Tag Archives: Body Futures

Riverwest FemFest 2017 – In their words

By Joey Grihalva

Wisconsin has some incredibly talented female artists. That is not an “alternative fact.” 

But you might not know it if you went to any random concert, art gallery or comedy club. In an effort to address this gender imbalance, multiple venues in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood played host to a parade of female and female-identifying creatives for five days last week — from teenage rockers to soprano singers, visual artists to spoken word poets.

What was originally intended simply to be a basement party thank you to the inspiring women in Olivia Doyle’s life three years ago, has blossomed into Riverwest FemFest, possibly the state’s largest female-focused arts festival.

The third installment of FemFest took place amid an international outpouring of support for women and disapproval of President Trump. It also served as a fundraiser for the Milwaukee Coalition for Justice and the Milwaukee Women’s Center.

Rather than recap the festival, I interviewed over a dozen organizers and performers, allowing them to describe the significance of FemFest in their voice.

[All photos by Jessi Paetzke.]

Olivia Doyle, founder

I started it because I was feeling empowered by the women around me, to the point where it really changed my life. I went back to school. I started wanting more of myself because they reminded me that I deserve it. It was a truly powerful experience for me to meet all these women in Riverwest, so the first fest was really just a thank you. It was never meant to be what it is now. 

Why is the diversity of arts at the festival important?

Because women and femmes are creative in other ways that aren’t just music. And we want to showcase as much of their creativity as we can.

Have there been any growing pains with the festival over the years?

This year especially has been a real learning process for us, with the expansion of everything that we’re including and also with how big we’re getting. We’re reaching a lot more people. So it’s really like a community event and there’s lots of different people in this community, so learning to be as inclusive as possible is a process. 

What are some of the things you’re most proud of in terms of the festival?

As a whole, watching all these people perform that I love and I’m inspired by. I’m very proud to have created this platform. In terms of a specific moment, Jenna Knapp did spoken word, she’s a childhood friend of mine. Being able to introduce her and tell the audience why she’s so inspiring to me and then have her read her poetry, which people loved, it made me feel like a proud mom. It’s really wonderful to see all these people that I love and care about do what they love and care about.

Jenna Knapp [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Ellie Jackson, organizer and musician (Scape)

I’ve been involved in music and radio from an early age. I joined a community radio station when I was in college. When I got involved with music I realized there was like a 20-to-1 ratio between the bands I was playing that were male and the bands that were female. Not because I wanted to, but those were the numbers. I asked the station manager if I could do an all-female focused show and they told me that that was sexist. I said, “It doesn’t feel sexist though. The music industry is sexist!”

So for me FemFest is an opportunity to celebrate those female artists that I wasn’t given permission to celebrate before. Now we’re taking the permission. Riverwest is also where I live so the community here is very important to me. But certainly supporting creatives everywhere is also very important to me.

Why is it important to have a diversity of arts at the festival?

I think that we as a culture underestimate other arts. Like a great example is that here we are in this venue (Company Brewing) where you can come and buy a beer and watch music almost any night of the week, which is a beautiful thing. But there isn’t really that culture around 2D art, there isn’t exactly that culture around the Milwaukee Art Museum and other performance arts. They’re not quite as celebrated as musical art. We have a culture with bar venues and theater venues that make it easier to celebrate musical art, but we’re really excited to have a variety night with comedians and other performance art. There was a burlesque performance, we have an art gallery and we have a Maker’s Fair upstairs, so we’re trying to sort of spread out all the creativity.

Were you a part of the festival last year?

No, I just came to it. I came to it on Saturday, one year ago today, and I remember walking into this space and just being so impressed with all the performances and I guess just feeling like, “Duh. Of course we should celebrate this, these people are amazing!” And the fact that the ratio is still not even.

It’s a no-brainer that this festival needs to happen and people need to come and experience the talent that these female performers have. And then to be in a room with people that are genuinely interested in celebrating femme creativity and supporting Milwaukee organizations, because it’s all a fundraiser. Also actively working on not being sexist and being allies for that cause. It felt great, so as soon as it happened last year I was like, “Who do I talk to? How do I get involved in this?”

Britney Freeman-Farr, musician (B~Free, Foreign Goods)

I got involved with FemFest last year when I was a part of another show with one of FemFest’s organizers, Johanna Rose. We were in Prince Uncovered together and we just connected musically.  She said, “You and Cree Myles have to be a part of FemFest!” So we called Jay Anderson, and I wasn’t even in Foreign Goods at the time, but we were all friends because my husband is in the band. They backed us and the experience was so incredibly invigorating. Not only performing, but also watching all of these women command the stage and the audiences.

There was one group in particular, Mary Allen and the Perculators, and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that we have this much power! And then when I saw that the festival was coming back around and I was more developed with my own solo stuff at this time, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to recreate the same magic that I experienced. I’m very happy to have the opportunity.

