Chris Strunk was 15 years old when he experienced the "fairly life-changing" momentum of the early-'90s riot-grrrl movement, escaping the conservative suburbs of Philadelphia for Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill shows in the city.
NOT JUST FOR THE LADIES Chris Strunk (here with fellow organizers Christa Harstock, Terry Cuozzo, Tali Stern, and Rachel Rizzo) was inspired to get involved with Ladyfest because of his teenage experience at riot-grrrl shows.
Now, more than 20 years later, Strunk is one of the key organizers of next weekend's Ladyfest Boston — which includes three days of music, workshops, indie vendors, and feminist community-building, extending a long-standing tradition of DIY "Ladyfests." The first Ladyfest — in Olympia, Washington, in 2000 — spawned from the riot grrrl energy of the preceding decade. Dozens more have been organized independently around the world, and February 3-5 at the Cambridge YMCA, Boston gets its first.
"I would have never been exposed to the ideas of feminism if it wasn't for going to those [riot grrrl] shows," says Strunk, who is now 37 and estimates he's played in about 20 bands over the past 20 years (including the Conversions), and has consistently booked shows with gender balance in mind. "They're the reason I would even be involved in Ladyfest 20 years later."
Ladyfest Boston is punk and indie-centric — the first Ladyfest, in 2000, featured Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, the Gossip, and Sarah Dougher, to name a few. But the fest's empowering feminist spirit will resonate with anyone — of any gender — who can identify with those intentions. Namely, to provide an alternative in what continues to be the male-dominated domains of music and the arts, with a 25-band line-up that crosses boundaries of scenes and sounds.
At the community-driven event, acts are local and national, ranging from noise-pop and garage-rock to grrrl punk and hardcore. But every act includes female band members, all with a similar affinity for smashing sexism in music and fostering community. There will also be DJs, DIY vendors, record labels/distros, and workshops that tackle subjects from drumming to making autobiographical comics. Other highlights include a reading by legendary LA punk Alice Bag and free vegetarian/vegan food during the allotted meal times reserved for hanging out and making new friends.
According to Strunk, last year's Ladyfest Easthampton in Western Mass inspired the group of organizers to plan a Boston version of the event. The political environment at the time also spurred them on, including the debate surrounding de-funding of Planned Parenthood and the passing of TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) in Kansas. From the start, the organizers knew the fest would be a benefit for reproductive rights.
"I felt really bummed out about [the political environment], so instead of being bummed out about it I thought, let's do something," says Strunk, who hopes the festival can "inspire some sort of agency in people."
All proceeds go directly to paying the bands and to the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, an organization that has helped women pay for abortions since 1999. "You can't do anything for or with Ladyfest if you are not completely pro-reproductive rights," says another of the fest's organizers, Tali Stern, a graduate student at Simmons College. "That's the foundation. Every penny of this is going to bands or the EMA fund."