Stern adds that September's Occupy protests and "the general air of activism that's been going on" have fueled local interest in feminist causes as well, boosting interest in Ladyfest Boston. "All of a sudden there was all of this feminist stuff happening totally separately that had nothing to do with arts and music.""UGH, BOSTON NEEDS THIS"
According to more of the organizers, this installment of Ladyfest comes long overdue for Boston — a music community where women feel particularly marginalized. "Music here is so male-heavy," says Strunk. "It is everywhere, but especially so here." With Ladyfest, he hopes to push back in a different direction.
"There were so many people who said, 'Ugh, Boston needs this,' " recalls Ladyfest organizer Rachel Rizzo, who grew up in Massachusetts feeling isolated at "aggressive, male-centric shows" in Brockton and New Bedford. "New England and Massachusetts — and Boston specifically — kind of have closed-off scenes," she says. Ladyfest aims to open it up.
On a larger scale, Ladyfest sparks greater discussions of gender and sexism and the ways in which they intersect with music and the arts. "So often women take more of the background roles," says Stern, who finds it difficult to pinpoint a specific incident that caused her to bring a feminist perspective to music. She says the physical experiences of getting pushed around and thrown against walls at punk shows have "sadly been a routine" over the years, but says that an increased female presence at shows could be enough to change behaviors.
In another discussion on the frustrating male-dominance of local shows, Stern points out that the women in punk scenes often find it hard to connect because they are pitted against each other.
"Girls can be very hostile to each other, especially in music scenes," she says. "I think it's a problem, and the number one reason I wanted to do Ladyfest is to create a community of women in Boston who like music and going to shows, and want to do distros, labels — want to get together and do music stuff. Because I couldn't find it anywhere."
For organizer Christa Hartsock, who moved to Boston for college from a small town in Ohio, being a female in a male-dominated sphere of DIY music culture has always been isolating: "It's feeling as if you're engaging in a scene but you can't fully engage because you're not being accepted." Growing up, she'd go to shows at VFWs, constantly surrounded by all dudes, and never really thought twice about it. But when she started DJing and learning sound engineering at Record Hospital, Harvard station WHRB's underground show, she had a realization: "There was a really strong female presence [at the station]. I realized, 'Oh, this is what the music community back home could have been like if I had strong female role models.' "
Hartsock hopes Ladyfest Boston will connect disparate communities of women involved in music and arts throughout the Boston area — who she says are currently divided due to focusing more on personal musical tastes than community-building. To an extent, Ladyfest Boston has already made a difference, through the numerous DJ nights, film screenings, art auctions, and shows that festival organizers have presented since the summer as benefits for the fest, to cover room costs and payment for bands.