What does it mean for you to be a part of female focused gatherings?

It makes me feel like what I’m doing is purposeful. As we mentioned in the show this evening, ‘It’s really hard out here for a pimp.’ (laughs) It’s hard being a woman in this industry, let alone in this world. And to be able to be a thriving example of someone who not only has a craft but also makes a livelihood with it, that sets the tone for all the generations to come. I feel really good about letting the young ones know that no matter your background, or gender or creed, you can do whatever makes you happy. Forget everybody else’s standards that they place on you. I really feel like that’s the spirit behind FemFest. Celebrating that we’re not going to let you think of us as the lesser gender or anything, we’re equally as talented and important.

B~Free [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Gabriella Kartz, music organizer and performer (Faux Fiction)

It’s about supporting each other and celebrating people who add a lot to the Milwaukee scene in general through their various art forms. I think we’re really trying to make sure that we’re inclusive of all groups. People who are women or identify as women, we’re really trying to embrace all of that diversity. It’s what makes the fest a wonderful thing.

For me, last year was just a really positive experience. We got great feedback about our music and it was a really comfortable space to be able to express yourself. I think that’s what I really liked about it and why I wanted to be more involved this year.

Faux Fiction [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Kelsey Moses, comedian (Goodlanders)

This was the first time we’ve done anything outside of ComedySportz. , so it was a great opportunity to share what we do with people who might not come to ComedySportz.  How could you not enjoy a giant collaboration of beautiful, strong, powerful women being funny, being creative, being artistic, being musical? Women coming together to celebrate women, I love it.

Goodlanders [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Ashley Altadonna, filmmaker and musician (The Glacial Speed)

One of the great things about FemFest is that it is so inclusive. I know that they’ve had other transgender performers besides me at the festival and I think that’s great. I also had two films in the film showcase, plus all the workshops and community organizing they’re doing is fantastic. There’s just so much to see and do.

The Glacial Speed [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Jessi Paetzke, photographer

I attended last year because a friend invited me and it was really inspiring for me, so I wanted to get involved and photography is what I do. It’s really encouraging to see a bunch of diverse and talented women doing what they’re supposed to be doing and living out their passions. And also hearing about other people’s struggles, those of us who aren’t white men, what we face in society, how people might try to make us feel small or not welcome, and knowing that we’re not the only ones who feel that way.

Mary Joy, organizer and musician (Fox Face)

I didn’t have a strong female role model growing up and I had a lot of self-esteem issues. For me, music became that outlet of expression and that confidence builder. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 16 and that’s really where my female role models emerged. Music has been such an essential part of my identity and I realize that my story, my feminism, can relate and intersect with other people’s feminism. Our stories can come together and change a community. Our stories can help us find that self-esteem and whatever is missing in our lives.

It’s been a very empowering experience for me to have my own journey, but also to bring together other people’s journeys, wherever they’re at. And I hope they find something at FemFest, find something that they’re looking for, find a new relationship, find meaning somewhere.

Fox Face [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

D Kirschling, volunteer (Ladies Rock)

This year the fest has really expanded and added all types of artists. I’ve known about women in the arts and music scenes for a long time and it’s great to see everybody getting together to spread the word and get to know each other and share. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. I’m hearing bands I’ve known and loved and I’m hearing new bands I haven’t been exposed to before.

Anskar Thorlac, performance artist (Maplewood Gardens – Chicago)

We’re really interested in intersectionality in our audiences. Our rituals are meant to be public and shared by large groups of people. It’s really exciting to find different communities and especially a femme identifying community, being femme identifying artists ourselves. It’s exciting to have an entry point into that community in a different city. It’s also sort of liberating doing a shared ritual for people you don’t know. Plus all of the femme organizers have been so generous and supportive and responsive.

Anskar Thorlac (Maplewood Gardens) [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Katie Lyne, musician (New Boyz Club, Ruth B8r Ginsburg, The Grasping at Straws)

It shows that if we have to put on a whole entire festival of female or female-fronted acts, there’s obviously something missing. We have to do this to put it at the forefront. It’s not a female-dominated scene, but it’s going to be one. The dynamic is changing. And it’s just such an awesome festival, having safe places for women like Company Brewing, places that include everyone and bring the power back to where it belongs.

I love hearing the poetry too. Hearing females tell their stories of sexual abuse or whatever it may be, especially friends of mine who I see everyday. Everyone has a struggle as a woman and to have that on stage alongside these awesome bands, it’s such a great place for women to collaborate and remember that we’re all in this together.

Rachel Clark, gallery team

FemFest is an opportunity to bring a lot of people together to talk about females and female-identifying folks. Like when we did the interviews for gallery artists, we had meetings at our houses just so people could meet and have conversations. So not only is the festival important to me because of what it stands for, but also it’s an opportunity for people to get to know each other and build community.

