Elephant Revival veteran Bridget Law — who is producing the tenth annual Sister Winds Festival, taking place at Mishawaka Amphitheatre on Sunday, August 26 — says she’s seen things move in a positive direction for women since she entered the Colorado music scene just over a decade ago.
“I remember back in the early days, when Bonnie [Payne] and I were joining in bluegrass jam sessions, getting invited to sit in with people,” Law says. “I don’t think it was ever overly noted that we were some of the first women who were invited to be a part of those situations, but I think it certainly helped that we could just kind of join in and didn’t really change the way that the men were playing.”
“If you have a singer [at a jam session] and she sings really soft and tender, everybody has to, like, back out of the way and make space for that,” Law explains. “We didn’t necessarily do that. We came into the scene as a fiddle player and a washboard player and just sort of joined in and played all the fast music and got into it. Eventually they started going, ‘Oh, that girl on the washboard — she can really sing! Maybe we should give her a chance.’ It started opening up doorways, and then they were curious about what other women were doing. There was a gateway there that helped.”
Law is hard at work creating more gateways with this year’s Sister Winds Festival, which will feature a surprisingly diverse lineup, from bluegrass and singer-songwriter fare to Whippoorwill's country rock, Qbala’s fierce hip-pop and the soulful indie rock of Erin Roberts’s Porlolo.
The 2018 version of Sister Winds, which was originally a small gathering in Boulder before moving to Sunrise Ranch and now the Mish, is a family-friendly event, and Law says the festival will include “sacred circles, meditation and peaceful quiet zones” in addition to a noon-to-midnight music lineup.
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“We really want it to feel like a celebration of the divine feminine and feminine creativity,” says Law, who adds, “It’s not limited to women, by any means. We want dads to bring their daughters, too.”
Longtime Fort Collins music-scene stalwart and proponent Dani Grant, who owns Mishawaka Amphitheatre, employs 48 women out of the Mish’s 89 employees and is attempting to staff the Mish entirely with women for this year’s Sister Winds.
“I’m really hopeful that we can bring some attention to women in the industry through supporting a festival that celebrates women in such an intentional way,” Grant says.
Law has been spending her post-Elephant Revival life intentionally supporting festivals that are “sustainable and family-friendly”; playing music in a band with her husband, called Tierro Lee with Bridget Law; and sitting in with friends like We Dream Dawn and former bandmate Payne, who will be doing a set with Law at Sister Winds.
“I’m trying to work in the back end of the music side of things, so I can work from home [where she is helping raise her eight-year-old stepson] and support artistswho wanna go out there and do things, and maybe in particular some women artists. I play when I want to, and I have a lot of time for my family, and that’s the most important part for me.”
Payne is also clearly looking forward to her set with fellow Elephant Revival veteran Payne, and says it “will be fun and refreshing” after “getting quite a bit more space from each other than we’ve had for most of our adult lives,” in the wake of Law’s exit from Elephant Revival and then the band’s ongoing hiatus, which began this past spring.
Since Elephant Revival’s first show — which took place at the Gold Hill Inn back in 2006 — women musicians in Colorado have been given more space at festivals, and as integral members of bands, rather than just accessories who are sometimes cruelly tossed aside by male bandleaders if they earn too much spotlight.
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“I do think that women get a lot of attention,” Law says, “And I think it’s up to the men to kind of embrace that and see that as a benefit for their band, as well. Most of being a good entertainer is taming the ego."
“Since [Elephant Revival’s rise], I’ve watched festivals intentionally book bands that have feminine presence,” Law says. “I remember the year that Northwest String Summit said, ‘We wanna book you guys because we wanna have more women on our bill.’ And I don’t think they really cared much about that in 2006, but in 2011 they did.
“I feel like society is more open to incorporating women in different areas than they have been in the past,” Law says. “I feel like we’re actually appreciated for the qualities that we bring to the field, and that’s pretty special to me.”