Ladyfest is a longstanding tradition for the worldwide Riot Grrrl movement, but for Boston, this year is about to get iconic by pushing the festival to new limits.
Ladyfest Boston is a DIY, community-based, volunteer-run festival that highlights underrepresented artists in Boston. On top of supporting local musicians, it also highlights the arts community and local organizations. To stick with that, the festival’s proceeds will be split between Girls Rock Campaign Boston and Rosie’s Place.
This year’s lineup sees a stellar list of local acts and national bands swinging by to support what the festival’s all about: Sad13, Palberta, Loone, Worriers, Knife Pleats, Amanda X, Patio, didi, Blau Blau, Fleabite, Pill, Marge, Human People, Longings, Shepherdess, Heartbreaker, Phantom Rides, Ursula, Birthing Hips, Gravel, Colleen Green, Imaginary Pants, Bedbug, and Judy Chong.
But the festival isn’t just a chance to see cool musicians; it’s about pushing a community to become more representative of those in it. To do so, the festival is busting out non-music events. On Friday, Lauren Denitzio of Worriers will be leading a discussion on gender identity and punk. On Saturday, several workshops on disability justice, liberation, and safe spaces will take place that are free to the public, with breakfast provided by Iggy’s. On Sunday, for one dollar, attendees can browse artwork, clothing, and artisanal items created by local artists.
As much as Ladyfest Boston organizers Sarah Desmarais, Catylyn Finlay, Rachel Rizzo, Christine Varriale, and Zoë Wyner—who’ve spent the last several months booking benefit shows, designing artwork, outreaching to organizations, curating the lineup, and more—loved the 2012 edition of the festival, they knew some aspects had to change now that they were setting up the 2017 version.
For one, there’s the name itself. They wanted to cement Ladyfest Boston as a place that not only prizes inclusivity, but fosters it naturally in leading by example. At the very first meeting, the organizers discussed the festival’s name and what it could mean to those who don’t identify as women. As they fight for intersectionality, they hope those who attend do, too. “Ensuring maximum inclusivity has been a main priority for for the festival as well as each benefit we’ve hosted,” says Desmarais. “By putting it in our mission statement, we hope to get the message across that all are welcome and this event is created to push for more intersectionality in our community.
“The intention was to reflect broad and inclusive representations of gender, background, identity, and experience. We also wanted to offer a variety of options in terms of music genre, resources shared during the tabling information session, and workshops,” adds Finlay. “I’m very grateful for the feedback we’ve received from open meetings and through emails/messages to help us create an event that reflects interests and concerns within the larger community, not just within our immediate awareness.”
Next comes accessibility. By making the festival all ages and, for certain segments, free of cost, they are able to bring different types of creativity, discussion, and artwork to a section of people who may not have the privilege to discover it otherwise. “I think creating an accessible space for young kids and people of all ages to make friends who are like them, get some radical information, and see beautiful and weird stuff all for the benefit of their community is fucking powerful,” says Rizzo. “Some of my formative experiences were in weird basements, community centers, and alternative spaces like AS220 in Providence and the old MassArt gym. I’ll always treasure those memories and I want to be there to help facilitate those for other people who might otherwise feel isolated.”
“To me, Boston is such a community-centered city,” adds Varriale. “Everyone, especially in the music and arts scene, works together to not just uplift their own art, but to uplift others as well. It’s important to use our privilege and advantages within the art scene to help uplift others who might not have access to it otherwise. This is one of the reasons we made the speaker, panel, and workshop portions of Ladyfest Boston free and open to the public. We wanted these to be accessible to anyone, regardless of their means.”
But as people who attended Ladyfest Boston in 2012, a good chunk of the organizers are hoping to inspire attendees the way they felt back then. “I can’t tell you how empowered I felt afterwards,” says Desmarais. “I started bands, I went to more shows, and I got to know most of the friends I have today. I want other people to come Ladyfest Boston 2017 feeling that sense of empowerment I felt back in 2012.”
There’s so many events happening at Ladyfest Boston that summing them up can be tricky. How do you encourage people to buy a ticket, a ticket where all of the proceeds go to charity, while telling them to come to the free workshops, to stick around for an inspiring panel discussion, to see some of their favorite musicians, to buy local art that will make their hearts well, and to conquer any social anxiety they may have about traditional festival setups? When laid out like that, it sounds a bit obvious. It’s an untraditional festival that will inspire creativity and unity the way all festivals should. Ladyfest Boston doesn’t just have a bit of everything. It’s a music festival to support freaks and geeks, to create a space for people of all types, and to inspire those who feel pushed to the outside that they, too, can shine in whatever they choose to excel at—and they can do so with the help of friends they will make at the festival, too.
“My goals are to create a welcoming environment for every type of freak in the game,’ says Rizzo. “I want to make sure all of the people who support and attend Ladyfest can see themselves in the incredibly talented group of bands, artists, thinkers, community organizers, and makers of all kinds that we have booked.”
Based on the festival’s lineup for this 2017 edition, it seems like the group’s goals will be overwhelmingly surpassed. Getting to experience it firsthand, however, is a decision only you can make—though we’re heavily in favor of you going all three days. Just saying.
LADYFEST BOSTON. FRI 4.14–SUN 4.16. CAMBRIDGE YMCA, 820 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 11AM/ALL AGES/$15-35.