That white powdered stuff may be labeled “cream” but it isn’t something I’d put in my java. I want real dairy and the Virginia Women’s Music Festival understands that, as well as other comforts a woman may need. It’s not just about great music – and you’ll have that too – but it’s about taking care of each other. And hey. Coffee every morning plus real half and half says “I love you” almost as much as “Here’s a million dollars.”
So, the food is amazing and like true Southerners, they don’t want you to go away hungry so there’s always lots of choices. AND dessert with lunch and dinner. If you’d rather bring your own, you can cook at your campsite.
The music’s pretty damn good also, if I don’t say so myself. There’s more singer-songwriters than anything but there’s some variety, too, with SONiA’s rock edge, Bele Bele’s great drum beats, and Wicked Jezabel’s rockin’/pop/almost-anything-with-a-beat-show. There are other fun activities, too – games, hanging out with friends, and heck, you can even get married, like these two women did. They said their vows at the lake.
Yes, there’s a lake. No, I didn’t get down there. I was raised in a desert. Water frightens me.
But I digress … I’ll start at the beginning of my festival experience. I arrived on Thursday. I’ve never been at this festival this early and it was nice getting settled in without having to rush off to an activity. I plopped my happy arse into the hammock near my cabin and played woman-on-vacation.
After dinner with the workers, I hung out with friends from DC. We sat a spell on the porch of my cabin because,that’s what one does on a porch.
I had a cabin to myself that first night. I opened the windows and let cool breezes and the soft laughter of women lull me to sleep.
Friday was laid back, too. I got a massage. Started to sneeze a bit. Figured it was the mold. Mold and me aren’t friends. I wandered about in the beautiful sunshine, pursuing the cool stuff the vendors were selling. Had a few wonderful meals and talked with the women. That’s probably the thing I love most about this festival – you can sit your bum next to anyone and start up a conversation. We talked about our lives at home, our kids, favorite music … speaking of that, one woman had the totally right answer to “What was your favorite music here?”
I started feeling a little more puny so instead of going to the stage that night to hear Devon Sproule, Indigie Femme, and SONiA, I elected for a Scrabble game in my cabin with my friend and bandmate Kara Barnard. My cabin was close so the music provided a nice backdrop while Kara beat my ass. We play regularly online and she always wins. I lost by less than 100 points, so really, that was a win for me.
After a restless night, I woke up feeling like a loaded dump truck had driven over my sinuses. I crept out of bed, careful not to wake up my roomies (who by then had arrived) and wondered where I could get some drugs. All I needed was a good dose of Sudafed. The closest store was a Walmart. You know I’m sick when I’m contemplating shopping there. I didn’t know where it was, though, so I shuffled down to the kitchen – the only place someone would be awake at 6:30 in the morning. One of the kitchen workers kindly gave me some cold pills saying, “If I don’t give you this, Billie will kill me.” Billie Hall is the Grand Poobah there and really, I imagine she even apologizes to a mosquito before she swats it. But I get what the worker was saying. I took some meds and hunched over my coffee for a while.
It was quickly becoming apparent that this was A Cold. Crap. Well, if I’m going to be sick, it might as well be in a beautiful place surrounded by women. I started doing my PSA’s everywhere I went – “Don’t hug me. Wash your hands,” sometimes to complete strangers. I washed my hands a lot and carried on. No meddlesome cold germ was going to prevent me from having a good time.
Things can get a little crazy. Here’s Joanne auctioning off her dessert. Apparently I bid $30,000:
Early Saturday morning was the 5k Trail Run/Walk. Even if I hadn’t been carrying a head full of crud, I wouldn’t have run or walked. I’m more of the cheerleader type so I did some serious “You go!” to the smiling sweaty participants.
Later that morning I led a jam. We sang “Brown Eyed Girl” and more. I ended by teaching one of my favorite rounds, “Rose.” Nothing better than singing with women.
There’s so much to do at this festival. There’s workshops – from drumming to creative writing – and sports. Here’s the toy box, stocked with everything you could need for games. Dig the hula hoops.
Speaking of games, I learned about a Southern game called Corn Hole. Apparently, it’s better with beer:
I sat at the stage awhile and heard singer-songwriter Lyn Koonce. Damn, she’s got a pretty soprano voice. I missed Katrina Brown because I was getting lunch and the conversation was too loud. I drifted back to the stage to catch Kiya Heartwood. I’d been talking with a couple of friends earlier about songwriting and after Kiya was done, I turned to them and exclaimed, “Now THAT’s songwriting.”
