Michigan Womyn's Music Festival turns 35

Ask women from 8 years old to 80 why they continue to haul themselves and their camping gear from Alaska, New Zealand, San Francisco, Chicago, Brooklyn, London and all points in between to the woods in the middle of Michigan where there's no cell phone service or Internet access. They'll tell you some variation on this simple truth: "It's the week that gets me through the rest of the year."
As several women said in an online discussion: "Until you experience it, you don't understand how it will change you." "I never realized I needed Fest before I went. Now I can't imagine living without it."
Back in 1976, the Festival was one of many upstart institutions that created space for women to color outside the lines of the male mainstream. Today, very few of those bookstores, coffeehouses, and collectives survive. We may have more visibility, more acceptance and rights that are slowly being recognized, but the hunger for a place that makes us feel powerful, beautiful, safe and free is as strongly felt as ever.
"Thirty-five years – no matter what you're doing – is a long time," says producer Lisa Vogel, who co-founded the Festival when she was 19. "To have a community that sustains itself over that many years is awesome. It speaks to the heart we all put into it."
The Festival, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year from Aug. 3-8, is a community created by thousands of women of all ages: musicians and artists, builders and healers, peacekeepers and troublemakers. Poet Alix Olson calls it "the lesbian feminist government in exile."
Oh yes, and there's the music.
"I looked to the first, second and third decades to reflect slices of our entire 'herstory,'" says Vogel, who also invited nine acts who have never played the Festival.
Young festival-goers are just as likely to fall in love with pioneers Cris Williamson, Holly Near and Ferron as dykes from the '70s are to go crazy for JD Samson's new band – even if it is called MEN.
The program reflects the artists' deep love for the Festival. The Indigo Girls are taking a leave from Lilith Fair to play Michigan. The Butchies are staging a special Michigan reunion show for the first time in five years. Everyone is hoping for a chance to join the magical mix of Wednesday night's Opening Ceremony and Saturday night's Chix Lix '76. Also on the Night Stage: Laura Love, Elvira Kurt, BETTY, Cocomama, Sia and Toshi Reagon.
The on-stage action kicks off Tuesday at the Acoustic Stage with Marga Gomez performing her award-winning theater piece, "Long Island Iced Latina." New to the Acoustic Stage this year are Micia Mosely's comedic vignettes; selections from Karma Mayet Johnson's blues opera Indigo; Anais Mitchell, coming off her tour with Ani DiFranco; alt-country stand-out Stella!; and the only out lesbian to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, Mary "Drag Queens in Limousines" Gauthier. Returning crowd-pleasers are singer-songwriter Nicole Reynolds, Slanty Eyed Mama, Jamaican slam poet Staceyann Chin and Dance Brigade.
Thursday through Saturday the Day Stage will be sizzling with the hip-hop beats of Reina Williams and Skim; the raw rock and bluesy rhythms of Sistas in the Pit and Nedra Johnson; indie sensations Chris Pureka and Erin McKeown; two stars of the Northwest music scene making their Michigan debut, Tender Forever and Mirah; and the category-defying Bitch.
Sunday wraps up with the beloved interactive performances of Ubaka Hill's Drumsong Orchestra and Aleah Long's One World Inspirational Choir; Comedy Sunday with Mimi Gonzalez, Michele Balan, and Julie Goldman; and the closing Candlelight Concert led by Ruth Barrett.
Your all-inclusive ticket includes three delicious vegetarian meals a day and camping amidst the oaks and ferns; a film festival, crafts bazaar and hundreds of workshops; the infamous Femme Parade and Butch Strut; along with a spelling bee, dances, sporting events, open mics and parties. Your workshifts will get you behind the scenes helping to deliver the full range of services that nurture the community, from networking for Women of Color and sign language interpretation, to child care, first aid, recovery support and transportation.
Forty performances, 23 meals, a safe place to sleep, and an abundance of other services: little more than $60 a day. An experience that sustains you for the rest of the year: priceless.
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