By Melanie Stangl
Between Deutschtown Music Festival on the North Side, Framework in Allentown, Strip District in its namesake neighborhood, and Rock All Night Tour in Lawrenceville (to name just a few), Pittsburgh’s music festival scene is absolutely thriving. With a wide variety of genres and an even wider variety of talented artists represented at these day- or weekend-long events (often for little or no admission fare), there’s something that will satisfy every Yinzer music lover, and every budget. The upcoming Ladyfest, taking place on July 15th, 16th, and 17th, is no exception. As the name implies, this festival features female-dominated or female-fronted bands, along with solo performers. Organized by members of local bands The Lopez and Brazilian Wax, this year’s event is forty-four acts strong and takes place in venues across Bloomfield and Lawrenceville. Though many of them call Pittsburgh home, some are travelling from Ohio, New York, and even Missouri to participate.
In a scene that, while flourishing, is thoroughly male-dominated, Ladyfest is an exciting chance to showcase the contributions women musicians are making in various genres. Tammy Wallace of local punk heavyweight Murder for Girls has seen the impact of the gender discrepancy firsthand, commenting, “Unfortunately, a lot of bands with females still get passed over (or maybe just not thought of) for shows. [Ladyfest] is a great way for people to find out how many talented women we have in this city.” She speaks from experience: members of her previous band, Bunny Five Coat, organized the festival’s first iteration (then known as Vulvapalooza) in 2002, and brought it back again in 2014. In 2015 it was rechristened, and she has played it with both bands.
One of the best things about the Burgh’s music scene is how friendly and supportive it is: bands and artists collaborate on songs, go to one another’s shows, and recognize and celebrate each other’s talents. Still, being one of comparatively few women in it has the potential to be isolating and discouraging. As Addi Twigg, lead singer of first-time participating band The Telephone Line, puts it, “Despite making up half the population, women are nowhere near making up half the music industry…So either women aren’t as talented as men, or women simply don’t have the same opportunities as men. If you believe the former statement, GTFO. Until things change, events like Ladyfest provide a boost for women-centric acts while fostering community among women in the music scene.”
Developing a sense of camaraderie between, and increasing visibility of, female musicians were the primary goals for co-organizer Jen, member of participating bands Brazilian Wax and The Freshes. She says, “Recently I became aware of the limited amount of female musicians being showcased at fests on a national level…I want to do what I can to change that tune and shift some focus onto women artists. I am hoping to help do that on a local level by co-organizing Pittsburgh Ladyfest. …I love the feeling of being a part of a musical/artistic event that will allow people to feel welcome and supported by their community.” Twigg sums up this sentiment nicely: “There is a kind of solidarity I feel with women in other bands, even if we’ve never spoken.”
That solidarity likely stems from an industry-wide struggle for women (as well as LGBTQ+ and nonbinary individuals) to be recognized, accepted, and taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Ladyfest pushes beyond mere acceptance and into celebration, and allows for connections that might not have happened otherwise. The Rizzos, a garage/punk band travelling from NYC to play at The Shop on Friday evening, underscore the importance of such celebration: “We need to have more visibility for female musicians (and LGBTQ+ musicians.) Being able to go to a show, and have a safe space, and see someone like you on stage is empowering and exciting and makes it feel like, ‘Yeah, I can do that, too!’ And thank goodness for that! Women are heavy hitters, incredible musicians, and we need more of them on stage at all times.”
Sarah Halter, frontwoman of rising rock band Blue Clutch, also understands the need for increased representation onstage in terms of gender, gender identity, and sexuality: “There are so many talented women musicians who have not and do not receive suitable recognition for their talent…dedication, and excellence in their work…Some of the biggest concerns I have regarding the work I do is possibly encountering career-crippling erasure, or even being a subject of direct physical violence, regardless of how well I shred on my guitar or how perfect my vocal pitch is…because I identify as a queer woman musician.” She concludes, “Having a community available like the one at Ladyfest, comprising the musicians involved and their fans and supporters, is definitely a step in the right direction.”
In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the festival will be donated to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. So whether you’re into noise rock, metal, hip-hop, punk, synth pop, singer-songwriter, alternative, electronic, or experimental music, you can find it here, and support a good cause while you have a great time.
The festivities kick off Friday at 6 PM, at The Shop at 4314 Main Street in Bloomfield. Punk fans definitely won’t want to pass up this chance to see seven badass bands for $8. Local acts like Murder for Girls and Empty Beings, as well as out-of-towners like The Rizzos, Cincinnati’s Black Planet, and Buffalo’s Utah Jazz prove that women are perfectly capable of being brash, loud, and in-your-face. Get ready to jump around.
The party continues a couple of blocks down the road at Howler’s at 9 PM with a mix of genres, from alternative to punk to metal to hip-hop. The show is 21+ and also costs $8—though weekend passes, which grant access to all events and come with a compilation album of songs from many of the featured acts, are only $25. Both Twigg and Wallace are particularly looking forward to catching Motorpsychos here, an aggressive punk-metal band who have shared the stage with Disturbed and 30 Seconds to Mars. You also won’t want to miss the skillful lyricism and flow of Blak Rapp Madusa, or the cool analog grunge of St. Louis’ Sleepy Kitty.
Ladyfest heads over to Lawrenceville on Saturday, starting at 4 PM at Spirit on 51st Street. A fourteen-act lineup for just $10, its variety is as notable as its value. Fans of barebones rock with a dash of screaming will appreciate Het Ward, punk fans can come out for Brazilian Wax, and The Lopez will bring noisy pop rock that harkens back to the 90’s while still feeling new. Also featured is The Van Allen Belt (who Twigg is especially excited to see), an experimental psychedelic pop band with smooth, jazzy female vocals. Individual acts such as the folky Evan Greer and the futuristic electronic- and rap-influenced Moor Mother round out the bill. This show is also 21+.
Eight blocks down Butler Street at Hambone’s, Sunday morning’s all ages set features solo acts, mostly singer-songwriter fare from local standbys such as Sarah Halter, Liss Victory of Victory at the Crossroads, and Dori Cameron. Donations are accepted in lieu of set admission prices, and the entertainment begins at the sleeping-in-friendly 11 AM. (Brunch will be served, if you needed another reason to stop by.)
Bringing it back to Bloomfield, the festival wraps up at Roboto at 5106 Penn Avenue, starting Sunday at 3 PM. The dark-pop-influenced alternative of Dinosoul, more experimental electronic acts like Middle Children, the lo-fi garage rock of Dumplings, and the old-school funk and powerhouse vocals of The Telephone Line will all mingle here for a $10 admission fare. All ages are welcome at this eclectic conclusion of the festival.
If the problem of underrepresentation of women in the music industry is going to be solved, it must begin at the ground level. Twigg suggests, “Come to the shows! Bring friends! Buy the compilation and some merch from your favorites! Listen to the bands, watch their videos, and share their posts online! These may seem like little things, but they mean A LOT to the bands, I promise!” Checking out Ladyfest, and following up with the acts that spoke to you, is a damn good place to get started. Take it from The Rizzos, who are trekking several hours west to play here: “There are similar [events] in Brooklyn, but none of this scope and substance, at least that we know of. Everyone we’ve met thus far has talked about Ladyfest with such excitement—why wouldn’t we travel for it?”
For a full list of bands and to purchase tickets, look up the Ladyfest 2016 event page on Facebook.