OLYMPIA, Wash. The crowd inside Capitol Theatre was almost motionless as moody indie rocker Cat Power strummed her guitar and sang in her warm, soulful voice Wednesday night, capping the second day of Ladyfest 2000.
All mouths were silent, and all eyes cast on the small woman onstage, whose thick brown hair shielded her face. Half of the predominantly female crowd stood and the other half sat, but they all appeared transfixed. Three young women all heavily pierced and tattooed, with their hair collectively sporting seven colors held hands at the front of the auditorium as they watched.
Shy but charismatic, Cat Power, whose real name is Chan Marshall, moved back and forth from her cathartic punk lullabies and a clever array of covers, ranging from Oasis' "Wonderwall" to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." Yet as her set progressed, she rarely gave more than snippets, often stopping after just one line or verse to complain about the sound or ramble on such topics as the current horror flick "What Lies Beneath" and Mary J. Blige's new hairdo.
But she never lost her audience. To be a concertgoer at Ladyfest means you're paying attention you really are there to hear the performers.
"A lot of times when you see Cat Power at a club, people talk through the whole set," said Carrie Brownstein, one of the festival's organizers and singer/guitarist for hometown rockers Sleater-Kinney. "People were totally fascinated. People here seem really excited that this is happening, like they feel this is something important."
But that doesn't mean the crowd was as still and quiet for every act as they were for Cat Power. During the Butchies' headlining set on opening night Tuesday, concertgoers danced, cheered and sang along to the out-and-proud lesbian trio's melodic punk songs, including such numbers as "Insult to Injury" and "It's Over," from their second album, Population 1975 (1999).
Crowd Comes Alive
"We've played Olympia before, and sometimes [the crowd is] a little afraid to have fun," said drummer Melissa York, who played in the pioneering all-female band Team Dresch with Butchies singer/guitarist Kaia Wilson. "Everybody seemed really pumped and alive and positive."
Ladyfest attendee Kelly Blake, 19, of Seattle attributed the attentive vibe at the concerts to "just the fact that it's almost all girls. There's more of a feeling of community, of a shared experience. And girls are just more respectful than boys."
Fifty-five acts will play the six-day Ladyfest by the time the event winds to a close Sunday afternoon. Many of them are bands with roots in the early-'90s riot-grrrl movement, such as Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile, as well as newer descendents of that scene, including the Bangs and the Butchies.
In addition to concerts, the festival features an array of activities, including art exhibits and performances, films and drag shows. Workshops focus on everything from repairing bicycles to sewing to playing guitar, while group discussions address such topics as harassment, body image and censorship.
But at night Ladyfest is all about the music. The first two nights offered a broad range of musical approaches, from the video and keyboard-enhanced folk-rock of former Raincoats singer Gina Birch, to the straight-up guitar pop of the Bangs, to the bass duo Dos.
Showing The Spirit
Overall, Tuesday night's lineup leaned heavier on the rock side, while Wednesday's showcase offered more stripped-down acts, including the guitar-vocal duo the Softies and Dos, featuring former Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt and his ex-wife, Black Flag alum Kira Roessler.
An intensely physical player, Roessler hopped around the stage as she provided the rhythm foundation, while Watt handled the melodies and stood still in the background.
"We're really proud to play Ladyfest; me and Kira have really been looking forward to this," Watt said at the end of their set. "Hopefully it gives everybody confidence that the whole world ain't just a-holes."
Brownstein said she hoped that Ladyfest attendees who came in from out of town will take home some of the spirit of the festival.
"Sometimes in Olympia we take for granted what we have here, this kind of atmosphere of creativity and entrepreneurship," she said. "I think when people come from other cities they're kind of surprised to see that people aren't cynical, that people are still enthusiastic about art and music and politics. Hopefully they'll be able to retain some of the spirit and apply it to their communities. Hopefully it doesn't just become nostalgia."