Tag Archives: Faux Fiction

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]

Faux Fiction is bringing fresh perspective to the scene

Gabby Kartz wasn’t anywhere near the sound of her alt-power pop band Faux Fiction two years ago. True, she was dabbling in music, along with her husband Jason Kartz, but her inclinations were acoustic, not rock ‘n’ roll.

Then, they went to a Queens of the Stone Age concert. Gabby says it was like a switch flipped in her mind.

“After that point, I was like, ‘I kind of should be playing electric guitar and writing rock music instead,” she says.

The couple hit the ground running, building off musical ideas with their guitars in the living room. Shortly after, drummer Paul Tyree came aboard after listening to some of Gabby and Jason’s demos, and he recruited the group’s bassist, Peter Hair. That quartet is now Faux Fiction — named, the couple says, because it just sounded cool.

Two years after its formation, the band has recorded its first full-length album at Howl Street Studios, Staring at the Sun, and will be celebrating that accomplishment with an album release party at Riverwest Public House June 17. Before the show, WiG had the opportunity to chat with Gabby and Jason Kartz about their band name, ’90s inspiration, their upcoming show, and their fresh perspective within the Milwaukee music scene.

Who came up with the name of the band and what’s the meaning behind it?

Gabby Kartz: I really liked the “FF” iteration (and) I really like the word “faux,” so we were trying to figure out a combination of words that both started with F. It seems to work for other well-known bands (laughs). It was kind of just the process of trial and error. We went over a couple different options. I think Paul (Tyree) had suggested Space Tiger as one of the options one time. This was just a collaborative thing like, “Oh yeah. This sounds pretty cool.” It’s funny because it’s kind of a double negative. It makes it kind of fun. I didn’t want anything overly complicated to say or spell or find or anything too serious.

Jason Kartz: It’s a simple and stupid name.

GK: (laughs) Yeah pretty much.

You released your self-produced, self-titled EP in June of last year. What was the experience making that record like and how has the response influenced Staring at the Sun?

GK: The big driver I think for doing it ourselves first was fun. Because it takes a long time to save up to be able to go to a real studio. It just takes a whole chunk of time and money.

JK: We were super impatient and just wanted to get some music out. We ended up doing a seven song EP and we probably could’ve done shorter, but we just wanted to put music out. At that point, we wanted music up to get gigs, start getting our name out, and start playing.

We benefit from having a studio-recorded sound and I think Shane at Howl Street really helped us that. I think he was one of the best people for us locally to work with to help get across what we sound live and I’m really happy with it.

There’s been a resurgence of ’90s-inspired music lately, and you’ve said that you are trying to bring a fresh perspective to that sound, focusing on the alternative power pop influences from that decade. Could you explain that in more detail?  

GK: We have so many influences that we just take bits and pieces from different genres that we like and blend them all together. There’s a lot of indie rock in the city and I feel like there’s a lot of hip-hop that’s really great right now. While they’re both things that I love, I feel like what we’re doing sounds a little bit different. I don’t know if it’s because there’s the mix of the female vocals and all the really thick, fuzzy guitars, so I don’t know if that’s what does it.

If you listen to our album, there’s such a spread of the way the songs sound. It’s not like you listen to it and every song sounds similar. I don’t like keeping our sound in a box. I like the idea that we can explore different genres and sounds and incorporate them into our music. … We decided from the very beginning that whatever we write is what we write. We’re not going to try to steer it in a specific direction.

JK: I think the descriptors we gave were after we decided what the hell we sound like. For me, my main era is the early ‘90s. It’s when Nirvana broke through and when bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam broke through. That was a defining era for me when I was real young. That stuck with me and that’s been engrained in how I play and the kind of music I come up with. It’s kind of funny. There seems to be like a lot touring acts that seem to be throwbacks to grunge or early ‘90s indie rock. I don’t know if this is just the music I’m listening to personally, but I know a lot of female-fronted (band) that kind of have that early ‘90s sound these days.

GK: It’s really cool. I like it.

JK: It’s nothing that we personally did. We just happen to be doing the same thing. We’re just doing the music that we grew up listening to and continue to do that regardless whatever the trends are going to be locally or nationally.


You’ve been gaining momentum over the last couple of years by playing several area festivals. How have the experiences playing at those festivals shaped you as artists?

GK: I think it’s just been cool getting asked to play things because we didn’t really play any festivals (in 2014). It was kind of hard because we didn’t start playing shows until late January of 2015. Nobody really knew who we were and we didn’t have any music available online so it was hard to book gigs and to get on bigger festivals like that when you don’t have any of that stuff available to people.

