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The M word
Not marriage, but Michigan. The festival is coming in August
Long before The L Word, there was the M word.
To tens of thousands of women around the world, Michigan is more than a state, it’s a state of mind: the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
Over three decades, the weeklong woodland extravaganza near the town of Hart has attained almost mythic status. It’s an underground legend passed hometown, word-of-mouth, from one smitten festi-goer to the next. It’s the gig performers tell each other, “This, you’ve got to see.” It’s an icon even for those who have never been.
For all of the festival’s time-honored past, the secret of its success is that it is totally today. Take The L Word, for example. The festival was featured in a flirty exchange between characters played by Annabelle Sciorra and Marlee Matlin. And MichFest now has her own MySpace page (she’s a Leo who prefers impromptu mud wrestling to long walks on the beach).
This year’s August 7 to 12 performance line-up reflects the best of today’s hip hop, spoken word, rock ’n’ roll, R&B, world beat, dance, folk, and comedy scenes.
Melissa Ferrick will be back for more Michigan, in her second appearance on the Night Stage after a six-year absence. Also returning to the Night Stage are indie music faves Dar Williams, Laura Love, Catie Curtis and Doria Roberts.
Nedra Johnson’s Fat Bottom Girls will show what can happen when five women get down with their tubas. The beats of God-des and She will get the audience grounded. Divahn’s Middle Eastern Sephardic vocals will blow you away. Brainy punk band Erase Errata and Sarah Bettens, from internationally-acclaimed K’s Choice, will rock your socks off. And when Lez Zeppelin promises “I’m Gonna Give You My Love,” you know you’re going to feel every inch of it . . . way down inside you. Make sure to pack platform shoes for Saturday night’s show-closing Disco Chix Lix directed by Alyson Palmer of Betty.
And that’s only the Night Stage.
The week’s 40 performances open Tuesday on the Acoustic Stage with a spoken word extravaganza. Festie-favorite Alix Olson joins newbie Aya de León and Staceyann Chin, co-writer and performer of the Broadway hit Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam. Wednesday’s Singer Songwriter Spotlight features Kate Reid, Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver, Sparlha Swa, Chris Pureka, and midwestern favorites Nervous But Excited.
Demonstrating the Acoustic Stage’s cross-generational, cross-genre appeal, Ferron will perform with Bitch, and Cris Williamson will appear with a variety of special guests. Evolution V will create a sacred space with drum and dance from both African and Hawaiian traditions while Faye Driscoll Dance will showcase the power of women’s physicality. Spoken word and hip hop aficionados will want to return to Acoustic on Friday for the politically acute raps of Tamil Sri Lankan artist D’Lo.
Earlier in the day you’ll have your hands in the air at the Day Stage for Hip Hop at High Noon featuring Skim from Los Angeles, Feloni from Detroit, and Mahogany out of Brooklyn. If that’s a hard act to follow, you can bet that Lesbians on Ecstasy are up to the challenge. Their “plunder music project” played to rave reviews on tour with Le Tigre. What’s not to love about samples from ’70s women’s music mashed up with electronic dance beats?
The sun-filled Day Stage is where you’ll also find funky R & B and kick-ass jazz. Hanifah Walidah, singer with Brooklyn Funk Essentials who has a solo Top 10 video on the Logo channel, returns with a band. First-timer Ruthie Foster brings her soul-stirring delivery to gospel and blues. Anything can happen when the stage is taken by the musician’s dream team of Barbara Higbie, Vicki Randle, Teresa Trull and Julie Wolf.
Rounding out the offerings on the Day Stage are the energetic vocals and guitar of festie-virgins Wishing Chair and Erin McKeown, and the ever-popular Comedy Sunday. In addition to enjoying full comedy sets by Vickie Shaw, Sabrina Matthews and Karen Williams, campers will fall out of their backpack chairs laughing all week with emcee-in-residence Elvira Kurt.
Close your week in the woods with the Sunday traditions of Ubaka Hill’s Drumsong Orchestra, Aleah Long’s One World Inspirational Choir, and Ruth Barrett’s Candlelight Concert.
Buy an all-inclusive ticket before July 14 to get the early-bird advance rate. If the 40 performances just mentioned aren’t enough, the ticket price includes three delicious vegetarian meals a day, camping on a beautiful square mile of oak and fern forest, hundreds of workshops, a film festival, sporting events and crafts bazaar, along with countless dances, parades, open mikes and parties. For no extra charge, attendees can take advantage of a full range of community services, from networking for women of color and sign language interpretation, to child care, first aid, and transportation.
While other feminist events and institutions have come and gone over the past four decades, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival persists. But the Michigan experience is not to be taken for granted. If you haven’t been in a while, or you’ve yet to make the trip, check it out. And then tell your friends about the real deal: the M word.
For more information, write to We Want the Music Co., P.O. Box 22, Walhalla, Mich. 49458, go to www.michfest.com or call 231-7574766.
Holly Pruett is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon, who wrote this for the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.