fun to read! I too attended festival and you have inspired me to document my experience. The emotions, love, intensity and community must live on in all of us. Thank you for sharing! Seeing Elvira’s top ten from Saturday night was awesome and hearing your interaction with the veteran was truly a personal moment and one of the reasons I love festival. No one is a stranger. Everyone is potentially someone you can learn from, listen to and share with. Radical Listening!!

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