Groovy Dog Gallery [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Alexandre Maxine Hill, musician (LUXI)

FemFest means a lot to me. In the past it was harder for me to book shows as a female artist. I’m not sure people really took me seriously. So I think it’s really important that we have a place where we can have a voice and express ourselves in whatever way we want and just be the awesome women that we are.

Gabriela Riveros, gallery and Maker’s Fair artist

I think these kinds of fests are needed, especially for all the creatives that exist in Milwaukee. We need a space for other women creatives to come out of their own neighborhoods and communities and be a part of a larger project. I love the fest. There’s so much going on.

Jovan [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Casey O’Brien, festival-goer

I feel that women tend to have a somewhat secretive supportive role that isn’t always publicized. It sort of feels like the foundation that supports something else. And this festival puts a spotlight on people who don’t normally get a spotlight.

I think it’s easier for a woman or femme-identifying person to get up on this stage versus being on an everyday Milwaukee lineup, when too often girls are judged based on how they look or people say stuff like, “Oh she’s good for a girl.” Here no one is looking at the stage and saying, “Look they have a girl in that band!” It feels more comfortable.

Katie Lafond, musician (Siren)

I want female-focused gatherings to be unnecessary. We shouldn’t need to have an all-girl thing for people to start putting more girls on shows. I think it’s more important for the guys because it gives them something to look at and be like, “Oh, this has been in our city this whole time and I just never knew it.”

But it’s also good for younger girls to see there are women out there who are doing what they might want to do. So I think it’s good to educate men and to show kids there are better opportunities and that we’re able to do these things on stage. It’s kind of like a teaching moment where we’re saying, “You can do this too, you’re not alone.”

See more of Jessi Paetzke’s photos from Riverwest FemFest 2017 by clicking the links below.

Day 1 (Wednesday @ Art Bar)

Day 2 (Thursday @ Groovy Dog Gallery & Riverwest Public House Cooperative)

Day 3 (Friday @ Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and Company Brewing)

Day 4 & 5 (Saturday & Sunday @ Company Brewing)

Devin Settle [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Wisconsin rockers are ‘Unintimidated’ by Scott Walker

Protesters speak loudly. Protesters with a microphone and a guitar can speak even louder.

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his presidential candidacy in the summer of 2015, Wisconsinites DJ Hostettler and Tony Webber, along with many others, got angry.

But instead of posting a slew of links to articles and political memes to gain an amusing laugh and possibly a like or share, they came up with a response promising a much greater impact. Avoiding what they deem slacktivism, the two were the masterminds behind Unintimidated: Wisconsin Musicians Against Scott Walker, a CD and DVD project that unites 16 Wisconsin punk and metal rock bands to write and record protest songs.

Hostettler and Webber enlisted bands including Damsel Trash, IfIHadAHiFi (Hostettler’s band), Heavy Hand (Webber’s band), and Tyranny is Tyranny, and brought them to Milwaukee’s Howl Street Recordings last August to record. Each of the songs on Unintimidated disseminates information about Scott Walker and his disastrous policies that have directly affected many people in the state.

“What I’ve been telling people is as long as we have this document out in the world, we would show a bunch of musicians in the 2010s were pissed off enough at what was going on in Wisconsin to make noise,” Hostettler said. “The last thing I want is for people outside of Wisconsin thinking that everybody here is compliant with everything that’s been going on. I want people outside of Wisconsin to know that there’s a strong undercurrent of people that are working to get these idiots out of office.”

The project will be released to the public on April 8 online and at High Noon Saloon, where four of the bands will be performing. Before the show, Hostettler spoke to WiG about the project, the recording process, and how this will be helpful to the Milwaukee community and political activism.

For those who aren’t really familiar with the project, can you give me the basic concept of it?

We actually got a lot of inspiration for the project by watching the video series, “Burnt To Shine,” which is a series of live videos shot in several different cities around the country where a number of bands got together in a building that is condemned or due for demolition and they have a limited time frame to go in and set up and play live with no re-dubs and leave with everything documented. So it’s a cool document of that city’s music scene at that time.

Our project was kind of inspired by that, but what we did was we invited a bunch of our friends’ bands from around Wisconsin to come down to Howl Street Studios in Milwaukee, which was kind enough to donate their time and work at the studio for a weekend. Thirteen of the 16 bands on the compilation were able to make it that weekend. We gave each of the 13 bands a block of two hours to come into the studio and bang out a anti-Scott Walker or an anti-Republican song with minimal overdubs. We did vocal and instrument overdubs if the band had the time within the two hours. Basically what they could do to record a quality song in that two-hour time span and the process was filmed during the entire thing so we could document it on video. We’ve been trickling out videos of each band leading up to the release, which is a release of a CD and DVD booklet that has lyrics and whatnot.