My performance was the first on Saturday night. It’s normally a hard time slot because the way the sun shines directly into the stage area, like a laser beam, for the entire hour. I slathered on the sunblock and wore sunglasses. I sweat so much I could hardly hold onto my guitar. At one point in the middle of a song I closed my eyes and felt myself start to fall back. The only thing that prevented me from passing out was thinking, “I’m holding a $2000 guitar.” I was lucky to have Kara Barnard and Tory Trujillo as my band. I adore them. Not only are they stellar musicians but they’re very entertaining. Kara had to tell the whole crowd she’d misjudged the time of my set and came running up in what she was wearing at the time — shorts, shirt and no bra. That’s okay, Kara, just hike the girls up over that mandolin. There but for the grace of Sudafed went I so it felt like a solid set. With enough drugs and water, anything is possible. All hail the snot queen.
As I stumbled off stage, drenched in enough sweat to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool (now there’s an image), Tret Fure, who was on next, wryly noted that maybe I’d sweat out the cold. Good thing I felt too weak to whap her upside the head. (Y’all know I would never do that, right? I’m Canadian, now. I’d politely ask first.)
I grabbed some dinner – barbecue chicken with fixings … say what? – then caught some of Tret’s set. Here she is singing a love song … to her dogs:
Mama’s Black Sheep was on next. They’re great musicians and their set is so polished – it’s clear they do this music gig full time. I love their memorable melodies and delicious harmonies. But my energy was quickly waning and it was time for the snot queen to take a quick shower and go night night. Fortunately, the showers and my cabin are close to the stage and thanks to the stellar stage crew, the sound was crisp and clear. It’s not often I get to shower to beautiful live music. Afterward I lay in my comfortable cabin and let their harmonies drift over me. After their last song, I popped in ear plugs. I drifted off to Wicked Jezabel performing “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” That was one of the hardest part of the festival for me. I LOVE this band and I’m usually on their dance floor the whole two hours shaking everything my mama gave me. But not that night. I had the energy of a vegan on a seven day fast – apologies to all my vegan friends – nor did I want to infect all those women. Typhoid Jamie, that’s me.
I may not have heard them but the next day I got to spend time with Heather, Pauline, and Davi from the band. Love these women:
Sunday was more great music, starting with Tory Trujillo and Sweet Song. Gwen Frederick from Wicked Jezabel joined them for a few songs. Here’s a bit of “Blackbird.” They killed it.
They ended with a rousing version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” inviting a cast of thousands to join them. I wisely chose a separate mike. I may have been Typhoid Jamie but I could still sing tenor.
Again, I missed another act because I was hungry and Someone’s Sister’s sweet harmonies provided the background to me scarfing sloppy joes, two kinds of salad, and a brownie. I hung out with friends from the Michigan festival. We all wore purple bracelets.
Finishing up the Sunday day stage was Martine Locke and her wife, Jamie. I’m always pleased to meet another Jamie, especially one who spells her name right. Not only are they perfect for each other relationship-wise, but musically they cook. I love that Martine doesn’t mince any words. One of my favorites of hers is “Loser.” It’s an ode to an ex. Pretty much, you don’t want to break up with her. In a more joyful song, she sings “I’m alive” over and over again, while Jamie slams out a tasty beat. It’s impossible to listen to them and not move a body part. And while she was singing that one, I thought maybe I should write a song called “I’m Dead” … maybe not.
I emceed the Sunday night stage. Bele Bele Rhythm Collective had the crowd up and dancing. High energy all the way, baby. Gaye Adegbalola and the Wild Rutz were on next. In spite of the steadily falling rain, they put on a great show, offering a nice variety of mostly acapella music with an occasional fit of guitar. If you know Gaye’s work with Uppity Blues Women, then you’ve got an idea of what she’s up to now. She’s still singing the blues but she’s added folk and more, all with rich harmonies so tight you’d swear they were all blood relation.
After the stage ended there was a memorial service for veterans and active military – there are several bases in the area so they always do a service. I’d run out of steam by then so I settled into my cabin. I heard someone playing “Taps” and occasional applause. There was a DJ dance later but I was floating in another dimension by then.
There are a lot of reasons to love this festival. Here’s what two festie goers told me:
I’m not sure how many women were there. I heard the number 360 bandied about but I haven’t checked it. Maybe you could make it 361 next year? Better yet, bring 100 of your closest friends. They have group campsites so you could camp together. Also, there’s hot showers, friendly women, biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and they never run out of half and half.
The festival is held every Memorial Day weekend near Richmond, VA. More here.
Read my blog post about last year’s festival here.
I did my best to get permission from everyone in these photos and videos. If you’re pictured and you’d rather not be, tell me and I’ll take down the image.