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July 7, 2006

Magic under the stars

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival brings together
new blood and longtime beloveds

Closing a raucous Saturday night show at last year’s 30th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, Toshi Reagon offered a word to the wise. “What really matters is being here next August for the thirty-first.”

True to her word, Reagon will be back on the Night Stage at this year’s festival, from August 8 to 13. She will be performing with her mother, the legendary Bernice Johnson Reagon, now retired from Sweet Honey in the Rock. This year’s line up of 40 performances features the outdoor event’s signature combination of new blood and longtime beloveds, representing every genre, every generation and countries from across the globe.

As much as Michigan is a kick-ass music festival, with artists prized by the mainstream and underground alike, it also bears witness to women’s creativity, competence and fierce concern in a world so often culturally dominated by corruption and cynicism.

Born in the 1970s, the festival is no relic. The roster of performance artists is always fresh, and the vibe of new generations makes each year’s audience an original. But the festival’s counter-cultural vision is as relevant and urgently needed today as it was thirty years ago.

That’s why festival-goers will see Melissa Ferrick returning after a six-year absence. Vicki Randle flying in from her steady gig on the Tonight Show. And Gail Ann Dorsey headlining here after laying down bass with a stadium-filling Gwen Stefani tour.

Jill “I Kissed a Girl” Sobule, Jane “When I Was a Boy” Siberry, the ever-outrageous Bitch--these performers and countless others make the trek to a square mile of oak and ferns in western Michigan because there is simply nothing else like it.

Arrive early in the week to set up camp with women from around the world. Plugging in for a four-hour work shift will give an insider’s view of the women-powered systems that make the festival the largest city in two counties during its week of operation.

After two days of intensive workshops, the opening of the weeklong film festival and the initial performances on the Acoustic Stage, the festival kicks into high gear with Wednesday night’s opening celebration. Each day that follows features afternoon performances on the sun-kissed Day Stage, shows over dinner at the intimate Acoustic Stage, and the lights, sound and magic under the stars at the Night Stage. The week draws to a close with the Sunday traditions of Drumsong Orchestra, the One World Inspirational Choir, and the closing candlelight concert.

Rock ’n’ rollers will love the soul-punk punch of San Francisco’s Von Iva, the in-your-face energy of Sarah Bettens from international rockers K’s Choice, and the richly packed vocals of Fruit, from Australia.

If it’s alt-country you crave, check out sets by the Ditty Bops, Kitty Rose, and Po’ Girl. Closing out the Saturday night show is Southern Fried Chix Lix, an all-star tribute to the genre coordinated by Musical Director Alyson Palmer of Betty.

Hip-hop fans will give it up for the Nuyorasian flow of Slanty Eyed Mama, the political comedic sounds of Tamil Sri Lankan artist D’Lo, the Long Island feminists Northern State, and the only gem-sweater-wearing lady rapper from Iowa: Leslie and the Lys.

If you live by the beat of the drum, you can’t miss Ubaka Hill and the ShapeShifters on the Night Stage or Jambalaya’s fusion of drum and dance. The power of women’s songwriting will be on full display in performances by Alana Davis, Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie, Swati and Margie Adam, along with a quartet of gifted and original artists in the Acoustic Stage’s singer-songwriter spotlight featuring Edie Carey, Diana Jones, Garrison Starr and divineMAGgees.

Rounding out the week is spoken word, theater, dance, and irreverent comedy. Take in Staceyann Chin, co-writer and performer of the Tony-nominated, Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, and Between Lines Dance Company. Amy Ziff of Betty performs her new play, Accident and Jeanette Buck presents her critically acclaimed play There Are No Strangers featuring Holly Twyford. Sunday Afternoon Comedy is back by popular demand with the always-beloved Marga Gomez, Elvira Kurt, and Karen Williams.

Before, during and after, there arehundreds of workshops, sporting events, films, dances, and open mics. Shop in the crafts market and connect in networking areas for women of color, women in recovery, teens, and other communities. If this all sounds like too much, just hop a ride on a tractor-pulled surrey. Sit back and enjoy the view: thousands of women in all shapes and sizes wearing everything from tie-dye to corsets to nothing at all.

Women who have been to Michigan before will recognize this is a year not to miss. Those who have yet to experience the mother of all women’s festivals should make this the year to check it out. You’ll leave understanding the promise of those four simple but compelling words: “See you in August.”

The price for a full week of camping, meals, 40 performances, film festival, workshops and all programming and services is $350 to $410 (sliding scale) if purchased before July 15; $385 to $435 afterward. Entrance fees are reduced for the days after the festival starts, from Wednesday through Sunday. See for details, or call 231-7574766.


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