Before I go into what a great time I had at Ladyfest East, I want to thank those who made the event possible (I have a hard time compiling a simple grocery list, so I have no idea how you managed to organize something as complex as Ladyfest East). Thanks also to the bands, the sponsors, and, most of all, everyone who came out to rock.
Ladyfest East, September 6 - 9, 2001, New York City
I've been waiting a long time for this. When I first read about the original Ladyfest that took place in Olympia, Washington, in August of 2000, and featured bands like Sleater-Kinney, the Butchies, and Bratmobile, I was sick with jealousy. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that the East Coast was having a Ladyfest. Look, I'm all about rock 'n' roll equality. I don't like it when people use descriptive phrases like "girl rock band" and "girl drummer." I agree with the Chrissie Hynde-ethic that a band is gender free. Rather than a label, gender should be regarded as something that shapes one's (or a band's) character. It should be embraced.
That said, my first Ladyfest East event was a reading at Bluestockings, the independent female-run bookstore on the Lower East Side. I read the words "Gynomite: an anthology of fearless, feminist porn" in the description of the event. I was sold. Who's not up for a feminist porn reading? Obviously not many, since Bluestockings was packed with eager pervs like me. Jenfish Superstar started the evening porn-free by reading some of her short stories that recounted her hellish time in the fast-food industry. At the crowd's request, Superstar read some of her erotica as a warm-up for the Gynomite offerings.
After a short intermission, Nancy Agabian recounted her own hellish work experiences damn funny. Her stoic reading style was hilarious in a Welcome to the Dollhouse sort of way. But what about the sex stories? I thought I was going to be listening to wild tales of naughty girls with big mouths. I bitched too soon. Next was Tennessee Jones who read a much darker, more intense account of desires fulfilled. Listeners were frozen in place. It was pretty strong stiff, I mean stuff. Right, so, one of my favorite writers was reading next New York City's own Maggie Estep. The woman is a star and a half. Her voice and delivery had everyone cackling. Helpful tip: read aloud excerpts from either of her two books, Diary of an Emotional Idiot and Soft Maniacs, whenever you want to unnerve an uptight roommate. By the time Estep was finished reading, Bluestockings was uncomfortably crowded, and I was tired of standing and craning my neck.
I left before the last two readers, Ammi Emergency and Shaila Dewan. Bummer. In any case, go buy a copy of Gynomite and flex those muscles. Yeah, those muscles.
Friday at the Knitting Factory
The great thing about this night was that there were performers on two stages, so folks could wander around and sample different acts. Since the line for the main stage was out the door, I headed downstairs to the Knitactive Sound Stage for a set by the Pollynoses, featuring Farrell and Katy of the disbanded Moxiestarpark. The Pollynoses played upbeat pop rock with a heavy emphasis on Farrell's awesome guitar playing. And the bassist did a short spoken-word piece about shoving shoes up her butt or something empowering like that. After their set, I ventured to the main stage, hoping to catch the end of Toshi Reagon's set, but I was too late. Instead, the New York City band One & Twenty was already stirring things up.
One & Twenty's guitarist and lead singer, Carol Thomas, is not exactly your run-of-the-mill musician. She's a black woman fronting a rock 'n' roll band. And the band itself plays an eclectic mix of rock, blues, funk, and folk simultaneously. One & Twenty is a good name for a very infectious, very unique body-rockin' band. Because the Knitting Factory has THE WORST ventilation system of any venue in the city, I went back downstairs where it was cooler. I walked in on a piece by the performance art troupe, the Mahina Movement (from the Tongan word for "moon" and the Spanish "to imagine").
The Mahina Movement was, by far, one of the most amazing parts of Ladyfest East. Four women combined art, poetry, and music to tell stories that defined their identities. I felt like I was hit over the head with a bat (a good bat). The power of their words and their uncompromising dignity clung to everyone in the room, even after they were finished. I stuck around to hear a set by Ann Marie and then Galvanized's robo-rock. (Props to Dahlia from Galvanized on her one-year anniversary of the rockerchick zine!) By now, I was exhausted. More tomorrow night.
Saturday at Brownies
I missed Bionic Finger and Palomar. I suck. By the time I got my ass in gear and over to Avenue A, Semiautomatic was unleashing unholy hell in Brownies. The band is the duo of DJ Ropstyle and Akiko, who describe their music as "breakbeat punk." It's an onslaught of garage punk, industrial leftovers, primal screaming and primitive beats. It fucking kicked my head upside my ass. As I strode to the bar, I overheard some (drunk) conversations. The big buzz was that Ari Up (from the late '70s, all-female punk band, the Slits) was going to play. Ari plays Brownies every now and then, but her appearance tonight was like having a medieval mystic give you her blessing. I think it gave everyone another reason to drink. Or maybe that's how my brain interpreted it.
The place started to fill up by the time Crowns on 45 were fueling the fevered rock ruckus. By the way, their full-length CD, Not on the Menu, is finished and ready to be mailed to your door. The Friends of the Hissyfits were on next. They were billed as "The Friends of" because Dirtbike Dan was on drums instead of P-Girl and Hallie Bullet was on bass instead of Fon-Lin. But Princess and pals drove through their set and sounded damn good. The Bangs followed. They came all the way from Olympia, Washington to play Ladyfest East, so they get a star just for being here. Sarah Utter, Maggie Vail, and Kyle Ermatinger championed more primal screaming and big noise. But I got distracted by something more startling than the band. There was a commotion happening outside on the street. I turned around to look out the window, and my eyes were greeted with Ari Up's ass. She was on the sidewalk apparently doing some stretching and meditation before her set. Anyway, every time she
bent over, there was a crowd of us by the window gawking like grade schoolers.
Enter the mad queen. Sporting day-glo colors, teeny tiny shorts, and dreadlocked pigtails that resembled genetically engineered plant life, Ari got on stage a bit flustered because her keyboard player was on drums (Ari's drummer didn't show up on time). Ari called for a keyboardist, any keyboardist, to get on stage and help her out. Hillary from Crowns on 45 and Akiko from Semiautomatic materialized to save Ari's night. There were three other singers on stage with Ari, who proudly declared her motley entourage as the spirit of Ladyfest and the spirit of punk rock. She was right.
The only bad thing about festivals is that you can't be in two or three places at once. For every band I saw, I missed three. Here's hoping Ladyfest East comes around again.
Ladyfest East compilation CD review Ladyfest East benefit concert
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