This Year, It's Ladyfest Times Four

Event spawns spin-offs in other cities after Olympia, Washington, inception; Le Tigre, Amy Ray, Butchies take on Chicago fest.

When the final curtain fell on the first Ladyfest music and activism fair in Olympia, Washington, last August, organizers knew they'd started something exciting.

They just didn't want it to continue in Olympia.

"It's really weird if yearly everyone makes their pilgrimage to Olympia," said Kathleen Hanna, former Bikini Kill frontwoman and singer for lo-fi dance punks Le Tigre, whose From the Desk of Mr. Lady EP includes the activist rant "Get Off the Internet."

Though Hanna was not involved in last year's Ladyfest, Le Tigre are playing Chicago's Ladyfest Midwest, one of several sequel events this year.

Olympians "have done incredible things for years and years and years and years," Hanna said. "But if everyone just moved to Olympia or goes there to get the Ladyfest vibe ... that's doing kind of a disservice to the amazing stuff that goes on everywhere."

Rather than make Ladyfest an annual affair in Olympia, organizers at last year's conference urged women activists to start their own events across the globe. At least four Ladyfests are in the works for 2001.

The first, a four-day happening in Bloomington, Indiana, kicks off Thursday. Then a spate of summer fests kicks off with Ladyfest East in Northampton and Easthampton, Massachusetts, August 2-5. The farthest-flung from the original site, Ladyfest Scotland, is set for August 12-14 in Glasgow, followed by the Chicago event, Aug. 16-19.

Organized and operated entirely by women, the inaugural Ladyfest boasted not only six days of concerts by Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, the Butchies, the Need, the Gossip, Neko Case and Cat Power, but also art openings, film screenings and workshops on everything from sewing to labor organizing to running a PA system, plus discussions on sexual assault and middle school gender socialization.

Many of the folks involved — planners, bands and attendees — had roots in the riot grrrl feminist punk movement of the early '90s.

Chainsaw Records will release a commemorative CD from the event in July.

Meanwhile, April 10 will see the release of Ladyfest East, a double-disc benefit album to raise money for various charities and to help stage the Massachusetts edition of Ladyfest. The 29-song set includes cuts by Lavababy, the Hissyfits and the Trouble Dolls (including MTVi News managing editor Matty Karas), along with Moxiestarpark, whose 28 Days Records is releasing the album.

Seated more than 100 miles west of Boston, Northampton is somewhat off the beaten path of the urban East Coast — and that's the point, said Nancy Scibilia, who with 30 other members of the music committee will choose the bands for Ladyfest East.

"It would have been easier to have it in D.C. or New York City, but New England's great," Scibilia said. "There's a lot of music scenes up there."

Among the musicians already signed on to play Chicago's Ladyfest are Indigo Girl Amy Ray with the Butchies, Bratmobile, the Need, Shannon Wright and Detroit house artist DJ Minx.

"Chicago's very diversified ethnically," said PR coordinator Tammy Cresswell. "We have a lot of Spanish music, a lot of Mexican music, a lot of good country music. So it's a really good place for us to diversify the idea of Ladyfest."

The Windy City festival will also offer mammograms, discussions on women and the death penalty and being raised by gay or lesbian parents, and workshops on four-track recording, guitar maintenance, motorcycle mechanics and kick-boxing.

Organizing so many Ladyfests is "like the difference between being a rampant consumer and being someone who, through the example of others, sees themselves as producers as well," Hanna said. "They're producers of culture. And that is the thing about the Ladyfest in Olympia ... that shows me how successful it f---in' was."