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Preview: FemFest 2016

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Preview: FemFest 2016FemFest has two weekends of workshops and more. Photo by Sultan Atekoja.
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Columbus, like many towns our size and makeup, has a simultaneously very long and very short memory. One of the best ways this manifests itself is in grass-roots festivals that fill a need much of the city didn’t even realize it had. It’s a beautiful thing when artists come together with an audience hungry for exactly what they’re doing. It’s better still when it raises some money for a good cause. And in the best of those cases, that upstart festival immediately becomes an august tradition with its audience clamoring for more.

A handbill for Femfest. Designed by Raeghan the Savage.

A handbill for Femfest. Designed by Raeghan the Savage.

My favorite example of this is the ascendancy of FemFest. FemFest, begun in 2014 (under the name FeMMeFest), enters its third year on Friday, August 12th. I had the privilege of talking about my favorite local festival with Leighanna Wartooth of the festival’s organizers (the others this year are Reaghan the Savage, and Laddan Shoar). I asked about FemFest’s fascinating evolution. How did the animating spark in that first year, counter-programming another festival’s poor choices, turn into something that stands on its own, and what has it evolved into over three years? “Between social media and 24-hour talking head news cycles, causes can appear to go in and out of fashion. By moving forward that first year we wanted to show ourselves and our communities that we were still willing to fight after the headlines faded… There have been a few instances of commentary referencing the ease with which a community can fall into harsh condemnation of a person of color (the aforementioned FMMF performer). We have never actually had an opportunity to say that, being POC ourselves, we were and are well aware of the systemic racism in America that fosters and unfair and unwarranted fear of black men, and unwillingness to contribute to that narrative in any way was something we actually gave heavy consideration. We then moved forward in a way that we felt focused on positives: raising money for charities that focus on anti-violence and survivor support, trying to build shows with more diversity, and then adding workshops for higher knowledge on these important issues.”

The first year focused heavily on the music and, while this year’s lineup is far from a slouch in that department, there’s a deeper focus on workshops, expanding the festival into what Wartooth called a “‘education weekend’ and [a] ‘party weekend’ [to show we] can celebrate each other and learn from each other at the same time. The workshops are a more focused opportunity on the latter.” Kicking off with a perfect mix of the two, on August 12 FemFest will host a community networking and organizing mixer at Brothers Drake titled Get It Together. This mixer aims to bring together community organizers and “civic-minded doers” for an informal happy hour with tunes spun by DJ Lazzarus who’s been tearing up parties like Wyrd Up and #Blackgirlmagic.

The remainder of the education weekend focuses on two diverse workshops at Kafe Kerouac (2250 N High St):

August 13, 2016
1:30-2:30 pm: Beyond Abortion: Reproductive Rights in the Age of the Orange Alert – Sri Thakkilapati, Ph.D., from OSU’s Sociology Department leads this. She’s published papers on the way feminist theory and practice interact with abortion work.
3:00-4:00 pm: How Do We Continue the Political Revolution in Columbus? – Will Petrik from Yes We Can Columbus speaks here about the changing face of organizing and how to get involved.
4:30-5:30pm: Turning the Page: Women, Comics & the Legacy of Jackie Ormes – Caitlin McGurk of OSU’s prestigious Billy Ireland Museum and Cartoon Library and Tracie Santos, a founder of The Circle, which seeks to promote the advancement of female and non-binary comics creators and fans, team up for this workshop. They’ll explore the rich – and still under-discussed – history of women in comics with a particular focus on American comics’ first black woman cartoonist, Jackie Ormes (Torchy Brown, Patty Jo-‘n’ Ginger).

August 14, 2016
1:30 -2:30 pm: The Power of Positive Body Image – This is led by burlesque artist Lana Moy.
3:00-4:00 pm: Breaking the Silence: Intimate Partner Violence in LGBTQIA+ Communities – BRAVO, FemFest’s charity partners (more about them at the conclusion of the article) lead a talk on one of the most vital topics of the festival.
4:30-5:30 pm: Trans Activism: The Struggle for Rights & Dignity and What You Can Do – TransOhio, organized with the mission to serve “Ohio transgender and ally communities by providing services, education, support and advocacy which promotes and improves the health, safety and life experience of the Ohio transgender individual and community,” leads this talk on the burgeoning, necessary topic of trans activism.