So that way people can experience the recording process as if they’re in the studios with the bands at that time of the recording, right? 

Definitely. We’ve had a few handheld and a few GoPro cameras set up around the studio. Each video has a unique look and feel to it, but they all capture that recording process of the band performing the song in the studio.

What is the ultimate purpose behind the project?

The main goal, ultimately, was to do something constructive with our outrage aside from making angry Facebook posts (laughs). The monetary goal of it was to raise money for Planned Parenthood and local soup kitchens. The primary goal is to get a creative document out into the world that a group of artists in Wisconsin are really, really upset about what’s been going on with Scott Walker and the Republicans’ policies.

When did the project really come to fruition?

Probably around last February. There was obviously a lot of chitchat about Walker making a presidential run and Tony and I were at a music festival in the Upper Peninsula discussing how irritated we were about everything that’s been going on since 2010 really.

We were also expressing our frustration with Facebook slacktivism. … There are a lot of people that end up taking whatever righteous, justifiable anger they have about what’s going on to wrap it into social media. They’ll rant about something and hit “share” and then that has dissipated their anger and they go about their day, but it doesn’t really help or solve anything. Our thought was, “Well, neither of us are super outgoing in a way that (we can) phone bank or anything for a particular candidate. So the best use of our energy is to put a creative thing out into the world that can possibly raise money for some of the people that have been most affected by these policies.

One of the coolest things about this project is that the proceeds will be going towards Planned Parenthood and local soup kitchens. What has the response been from those organizations? Has Planned Parenthood or any other group commented on the project?

They have not and that’s okay. We have reached out to their promotion department to give them a heads up and we wanted to kind of get their permission or their blessing. Since we’ve never done a project like this before, I didn’t know if we needed their okay to specifically say anything about them while we’re doing it. I actually did not get any response from them.

Based on that, we’re just going to go ahead and once we’ve gone through selling a number of these and playing shows and raising money that way, we’ll cut them a check and be ready to go. There was one specific soup kitchen that I reached out to that did get back to me and they were very enthusiastic and very grateful but asked us if we could not use their name because as a nonprofit, they keep themselves non-partisan in order to not alienate any potential donors.

Do you think that’s one of the reasons Planned Parenthood hasn’t responded?

I’d imagine it’s hard for them to remain non-partisan since they’re such a lightning rod. Really, Planned Parenthood should be non-partisan. There should be nobody in the state or anywhere else that looks at providing quality healthcare to low-income women in any given area that should be something that anyone on either side of the aisle should get behind.

Has the project been met with any criticism?

Nothing that we’ve seen yet. To be honest, I don’t know if we’ll get much of an acknowledgement from the right. I fully intend to send one to the Capitol with Scott Walker’s name on it. I want them to know that it exists.

That said, we’re fully aware that in the history of artists and especially bands trying to do something of substance with their art and make a statement, generally the people who disagree with that statement will shrug it off or even laugh it off or be snide like, “Oh, these dumb punk rockers don’t know what they’re talking about. They should just stick to singing.” It’s kind of like the reaction the Dixie Chicks had in the 2000s when they spoke out about George W. Bush. I already know that if anybody from that side responds to this, it’s going to be like that.

What has been the reception so far to the project?

There’s been a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve had a number of bands reach out and ask to be on it. We filled up the number of bands that we could squeeze on probably within the first day of talking about it. We’ve had a decent outpouring of people that have offered to help promote and be part of it. People are stoked so it’ll be interesting to see what their response is once the music is out there.

The music that’s on it is largely punk rock and some metal. It’s stuff that’s not typically thought of as protest music, which I think in the last five years in Wisconsin, most of the protest music has been like that acoustic and folk style, which is fine. But we were definitely motivated to get some locally charged music going through the louder scenes in Wisconsin again.

The Unintimidated album release show will take place at 9:30 p.m. April 8 at High Noon Saloon, 701A E. Washington Ave., Madison. Local bands Venus in Furs, Body Futures, Heavy Hand and Damsel Trash will perform. Tickets are $8. For more information, visit high-noon.com.

Mondo Lucha

The only variety show that blends Mexican lucha libre wrestling with burlesque dancers, sideshow acts and exemplary local musicians returns to Turner Hall Ballroom. Mondo Lucha’s latest Milwaukee visit is sure to offer the usual no-holds-barred fun. Indie rock group Body Futures is listed on the poster as a musical guest, but to figure out which representatives of the wrestling stable will grace the ring, you’ll just have to show up.

At 1040 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $20, and can be purchased at 414-286-3663 or pabsttheater.org.

8 p.m. on Fri., Sept. 5


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