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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 Sound #9

Brett Newski’s latest album arrives Stateside

When I was in my mid-20s I liked to think of myself as a nomad. After college I lived, worked and traveled in Europe for a year before moving to Canada for grad school. The next three years I lived in Montreal, traveled across Canada, and held a writing residency on a farm in Oregon between stints at my parents caring for elderly relatives and in Minneapolis working at my college videography job. My girlfriend recently suggested that I wasn’t a true nomad because I collected possessions, which I continue to store at my parents place.

Brett Newski
Brett Newski

Eau Claire-born/New Berlin-raised musician Brett Newski is the real deal. Since the late 2000s Newski has trekked the globe spreading the DIY rock gospel. With his friend, manager and website designer “The Danimal,” Newski has covered every continent save for Antarctica. As they collect beaucoup frequent flyer miles, Newski has played countless gigs, met a ton of strangers, slept on a variety of couches, and were unfortunately blackmailed in Germany.

Newski, 29, and “Danimal” chronicle their international escapades in the entertaining YouTube series “Crusty Adventures.” This summer Newski launched the One Man Garage Band Tour, literally playing fan garages around the Midwest. Newski also had the honor of opening for Milwaukee icons The Violent Femmes on the West Coast, at First Avenue in Minneapolis, and at Summerfest.

To keep the enterprise afloat Newski has written for various websites, hawked merch, crowdfunded, and exchanged his music wisdom and performances for food, lodging, and transportation. Recently, Newski did a time-honored music tradition; he released a full-length album, the aptly titled Land Air Sea Garage.

Album artwork
Album artwork

Naturally, the 11-track record was written abroad. “A good chunk” was penned two winters ago in South Africa. A few other songs were born while Newski was living in Vietnam, between 2012 and 2014.

“It was partially tracked in the middle of the Sri Lankan jungle, which was wacky,” Newski writes me. “There was a Komodo Dragon walking around camp a few days. Them dudes are dangerous so we had to be careful.”

Land Air Sea Garage sticks to the earnest power-folk that Newski has become known for, while the polished production is a bit of a departure from his DIY aesthetic. The album features some beautiful arrangements and endearing storytelling. Music may be the engine that keeps Newski running, but the journey is just as important. Land Air Sea Garage is a delightful glimpse into Newski’s odyssey. 

A couple weeks ago Newski and company celebrated the release of the record at Cactus Club in Milwaukee.

“There’s always more pressure at hometown shows, even though you have ‘home court advantage,’” writes Newski. “But the show went off smashingly and I couldn’t have hoped for a better night. I love Milwaukee.”

Record release show at Cactus Club.
Record release show at Cactus Club.

On stage: Brett Newski will play the Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton on November 22.

Electronica artist Luxi appears on WMSE’s ‘Local/Live’


When I lived in Canada two female led indie-electro projects topped my musical discoveries: Grimes (Montreal) and Austra (Toronto). Their ethereal, dance-friendly pop sounds continue to be in heavy rotation around my house. Earlier this year, my girlfriend hipped me to a local electronica composer by the name of Luxi (Alexandre Maxine Hill). Her experimental brand of chillwave is not as brazen as Grimes, and Hill doesn’t hit the operatic vocal heights of Austra’s Katie Stelmanis. Still, Luxi has a lot of potential and an impressive catalogue of music under her belt.

Not much has been written about Luxi, who started making music in 2006. Her first official release — [Infinistesma] — is from 2012. Last week she appeared on 91.7 WMSE’s ‘Local/Live’ program for an in-studio performance and interview. What follows are excerpts from her on-air conversation with hosts Erin Wolf and Cal Roach.

On her musical beginnings: “When I was in high school, and even before that, I would record just piano and vocals. Piano was my first instrument. Eventually it evolved when I started wanting to record myself into the computer. I probably started piano classes when I was 5. I was in dance before that. I’ve always been putting myself out there. I begged my parents for lessons and luckily they came through, so thanks mom and dad.”

Luxi at MKE Synth Fest 2016
Luxi at MKE Synth Fest 2016

On her inspiration: “It comes and goes in cycles. This past summer I had a two-month span where I was just writing songs over and over, and I’m not sure where it comes from. It just kind of streams through me. It’s always based on my emotions or whatever is going on. I look inward. I also love finding new artists.”

On her live performance: “I think I’ve definitely gotten more confident. I used to kind of freeze up when I got onstage and I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Now I go out there and have fun. I feel like if you’re having fun it’s always going to be something enjoyable to watch.”

On computers: “I’ve always had an interest in computers. I loved playing games when I was a kid. We had this old PC and you could only get to the games through DOS, so you had to type in the code to open the game. That snowballed into eventually wanting to learn how to design websites. Then I started getting into technical stuff more and that helped the recording.”