Register for any of those free (donation encouraged) workshops at femfest3.com.

The following weekend kicks off with the free (donation supported) Estrogenesis Dance Party taking over Seventh Son on Friday, August 19 from 9:30 pm to 1:30 am. Funke leads off (if I’m reading the lineup correctly) the DJ lineup. Her blends of deep and afro-house skew minimal and organic as they lead the listener on a journey that builds to ecstatic, sweat-drenched crescendos. Check out her mixes on Mixcloud; I particularly recommend the Mumbo Jumbo series. Longtime Columbus favorite Jenny Arcade bats cleanup. If you’ve seen her rock sets at Double Happiness or the Wexner Center’s Off the Grid, you know what kind of a party is in store. She doesn’t have full mixes up, but her SoundCloud should give an inkling of her tastes.

Saturday’s festivities begin with a market at Ace of Cups to showcase local designers. From 11:00 am to 3:00 pm, browse and purchase zines, jewelry, and other locally-made goods while enjoying a fine beverage from one or more of the best bartenders in town.

Ace of Cups heats up later that night with a 13-band extravaganza starting at 5:00 pm for the low price of $10. Wartooth spoke to me about how important it’s been “for some of [their] performers to have a space that is meant for them. As far as new performers, we love to see young people carving out their space in the music scene and any time we see bands challenging the white-dude-with-a-guitar status quo we get really interested.” It’s the strongest, most diverse lineup of talent I can think of in town. Ranging from the crystalline avant-folk of Thunder Thighs to Dana‘s snarling, spacious rock and roll, through Dominique Larue’s hooky, electrifying hip-hop, it’s a true bounty for any music lover in town.

Just in time for the aficionados’ hangovers to subside, the music portion of FemFest comes to a rousing close with a free show (donations suggested) at the new Used Kids location on Summit St starting at 3:00 pm. Five well-chosen bands start with singer-songwriter Sylvie Mix, racking up astonishing buzz on the cusp of starting college and close with Columbus power-pop heroes The Girls! whose show the Saturday of the first FemmeFest left me literally sore from hugging people and sobbing. Cherry Chrome,  whose first EP is setting the right people on fire this year, sporting the best songs of a brand new band I’d heard since, well, The Girls!, are also not to be missed at this day show.

If your ears are done ringing, make sure you save time to stop across the street to Wild Goose Creative for the final event of the fest: Cinema Outsider. Curator Alexis McCrimmons is an organizer of the fest last year and an acclaimed artist herself. Columbus doesn’t have a lot of showcases for experimental film – much respect to Tim Lanza, the Wexner Center, Skylab, and MINT. And even fewer outlets for queer, non-binary, and trans filmmakers, which makes this an even more valuable event for cinephiles in town and a perfect come-down room for the sensory overload of the festival.

The charity beneficiary this year is the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), a founding member of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. In 2016, BRAVO celebrates its 20th year working to “eliminate violence perpetrated on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identification, domestic violence, and sexual assault.” Wartooth advised, “We are really lucky as a city that Columbus has so many people who are willing to donate their time, resources, and performances to good causes all the time. One of our returning performers, Ginny Riot from Raw Pony (playing this year with Ginny and Paul at 5:35 pm on Saturday), has said that the organizations we’re partnered with, Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization and Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence stand on their own as reasons to continue her involvement. I think that’s probably the case for most of our performers. ”

In a late-summer weekend bursting with great options, I can’t recommend anything more highly.

FemFest 3 kicks off with a mixer at Brothers Drake on Friday, August 12 and runs through the weekends of August 12-14 and August 19-21. For a complete list of events and more info, visit femfest3.com.

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