MasterMind: Sarah Slater, founder, Titwrench

The Titwrench music festival — built from the ground up three years ago as a way to highlight women in music and give a stage to "folks who don't necessarily fit comfortably into any scene," says founder Sarah Slater — is almost the definition of DIY: a grassroots, community-run project with no corporate sponsorships, no big-name acts and nothing to sell. But Slater, the woman who started it and still serves as the "lead organizer," offers a slight variation on the term: "DIT," she says. "Do It Together."

The first germ of a goal for the fest, Slater explains, was to create the kind of music festival that she herself, a longtime fan of music festivals in general, would want to go to. "That just wasn't a festival that existed," she notes. "I wanted to see a lot more diversity in the lineup and in the audience, something that allowed for more experimentation and collaboration. So Titwrench was kind of like my dream festival.

"The first year," she continues, "it kind of just began with talking to my friends and people who were interested in seeing it happen. It was really grassroots in that it started with us organizing it ourselves and just kind of figuring it out. That first year, there was a collective of about ten people, and it's changed since then. Right now I'm doing most of the organizing myself."

A natural-born organizer, Slater says she was brought up to participate in her community. "My mom is like the ultimate networker," she explains. "She's a writer, gardener, counselor, she's a Unitarian Universalist and just really involved in her church over there. My dad's a carpenter, and they're just really involved with their neighbors and their community. But my mom definitely taught me how to make those connections."

And connections are a prominent theme in whatever Slater does. When she organizes, she does it with people, working toward uniting them around a common goal — and that goal is just as much about commonality and inclusion as it is about the underground bands or the feminist ideals that set it apart.

For example, though the bulk of the festival is devoted to the bands, a big component of Titwrench last year was teaching people how to DIY — or DIT. "The workshops were about building contact mikes and building radio transmitters and that kind of thing," she says, "and I want to continue with those, because a lot of lady musicians don't feel empowered to know how to run the PA system or whatever. I want to empower people."

Her goal has paid off. The main festival keeps getting bigger and better and has started to attract interest in other parts of the country and even the world; next year, Slater wants to take the whole thing to Monterrey, Mexico, with the help of a friend of hers who lives there. (They were going to do it last year, but the friend didn't think it was safe.)

Meanwhile, Slater is curating a film series for the Denver Public Library's Fresh City Life program centered on films made by women (that starts March 13); running a symposium on feminism for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; and organizing the smaller events that Titwrench holds throughout the year. (The main festival runs July 28 through July 30 at the Mercury Cafe.) The next one, titled On Being a Woman, will be at the Wazee Union, 3501 Wazee Street, on February 18, and will feature art, music, food and dancing, along with Slater's own band, Meredith, in which she plays bass.

"I'm not an accomplished musician or anything," she admits. "I'm more of a music lover and appreciator. It's really what my life revolves around."

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte