Conducted by Melanie Stangl
There’s hardly been a better time and place for local music festival lovers than this summer in Pittsburgh. Following the 180-band extravaganza at Deutschtown on the North Side on July 8th and 9th is Ladyfest, a three-day event in venues across Bloomfield and Lawrenceville, featuring forty-four kick-ass female-dominated acts. It starts on July 15th at 6 PM at The Shop (4134 Main Street), and the final set begins at 3 PM on Sunday the 17th, at Roboto (5106 Penn Avenue.) We chatted with the event’s organizers, Jen Sabol from local punk band Brazilian Wax (as well as the newly-formed Freshes), and Steph Flati from noise-rock act The Lopez, about their process, their purpose, and why this year’s Ladyfest will be the best one yet.
Sound Scene Express: What inspired you to organize Ladyfest?
Jen: I was inspired to organize Ladyfest because I feel like it’s such an important fest for the community. I think it’s relevant to showcase the vast amount of women in music, across many genres. Also, my bandmate, Athena from Brazilian Wax restarted Vulvapalooza (now Ladyfest) in 2014. Being her bandmate, we bounced ideas off of each other and a lot of people would ask me about Ladyfest as if I was already an organizer. She moved last year and wasn’t going to be organizing the fest again, so it seemed natural to hit up Steph about co-organizing. Brazilian Wax had the opportunity to play other regional ladyfests over the past few years (Erie Ladyfest, Cincinnati Ladyfest, and Buffalo VaggieFest) and I wanted to take some of what I saw and learned about those fests and bring some of those elements to Pittsburgh.
Steph: My involvement with Ladyfest happened really gradually- it started out as Athena asking my band, The Lopez, to play at Ladyfest 2014 (which was called Vulvapalooza at the time.) I think there were only about twelve bands on the bill that year, playing at two venues over two days. For last year’s Ladyfest, I started helping Athena out here and there and just gradually became her co-organizer. When she moved last year, I kind of just took the reins.
SSE: How big of an undertaking was it?
Jen: Steph and I have been working on this year’s Ladyfest since January. There is a lot of work to do and we meet weekly. Thankfully we have some great support from A-F Records, hosting online sales and putting together an online compilation, and from bandmates/folks helping us with social media support, and hanging up flyers for the event.
Steph: That part can be pretty surprising. You think—it’s just like organizing a normal show, only with a lot more bands! But, there is so, so much that goes into it that most people probably wouldn’t realize. From answering emails, to the line-up, to the venues, to sponsors and promoting, it’s a lot of work, and when both organizers have full time jobs and multiple other bands/projects going on, it can get really overwhelming really fast.
SSE: What kind of feedback did you get at first, and did it change over time?
Jen: There was a request last year for Ladyfest to be more inclusive of minorities and a greater variety of musical genres. We took that into account when booking this year’s lineup. Other than that, we’ve received positive and excited feedback. I am working on hitting up as many media outlets to get word out about the fest, which I hope is building excitement and reaching some folks that previously did not know about the fest.
SSE: How was your experience with Ladyfest in previous years?
Jen: My experience has always been positive and a great benefit for the Pittsburgh Women’s Center and Shelter.
SSE: How does it compare to other festival experiences you’ve had?
Jen: I’ve thankfully always had positive experiences with other festivals that I have played. Being the co-organizer this year, I have a lot more time and heart invested in this, and I hope for it to be a success!
SSE: Why do you think it’s important to specifically recognize and feature women musicians?
Jen: I didn’t realize how disproportionate the women to men ratio in music was until forming Brazilian Wax in 2012. We started as an all-women band, which was one of a very few all-women bands in Pittsburgh at that time. Recently I became aware of the limited amount of female musicians being showcased at fests on a national level. I’ve become more in tune with the male-dominated society that we live in. 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 also thought it would be great to highlight other regional Ladyfests by asking a couple of bands that have members that organize the Cincinnati Ladyfest (Black Planet) and Buffalo Vaggie Fest (Utah Jazz) to perform this year.
Steph: I think it’s important to showcase women in this scene because it’s always seemed to be so dominated by men, but there are SO MANY WOMEN involved in music here. It’s about solidarity and visibility and just getting together to have a good time and play music.
SSE: What most excites you about playing Ladyfest?
Jen: I love the idea of being around awesome women who are supportive and caring of one another while ripping some rad tunes. 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. I’m also extremely excited for all of our touring acts/bands that we booked!
Steph: It’s just a really fun thing to be a part of in any capacity. There’s always such an incredibly positive vibe at all of the Ladyfest shows, and it’s always great to hang out and play with women you know and have played with before. It’s especially cool to meet and connect with women, possibly from other towns, who you don’t know yet and to hear about the scenes and projects that they’re involved in. And who doesn’t love hearing new bands that they’ve never heard before?
SSE: Are there any other bands in the lineup that you’re looking forward to seeing? Who are they, and why?
Jen: I’m excited for the whole dang thing! Specifically, Blak Rapp Madusa, Come Holy Spirit, and Nothing. I’ve never seen these people perform live and I’m stoked to experience their music!
SSE: What’s your take on the Pittsburgh music scene in general, and women’s role in it specifically?
Jen: I think the Pittsburgh music scene is vast and overall immensely supportive! There are endless shows to attend on any given night. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all. I would love to continue to see more women in music.
SSE: Anything else you’d like to say about your music/your experiences with music/your band/Ladyfest.
Jen: I’m excited to perform with my newly formed band The Freshes. We decided to form this band specifically for Ladyfest. We are a five-piece band with members from Action Camp, The Park Plan, and the Dumplings! The Freshes and Brazilian Wax play Saturday at Spirit!
Steph: I am just super excited about this year’s line-up and cannot wait to kick it off on July 15th. The Ladyfest 2016 compilation (available for FREE when you purchase the $25 weekend pass) is killer, and just listening to it makes me proud to be part of this festival.