Afraid of the F-word? At SLO Ladyfest, you’ll learn how to embrace it wholeheartedly.
“Do you love your mom? Then you’re basically a feminist. Do you think women are cool? Then you’re a feminist. Do you think ladies are neat? Come out and hang out,” co-organizer Shea Kelly said.
“One of the underlying themes of Ladyfest in San Luis Obispo is making people comfortable with coming out as … being pro-woman,” added her friend and bandmate, Alexandra Wenzl, who’s helping organize the event.
Music lovers of all stripes are encouraged to celebrate women in the arts this weekend at SLO Ladyfest at the San Luis Obispo Grange.
The all-ages event, which runs from 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday, features nearly 30 bands and individual performers playing on three stages — named, appropriately, after rock icons Kim Gordon, Debbie Harry and Joan Jett. Between sets, event-goers can grab a bite, shop in the vendors area, or sip sangria at an outdoor beer and wine garden.
“We just want people to have a really good time watching these amazing artists,” Wenzl said, while raising money for a good cause. All proceeds from SLO Ladyfest benefit Muse Arts Education, a nonprofit organization run by The TeVelde Conservatory of Music in Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo that provides music scholarships and instruments to people dealing with disabilities and financial hardships.
SLO Ladyfest takes its name, and its mission, from the international Ladyfest movement, which got its start in 2000 in Olympia, Washington. Since then, community-based, nonprofit music and arts festivals have been held under the Ladyfest umbrella in locales as varied as Monterrey, Mexico; Shanghai, China; and Wellington, New Zealand.
“Nationally, Ladyfest is known as a group of women getting together to promote women’s issues through the arts,” explained Wenzl, who lives in Arroyo Grande. She and Kelly, a San Luis Obispo resident, belong to local band Hot Tina, which touts itself as “SLO’s premiere female-fronted 5-piece rock ensemble.”
Kelly was inspired to create the Central Coast version of Ladyfest two summers ago while chatting with a friend who shares her feminist values.
“We were talking how it’s a real male-dominated community here — and a male-dominated world — in terms of opportunities” for creative-minded folks, said Kelly, who teaches music at TeVelde.
As a result, she continued, “Women are constantly competing with each other.”
Kelly decided to create an event where women would be encouraged to collaborate, rather than compete. “I want us to all be friends and realize we can follow our dreams … do the things that we love,” she said.
The first SLO Ladyfest, held in August 2015 at Sleeping Tiger Fitness in San Luis Obispo, attracted 12 bands. The event brought in $1,000 for Muse Arts Education, said Kelly, the organization’s fundraising coordinator.
“Suddenly it just snowballed into an event where we had a bunch of women who wanted to play music together,” Kelly said, ranging from rockers to bluegrass musicians to performance artists. “All these people from all these different genres … had so much fun collaborating, inspiring each other and getting each others’ backs.”
Nine of the acts that performed at SLO Ladyfest last year are returning to San Luis Obispo this summer, including Mothra, Sweetie Darling and Zen Mountain Poets. Organizers also reached out to new acts such as Bearcats, Peg, Privatized Air and Hayley and the Crushers.
This year’s SLO Ladyfest lineup includes surf-garage rock band The Flytraps, indie pop group Tiny Stills, dance/electronica artist Maya Songbird and L.A. Drones, which describes its sound as “sci fi post punk.”
Hot Tina will open for main headliner Skating Polly, which consists of stepsisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse of Oklahoma.
Kelly, Wenzl and their bandmates first encountered Skating Polly last year when the punk rock duo opened for rock band L7 in Los Angeles. “They were so awesome,” said Kelly, who also appreciated the sisters’ youthful enthusiasm.
“(These) young girls, instead of sitting around and doing their makeup and worrying about what boy they’re impressing … (are) going out and actually creating,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping that that’s inspiring to other young ladies.”
Kelly, who runs a rock camp for girls every summer at TeVelde, said she encounters many young women who struggle to find their identities as artists.
“They don’t really have issues with being an individual until they hit that 12-, 13-year-old age (range) and then they’re super-concerned about what their friends are into. They’re super-concerned about putting themselves out there and possibly being ridiculed,” she said.
Kelly wants to help girls realize that “there’s a huge gray area between playing at the campfire and being Katy Perry. And that it’s OK to fall into that gray area and still let your art be out there.”
She and Wenzl also want those young musicians to know it’s possible to combine creative pursuits with marriage, children and full-time employment outside of the music industry. Wenzl, a mother of two, manages an infectious disease clinic; Kelly also has two kids.
“A lot of the women that are involved in music are still juggling families and (careers),” Wenzl said. “You don’t necessarily have to make the choice between being an artist … and pursuing a family or a day job or whatever else interests you.”
The organizers envision SLO Ladyfest as a supportive space where female artists and their fans can network, make connections and compare notes.
“The networking is super important,” Wenzl said, whether artists are trying to find an audience or a venue. “The more people you’ve got involved in a project, the easier that becomes.”
“That support is so important in order to get out there and make things happen,” she said.