On her setup: “I like to sample stuff so it becomes a blend of analog and digital. I’ll sample stuff off of my Nord Electro, which I have at home. I used to have a Roland Gaia, which has unfortunately quit working, but I still have a lot of the sounds sampled off of that. So I try and blend organic and digital sounds together.”

album artwork

On her videos: “I think video production in general is a lot more accessible than it used to be. The cost of all the equipment has gone down and you can get free editing software now. One of my emphases in college was video production. It’s helped meld everything together and I really like the way you can express yourself in that way with visuals.”

On video collaboration: “It’s been mostly me. Recently I did one for a single called “Wandering” with Angelus from LA. Shout out to him. He flew in for a weekend and was looking for a creative project to do and it was just offered to me and I said, “Yes,” which was kind of nerve-wracking because I didn’t have an idea yet. It was pretty awesome. So that one was pretty much the only collab. But it’s been mostly just solo DYI for the videos.”

Luxi at WMSE
Luxi at WMSE

In addition to her music, Luxi has also developed a 3D interactive exploration game on HitRecord.org, an open collaboration production company founded by the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Her latest project — astral memories (p a r a d i s e) — is one of the strongest Milwaukee records of the year. During her appearance on ‘Local/Live’ Luxi premiered the song “Next to You,” which will be on her new album, Geometric Universe. For this upcoming project she has begun to expand her sound and has collaborated with drummer Joshua Jenquin. The album is scheduled to be released in January 2017.

WMSE’s ‘Local/Live’ airs every Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 91.7 FM in Milwaukee and online across the globe at wmse.org.

Vote for the 9th Annual Radio Milwaukee Music Awards

rmmaWhile most of us are emotionally and psychologically exhausted from the 2016 election cycle, there is more voting to be done. That is, if you care to dictate who takes home the Radio Milwaukee Music Awards. I’ve attended the annual awards party the last two years and it’s always a good time. In fact, the 2014 edition was where my girlfriend and I first saw WebsterX perform with what would become New Age Narcissism. There are still three more performers to be announced for this year’s party, but so far the lineup includes Ian Ewing from Noh Life, D’Amato, and NO/NO.

Because 88Nine doesn’t trim the categories down to a manageable number, it can be overwhelming deciding who to crown. For those less familiar with the artists, albums, videos, and songs, perusing the categories is a great entry point into local music. Whether you click to discover new music or vote for your favorites, make sure to do so before November 25. Click here to vote.

Trapo mini-doc & debut album + the return of bliss&alice

Our friends over at Explain News released their first mini-doc this week. The subject is up-and-coming 18-year-old Madison rapper Trapo. Earlier this year Trapo released the 10-track EP She, which made my top 6 Wisconsin hip-hop releases so far this year. His debut 16-track album — The Shade Trees — was released this week. Listen to it by clicking here.

Speaking of up-and-coming rappers, Milwaukee’s enigmatic poet laureate bliss&alice is reemerging after an extended hiatus. The scribe behind 2014’s best Wisconsin hip-hop release — Poetry Volume One – The Shit Talker Tape — recently wiped his Instagram account and began posting peach colored tiles. Three of them have information, including the producer names for each track, the title of each of track, and the release date for what is presumably a new 8-track project. The date is tomorrow, so be on the lookout for what has quickly become one of the year’s most anticipated Wisconsin releases.


THIS WEEKEND — The Fatty Acids and Soul Low prep new albums

Two of Milwaukee’s most beloved “boy bands” perform this Saturday night November 19. Pysch pop rockers The Fatty Acids will headline Club Timbuktu in Riverwest while heavy pop rockers Soul Low will be across the street at High Dive.

Soul Low are coming off the release of their long-awaited and critically-acclaimed sophomore album Nosebleeds. In the intervening time between recording and releasing Nosebleeds the busybody quartet managed to write another record, which they will be recording in the near future. They’ve indicated that they will use the High Dive set this Saturday to run through some of the new material. Also playing this free show is BRENDA (Kentucky) and Soddy Daisy (Chicago). Click here for more info.

The Fatty Acids
The Fatty Acids

Over The Fatty Acids nearly decade-long career the band — founded by Josh Evert and Derek De Vinney — has gone through a few lineup changes. Since putting out 2013’s exquisite Boléro they’ve settled on a stately quartet that includes one of Wisconsin’s finest guitar slingers: Matt Pappas. Their new record — Dogs of Entertainment — is set to be released in early 2017. Having only played a handful of shows this year, Saturday night will be a rare chance to hear some of the new material. Supporting the Fatties last show of 2016 will be their “best friend band” Sat. Nite Duets, Ruby Yacht’s Antilia Raid, and a “SUPER SPECIAL SURPRISE SPECIAL GUEST.” Click here for more info.

More 11/19 WiG recommended events (click text for more info):

Art House Trap at Jazale’s Art Studio w/ Klassik

The Riverwest Sessions: Gauss & Ravi/Lola at Public House

Bum ileum, Chalk, Falling, Hi Suffer at Bremen

Cream City Chiefers w/ Mic Kellogg, Lucien Parker, Rahn Harper at Cactus Club

Sista Strings and [ ] at Company Brewing

The Birthday Party w/ DJ Fox, TMack & Elechronic at The Gig