This year we’ve actually been asked to play some things, which was really unexpected because I still feel like people don’t really know who we are or know what we sound like. All of the festivals that we are currently on, the only one we looked into ourselves was the Milwaukee Punk Fest and that’s in August.

It makes you feel really good when people like your music enough to say, “Hey, I’m booking this event and we want you to be a part of it.” In Milwaukee, sometimes it’s hard to get people to come out to a show, especially when you’re playing pretty frequently in the area. We’ve been trying to pull back from playing Milwaukee so much because even when you got your friends coming out to shows, nobody wants to come see you every single weekend (laughs). When you do a big festival, it just has a natural draw of people.

JK: When you’re playing a show like that, in front of a larger audience … there’s a natural reaction you see when people come and tell you that they really like your music. You can tell it’s coming from a genuine place. If they didn’t like your music, they wouldn’t come up and say anything to you. You wouldn’t see the crowd react. It’s actually kind of flabbergasting when you play some of these shows and people are dancing and moving. It helps us put on a better show (laughs).

Let’s talk about the full-length album. What’s the inspiration behind Staring at the Sun?

GK: Seven of the songs are from the EP that we recorded and we added five additional songs that were previously unrecorded. We were originally thinking of titling the album Good Things. That was the last track that’s on the album. But I think the overall tone of the album is not really reminiscent of good things (laughs).

Sometimes when something’s bothering you, if you can just get it out on a piece of paper and turn it into a song, it just turns that not-so-happy or negative experience into something that you can be excited about because you just wrote this awesome song out of it. But yeah, I think it was just playing around with heavier sounds. Previous to Faux Fiction, I never played an electric guitar. I never owned an amp. I never owned any guitar pedals. … So it was fun exploring all those tones from trying to emulate certain sounds and discovering other ones.

How excited are you to finally be launching this album that you’ve been working on for such a long time?

GK: I’m really excited about it. It’s been a long time coming. … I’m excited we’re playing with two acts we haven’t before ever: The Midwest Beats, who are fantastic, and Myles Coyne, who’s also absolutely fantastic. They really have great sounds to match with ours so we think it’s going to be a really awesome show.

Wom!nz Spot lineup aims to attract diverse audiences

Producer Sarah Tybring aims to bring diversity and excitement to the Wom!nz Spot Lounge and Cafe, the all-women performance space at PrideFest. Tybring and co-producer Terri Meyer have booked a veritable melting pot of acts that are sure to draw an equally varied audience. “We have a little bit of everything,” says Tybring. “We tried to appeal to everybody who might come to our stage. We have so many local artists of great diversity in our community to showcase.”

This year is Meyer’s first as a co-producer, Tybring says, and she’s excited to have her on board. Meyer has a background in performance and a mind for social justice and change, both of which have helped her and Tybring select acts who highlight the importance of diversity, equality, creativity and positivity.

Each day of the festival at the Wom!nz Spot you’ll be sure to encounter something fresh and unique. One featured act on June 10 will be returning duo Mississippi Noir. Vocalist Annabel Lee and drummer Jenna Joanis bring indie and jazz heritage to their act, with a big sound and even bigger personality that you won’t want to miss.

Violin and cello duo Sista Strings will be headlining June 11. Sisters Monique and Chauntee Ross have performed and collaborated around Milwaukee and abroad, opening for such artists as Lupe Fiasco and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. They’ll be among several hip-hop acts and artists performing in sequence Saturday evening. “Their creativity is just unbelievable so I was thrilled to be able to bring them on,” says Tybring. “As the frontrunner of the hip hop show case that evening, they’ll bring such a wonderful blend of orchestral style with a street edge that is danceable and fresh.”

The Wom!nz Spot isn’t just a home for music. Metamorphosis Arts will wow crowds all Saturday with Meta Art Distraction: daring performances on aerial silks, chains and hoops. Tybring says master instructor Kim Anderson created the group to empower women through the arts of pole fitness, dance and yoga. The group will also perform on enormous rigs at the southern end of the festival grounds.

If you’re more into spoken word than sung, there’s plenty of artists devoted to the art of poetry June 12. For Meyers, these artists represent a massive library of social and political knowledge and will also bring self-awareness and body image into the conversation at Wom!nz Spot. “One artist for example will speak to body positivity. Others are very socially aware and have been involved in Black Lives Matter movements in the city, and another that will feature saxophonist Indigo Jade.”

For Tybring and Meyers, PrideFest represents a coming together of the Milwaukee community in a show of awareness, acceptance and forward thought. “Being able to be a part of something that creates community is so important, and to be a part of something that showcases women is also extremely important. We have so much togetherness and unity to create and so Milwaukee’s Pride festival is the perfect event to create safe spaces while supporting so much art,” says Meyers.