James Brown may have been right when he said this is a man's world: Social scientists have long postulated that we might well live in a less war-torn, ego-crazed culture if women, rather than old, trigger-happy white dudes, were in charge. And though it's a long way from world domination, Ladyfest Out West, taking place Friday, August 5, through Sunday, August 7, at venues around town, is a chance to glimpse what happens when the women take over. For three days, scores of ladies will descend on downtown Denver to celebrate the creative power of the X chromosome.
As part of a social experiment and global movement, Ladyfest Out West is one of 85 similar events going on around the world. Boosted by a grant from a Ladyfest chapter on the East Coast, Denver organizers are back with the area's second event after an ambitious debut in 2003. They took a year off to regenerate, and the result of their efforts is clear: This year's program is a mighty mix of live music, visual art, spoken word, film and community outreach. And you don't have to be a girl to get it: While organizers selected works from "past, present and future" ladies only, boys are most certainly invited to the party.
"We think of it as a feminist festival more than just a women's festival," says Megan Smith, who leads the all-volunteer army that's presenting the event. "That leaves it open to interpretation; the word 'feminism' means different things to different people. We want to be really inclusive, because we consider ourselves to be queer-positive, sex-positive feminists, and we're boy-positive, too."
Although the artists, musicians, filmmakers and social muckrakers who compose Ladyfest Out West's unapologetically girly heart do have gender in common, don't expect some fey, Oprah-ized, Ya-Ya Sisterhood crap. Ladyfest is firmly rooted in the Riot Grrrl counterculture that sprouted organically, like a forest mushroom, in the dewy Pacific Northwest in the late '90s. While the flannel-clad guys were raising hell and hype in Seattle, bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile were fusing a women-centric blend of attitude and social awareness, challenging gender stereotypes within the realms of indie rock and punk. And when the fest launched in Olympia in 2000, it covered music and art as well as activities designed to empower women in every possible way. Now Ladyfest has tendrils on every continent; this year, events are starting up in Mexico and South Africa.
"In the early '90s, there were tons of Riot Grrrl chapters all over the country, but it didn't feel that sustainable. They were meeting, but what were they doing? They were just kind of talking," says Smith. "Since then, Ladyfest has taken that same energy and made it bigger; it's created this huge network of women and feminists who want to build community by putting on these events. It's really exciting."
In Denver, Ladyfest Out West organizers have carried forth the community credo by incorporating a healthy schedule of workshops on everything from safe sex to social activism. Some are a little more hands-on, including how-to sessions on vibrators and bicycles.
The creative content is equally eclectic. A short-film festival on Saturday, August 6, includes amateur porn, a documentary on Ladyfest itself, and a two-minute meditative work inspired by a self-relaxation recording. And there will be plenty of rocking: Origami, from Australia, Party Line (featuring members of Bratmobile) and Ladyfest co-founder Sarah Dougher are among the out-of-town performers who'll appear alongside locals, including Rachel Pollard and poet Andrea Gibson, the gifted former leader of Denver's slam poetry team. An expected reunion show by the Pindowns, the first since the kick-butt Denver punktet disbanded in 2003, is a highlight.
C'mon, get Lady.