"When we tried to do booking for this festival, we got some sexist attitudes, like 'You're doing a women's festival?' Like, there's an idea in people's heads about what that means," says Karen Garrabrant, who sits beside Ronnda Cadle and Nancy Lambert at Java Monkey in downtown Decatur. The three women discuss how assembling a large-scale event such as Ladyfest South can take two years or more, and why it hasn't been held in Atlanta since 2004.
It may be difficult to imagine that good ol'-fashioned sexism would be one of the obstacles, particularly in the enlightened and liberal city of Atlanta. But Lambert points out how much of the current rock scene -- particularly Midtown's garage and punk -- is male-dominated. It would have been easier to secure locations, she notes, "if the punk bands [playing Ladyfest] were boy bands."
Still, here comes Ladyfest South 2007. It takes place from Thurs., Jan. 25, through Sun., Jan. 28, and will be held at four separate venues (Eyedrum, IF Coffeehouse, the Earl and the Five Spot Café). More than 50 different filmmakers, musicians, painters, sculptors and poets, culled from more than 250 submissions, will perform during the weekend. Lambert says, "We were absolutely floored by how many women came out of the woodwork for this festival."
"Which, to me, says that there's really a need to have something like this," Cadle adds.
Ladyfest South 2007 isn't necessarily a women-only event. "We're not female-exclusive as much as male-inclusive," Garrabrant points out. However, female perspectives are given precedence," Lambert says.
"One musician, Sonia Tetlow, tours around the country consistently," Garrabrant adds, "and when [she goes to] big rock festivals she'll be one woman and there'll be 75 guys! ... There are a lot of issues to talk about."
First held in Olympia, Wash., in 2000, Ladyfest was formed by many of the same artists -- Bikini Kill's Tobi Vail, Molly Neuman of Bratmobile and dozens of others -- who created the riot grrrl scene of the early '90s. "It was to bring all these women together doing all of these radical things," says Maggie Vail, vice president of indie label Kill Rock Stars, and a musician herself. She adds, "We talked a lot about making sure music wasn't the dominating factor. There were panels, bookshops, visual art and film."
More importantly, Ladyfest set up a website, www.ladyfest.org (which has since gone offline), to document its activities and create a template for female artists around the world. "I think that comes from the history of riot grrrl. It was the same situation -- nobody actually owns this," Vail says. "Anybody who wants to can use this name and do their own version of it. We don't own this. It's for everybody."
In the ensuing years, the Ladyfest concept spread around the world, from Nashville, Tenn. (where Ladyfest Music City was held in October), to San Francisco, Singapore, China and New Zealand. Today, there are so many incarnations of Ladyfest that women can easily network and discuss common problems that occur during the organizing process. "Ladyfest set this model up so you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you do it," Garrabrant says.
Since its inaugural event in 2002, Ladyfest South has evolved into an institution with its own unique identity. While the original Ladyfest in Olympia is remembered, right or wrong, as a feminist punk explosion, the Atlanta incarnation reflects the multi-generational and stylistic diversity of the city's female artists. For example, the Friday, Jan. 26, concert at the Earl will include acoustic singer and Cowboy Mouth bassist Sonia Tetlow, slam poet Theresa Davis and Chicago pop-punk band 8 Inch Betsy.
"They're playing for free," Lambert says. "They have to pay their own expenses down here, they have to pay for their own hotels if they don't have someone to stay with and they're not getting paid for this gig." Proceeds from the events will be donated to women's organizations such as Fund for Southern Communities and Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls. Lambert hopes to raise at least $1,000 for each charity, and is confident she'll surpass that.
It's not easy assembling a festival where everyone works for free, especially since the group doesn't have any financial backing from sponsors. Perhaps that's why, save for Lambert and Garrabrant (Cadle helped assemble the 2004 festival), none of the women behind the original Ladyfest South contributed this time. Some of them, such as graphic designers Angela Mitchell and Christine Regan, moved out of Atlanta; others, such as Doria Roberts, are too focused on family and career to donate two years of their lives to a festival.
"Life takes over, and that's probably going to happen with Ronnda and I pretty soon," Lambert says. She says Cadle is working hard on her career as a folk musician, and Garrabrant is pursuing her path as a spoken-word poet. And, as part of the stage crew behind Three5Human, Lambert is getting busier as that band becomes more popular.
If, as Lambert puts it, "life takes over" for her and her co-organizers, then it's up to another group of women to take Ladyfest over and keep it going. "Ladyfest is about the community," she says. "Anyone that wants to put it together, step forward and put it together."
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
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