It wasn't so much about donning suffragette sashes at tea parties as picking electric guitars in a bar lined wall-to-wall with Barbie dolls.
At a Saturday night event at the Stork Club in Oakland, four local bands rocked a house full of hipsters, feminists, fellow travelers and local music aficionados to raise money for Ladyfest Bay Area, a non-profit organization that will put on a five-day festival celebrating women's music, visual and lively arts, and spoken word in July.
“ We want to create an alternative space for women and women's media outside of the mainstream,” said Cortney Rock, a Cal student who is one of the 25 volunteer organizers. “ No one is creating this space for us and it's stupid to wait for corporate America to do it for us.”
Though Ladyfests have been happening for two years around the U.S. and in Europe, this summer's event will be the first in the Bay Area. The organizers, who meet every other week at the University of California,Berkeley or the Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco, hope that their event can be more inclusive than other women's events that exclude transgendered people and feminist men. They hope to capitalize on California's diversity, and spike the event with the Bay Area's own brand of outspoken politics and do-it-yourself workshops.
Being active is a large part of the Ladyfest manifesto. “ It's about a community of women doing something together, making something happen, and giving approval of other women in the area doing things,” said Rae Griner, who is a graduate student at Berkeley.
Saturday's event was headlined by The Quails, whose sassy, danceable punk shook every wallet chain in the saloon. Also playing were Confederacy of Fools, an experimental jazz-noise act, The Betty Expedition, psychedelic mood music straight out of a David Lynch movie, and Riot-a-Go-Go, stomping electric guitar rock.
Although the event was a benefit for a women's art event, the night at the Stork Club was not for riot grrrls only. Only three of the 12 performers were women. Confederacy of Fools, an all-male band, said that it had no connection with Ladyfest before Saturday.
Many members of the audience said that they did not usually participate in a lot of feminist activities. Friends at work had recommended the bands to Oakland-resident Art Tedeschi.
“ I'm kind of an introvert,” he said. “ But my girlfriend is a feminist and I would stand up for women's rights. I wanted to hear music so I had no problem checking it out.”
But for The Quails, this gig was part of a long-standing interest in Ladyfest. Members of the group exhibited art at the first event in Olympia, Wash. and hope to go to Ladyfest D.C. in August. Drummer Julianna Bright of San Francisco hopes that the festival can change the white, male focus of the punk scene.
“ When we're on tour, we're learning how San Francisco is really kind of a wacky anomaly. There aren't so many women in bands in other places,” she said.
The Quails proudly endorsed its feminist and queer-friendly politics even if, said bassist Seth Lorinczi, it sometimes “ raises hackles and draws lines.” But other groups were not so explicitly feminist.
“ I believe in the freedom of personal expression in America,” said Riot-a-Go-Go's Nova Szoka, who played guitar in garter belts, Lycra and clodhopper sneakers. “ If it's about saying what you want to say without getting into trouble, then it's feminism.”
But confusion over definitions did not stop the 100 people in the Stork Club from signing up to help organize July's event or dropping cash. Organizers were glad because there is still a lot to do.
For one thing, they still do not have all of the money they need to put on the event, although the Jon Sims Center for the Arts has given them a grant.
Saturday's event was only the first of seven benefits they are planning.
They will also be seeking donations from local businesses and individuals.
The group is also still considering arts submissions. Guidelines, calendars and the Ladyfest mission statement can be found at www.ladyfestbayarea.org
Fans can't wait for the event to come together. “ Last summer, there was Ladyfest East Coast and Ladyfest Midwest,” said Jenna MacKillop of Oakland.
“ But why wasn't it here? I expected it to be here first. I mean, Ladyfest Midwest?”