The first Ladyfest " a community-organized and run women's music and arts festival " was held in the punk-rock progressive hotbed of Olympia, Wash., in August 2000. The five-day festival was a logical high point of the Riot Grrl movement, which applied the intellectual, inclusive, do-it-yourself ethics of '90s punk rock to a new feminist consciousness (now down in the history books as the starting point of third wave feminism). Organized by a group of Pacific Northwest-based feminist punks like Sarah Dougher and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker, the event featured an overwhelming array of workshops on everything from consciousness-raising to crafting. A glimpse at the archived online schedule shows that one could, if one was up to the rigors of the programs, participate in female-led classes and discussion groups on fat activism, independent travel, subverting privilege, knitting, swing dancing and basic auto mechanics. After all that, there were shows from some of the most innovative woman-fronted bands of the millennium's turn, like the electronica/videography project Tracy and the Plastics and the hellraising Arkansas-bred blues/punk act the Gossip. Only seven years later, with iconic moments of that era " like Kathleen Hanna's slashings of lipstick across her bare midriff at Bikini Kill gigs reading 'Bitch" and 'Slut" " co-opted into saucy baby tees, it's hard to remember that there was so recently at least a solid half decade when feminist activism was fresh, urgent, exciting and even hip. Ladyfest was arguably the high-water mark of that collective energy, and the organizers likely could have parlayed it into an annual event that brought in big sponsor bucks. Instead, they gave it away. Literally. In a sort of free-franchise system, the Ladyfest organizers decided not to host another Olympia event, but to encourage women around the world to put on festivals, using the name Ladyfest, focusing on art and activism in their own communities. In the past seven years " at least as counted by the loose umbrella site www.ladyfest.org
" more than 100 independently produced Ladyfests (some one-offs and some repeats) have taken place from Columbus, Ohio, to Singapore, Belgium, South Africa and Romania. This week, for the first time, it's coming to New Orleans.
Organized by a committee of local artists and musicians, and headed up by the earthy blues street singer Roselyn Lionheart, the inaugural New Orleans Ladyfest takes place over five days this week. It kicks off with a special mass on 'Women in the Bible" at the musician-friendly St. Anna's Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening and continues through Sunday with musical showcases, spoken-word poetry and a screening of Autumn Leonard's (David and Roselyn's daughter) documentary film After The Storm, about New Orleans musicians in post-Katrina exile in Austin. Singer Margie Perez leads an all-girl blues band at the Big Top on Saturday night. Cary B of Slewfoot and Cary B plays in a one-time-only, all-women's jazz band called the LFO: Ladyfest Orleanians. The venues " St. Anna's, the American Federation of Musicians Hall, the women-run gallery and performance space the Big Top, the Balcony Music Club and the Ashé Cultural Arts Center are all eclectic and inclusive, hitting multiple corners of the New Orleans musical community. Donations taken at the event will go to the Renew Our Music Fund and the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.
People familiar with the original Ladyfest's programming may note that the booking skews away from what might be expected. Artists booked include smooth ladies of jazz like Julia LaShae, Banu Gibson and Ingrid Lucia instead of upstart punk rockers. That actually might be in keeping with what Sarah Dougher and the original crew of organizers had in mind all along. Seven years after they gave away the concept, a Ladyfest has popped up with absolutely no branding resemblance to the first one. They're only the same in name and in community spirit, proving Ladyfest genuinely has a life of its own.
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