Ladyfest Report #1: Neko Case, Cat Power, Others Draw Hundreds Of Fans

The six-day event features art shows, workshops and concerts by Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile and others.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Women's advocates from all over the world, and scores of artists and musicians — including Neko Case, Holly Golightly and Cat Power — descended upon this small college town this week for Ladyfest 2000, six days of concerts, art shows, workshops, debates and activism.

They're here to bond — and to rock out, of course — as they celebrate women's contributions to culture and take a collective look ahead.

"We want the women who are here, especially the younger girls, to get the sense that they have the power to create change in their communities and in their own lives and to fight corporate oppression and patriarchy," singer/songwriter Sarah Dougher said. Dougher, whose Day One album includes the cut "Hold the Bar" (RealAudio excerpt), was among more than 50 volunteers who put together the inaugural Ladyfest. ( is a sponsor of Ladyfest 2000.)

The festival, which kicked off Tuesday and runs through Sunday, features nighttime showcases of bands with roots in the early-'90s riot-grrrl movement, such as Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile, as well as newer groups spawned by that scene, including the Bangs and the Butchies. Daily activities include workshops on everything from repairing bicycles to playing guitar, art exhibits and discussions of such topics as sexual assault, body image and transgender issues. The festival is being held at various venues in downtown Olympia, a seaport town about 60 miles south of Seattle that has long been a hub for indie-rock fans, labels and festivals.

Seven hundred fans and advocates — predominantly young women — have weeklong passes to the sold-out Ladyfest that grant them access to all the events. That's the maximum number of attendees that festival organizers felt they could accommodate, according to Dougher, who said they easily could have sold another 700 passes if they had had the resources and space.

They Came For All Reasons

Attendees traveled from all over the world. Jamie Isenstein, who came from New York, and Julie Tomas, who came from Paris, are friends using Ladyfest for their own reunion.

"We thought it would be the best place to rendezvous," Isenstein, 25, said.

"And the best bands in the world are playing in just [six] days," Tomas, also 25, added.

Others were more interested in the political aspects of the festival than the opportunity to see their favorite bands perform all in one place.

"When I was growing up, the riot-grrrl movement was the way I came into my political consciousness and learned about liberation and self-determination," 24-year-old Rocio Carlos said while riding in a shuttle bus from the Seattle/Tacoma airport to Olympia. "I want to see the root of it — how I came to be a riot grrrl."

Carlos traveled from Los Angeles with her friend Raquel Gutierrez, who said she was most interested in the panels regarding activism and issues for women of color. "The whole objective is to empower women across the board," Gutierrez said. "They've really tried to cater to every kind of lady."

Ladyfest got under way Tuesday afternoon with workshops on how to play drums and guitar, art exhibits, and panels on domestic violence and body image. The first day's festivities culminated at the Capitol Theatre, with sets by Washington, D.C., rockers Quixotic, the Bangs, Misty Fine former Raincoats singer/bassist Gina Birch and the Butchies.

The Butchies, whose sound ranges from delicate harmonies to aggressive rave-ups, topped the lineup with a set that featured such songs as "It's Over" and "Insult to Injury."

Bands Involved From The Beginning

Among the 55 acts scheduled to perform this week are alt-country singer/songwriter Neko Case, UK garage-rocker Holly Golightly, insurgent country combo Trailer Bride and moody indie-rocker Cat Power. Like Dougher, many of the week's performers were involved in planning the festival, which has been in the works since January.

"We got together and decided to have an event that celebrates the fact that we're still doing this and lots of other girls and women are as well — it's not like there was a year of women in music and then it was over," Dougher said. "Women are a really important force in music and art in our time, and we need to continue to have a really strong feminist voice in that cultural production."

Dougher said she and the other organizers felt that Ladyfest was particularly timely "considering the really intense misogynistic backlash in music right now."

"One of the things we wanted to say with Ladyfest is, 'No, that's not our reality. We need to create a public and a loud voice that is not like 'F--- you guys for being sexist,' but says, 'This is our world and our creation.' "