People have the Power

By Charlotte Robinson

“Have you heard about Ladyfest? They had one in Olympia and now some ladies in Chicago are trying to organize one here. Want to come to the meeting?” With those words of invitation, viagra or something like them (you’ll have to cut me some slack on exact quotes since it was eleven years ago), healing I was drawn into what would be one of the biggest, most exciting, sometimes frustrating, and life-altering experiences I’ve had.

It was late 2000 and I had only moved to Chicago from my native Michigan that spring. I also had recently started writing for, and then editing music reviews for, Venus Zine, an indie publication about sisters doing it for themselves. The magazine’s founder/editor, Amy Schroeder, landed in Chicago not long after me, and it was she who invited me to that first fateful band committee meeting. We drove to someone’s apartment, where we met about a dozen other young women. The mood was tentative but optimistic.

As time went on, there were more meetings and more attendees. New people were constantly coming aboard, bringing new skills into our group. Although we shared an interest in the arts, music, feminism, and activism, we came from different backgrounds – and that was a good thing, considering that we would be dealing with everything from travel arrangements to city permits to cranky rock stars. Having a group with a broad skill set was a huge help.

Ladyfest was about much more than just music. There were workshops, readings, performance art, and films. I joined the workshop committee and organized a panel called “Behind the Scenes: Women in the Music Industry” that was covered in the Chicago Sun-Times. I also participated in a poetry reading. The biggest task, though, was running around town to the various venues, making sure the owners, performers, and audiences were happy. At one venue, there was a miscommunication about the age for admission that had the owner peeved. At another, I was put to work chopping fruits and vegetables for a huge BBQ. Needing to pay bands and not having a car at the time, I carried a huge amount of cash with me on a bus, clutching the bank bag to my side in mortal fear. I delivered Diet Coke and salt and vinegar chips – the stipulations in their rider – to Tegan and Sara, who were charmingly appreciative.

And I heard lots of music. I am still pretty amazed at the great performers we bunch of novices were able to land: ESG, Le Tigre, the Butchies, Amy Ray, Mary Timony, Bratmobile, and the list goes on and on. No, really, it goes on and on because we booked about 100 bands, not to mention 40 visual artists, 35 spoken-word artists, 47 film and video makers, 38 performance artists, and over 50 workshop hosts. If you would have told us in the early months of planning that we’d be attempting such a feat, I’m sure most of us would have run away screaming.

I was very lucky to have gotten involved in something like Ladyfest at that pivotal time. I was new in town, and the planning sessions at various apartments got me out learning my way around the city and meeting new people with similar interests. I am honored that I can still call so many of the organizers my friends. I also like to remind myself every now and then, when I feel a task is too daunting, that we made Ladyfest happen. As one of my favorite ladies once said, people have the power.