as i sit down to try to write out a blog post (or two. or three!) on the sights and sounds of michfest 2012, i’m a little overwhelmed. i don’t really know where to start.
i’ve spent the greater part of the last several days since i’ve been home from working short crew immersed in the music i heard (and some i didn’t, as i wasn’t able to catch all the sets), pouring over artists’ websites, facebook pages and even myspace pages, listening to previews on itunes, amazon.com and spotify, and eventually buying about $50 worth of downloads from various artists. through this process, i even managed to make a mix cd of some of my favorite songs from the artists i liked; it doesn’t feature every artist who played this year, but it’s a good sampling, and ranges from folk to pop to rap to electronic to hard and punk rock. (if you like what you hear, buy their music – support indie artists!)
i wish i did this every year. i guess back in the days when i was a music journalist for a living (i know it’s been less than 2 years since i quit doing that, but it feels like a lifetime ago), i usually managed to get someone (curve or the advocate, mostly) to pay me to do a quickie “review” of michfest, but the word counts were usually so restrictive i could barely even fit in all the names of the bands/artists, much less say anything intelligible about their performances. i don’t think i’ve ever really sat with the music of fest as much as i have this weekend. having done so, i continue to be blown away by the programming prowess of one lisa vogel, michfest producer extraordinaire. this year’s musical programming really was exceptional. stellar, even. i only wish there’d been more women there to experience it.
but of course, the music isn’t all that goes on at michfest, and isn’t the only component to my own personal experience of fest. working takes up a big part of my time while i am there – 8-10 hours a day, in fact – and for me, work is the media tent (pictured above): producing the film program and running tech for the workshops that need a/v. (which this year largely meant powerpoint presentations, although we did also host a wildly popular karaoke intensive, presided over by dr. reverend jimmy bulldagger and tammy gaye maker!) thankfully, it seems my film programming went over fairly well and everything ran smoothly in my area. my sub-crew (shout out to bone, pooh and kari!) rocked it out fairly effortlessly, despite some early-in-the-week stresses with the new-to-me fancy rental projector.
beyond the musical lineup and work, there is of course socializing – at meals, parties, dances, the stages, workshops, the crafts market, and yes, even work. consensus seemed to be that it was a low-key year, with a mellow overall vibe i’m sure aided by the relatively low attendance numbers. the weather was largely cooperative, save for a few days in a row of rain accompanied by cooler temperatures; it was otherwise sunny and not too hot most days of fest, making for an easy camping experience for festival attendees. i made a few new friends, reconnected with one very important old friend (love you e!), and generally had a lovely time getting to spend quality time with those friends who are my festival family. i didn’t fall in love or really even lust (no one was more surprised at this fact than me), but i did share some very sweet moments of deep connection with a few.
however, i would be remiss to not mention the elephant in the room: the deep divide the festival community continues to experience over the trans issue. despite camp trans not managing to get their shit together this year to have a presence across the street from fest, the controversy raged on and the gang-like color war of the last two years re-emerged during opening ceremonies, as huge quantities of red shirts with the words “big up the female” – a quote from the “amazon women” song sung during opening ceremonies, adopted by the supporters of the “womyn born womyn” policy of fest, aka “the intention” – were given out to hundreds of women, resulting in a sea of red in the night stage bowl wednesday night.
i have to say, personally, i was taken aback by this show of red, a color usually associated with anger. it felt angry and defensive. stuck and stubborn. it in no way felt like part of any kind of dialogue. regardless of how i feel personally about the issue, it made my heart hurt for our community that the controversy has devolved to this point, and it definitely all but killed the level of woo i usually feel during opening ceremonies. i did get up and sing and dance along to the “amazon women” song, but i was largely just going through the motions, hoping i would catch the woo. but sadly, i never really did. i did hug and kiss my family of friends and wish them a happy new year, as we do, but inside, my heart was conflicted and sad.
i am not someone who takes a stance in this debate, and you can have your opinions about that or call me out if you wish – but i do truly see where both sides are coming from and i find it impossible to align myself with a “side.” i do feel the plight of trans women and believe they are women too; i personally in no way feel threatened by trans women attending fest. as is often stated during this debate, trans women have always been part of fest, attended fest, even worked fest… and it has never made me personally feel unsafe or taken away from my experience. if the policy changed, i would support it. i would still attend/work fest. and i would welcome our trans sisters. i’m not going to be sporting a “trans women belong here” shirt, but i could not look a trans woman in the eye and tell her she was not welcome on women’s land.
but i also do understand where those who back the “womyn born womyn” policy are coming from, and i am a product of the group-think that came up with that concept. i have enjoyed it and relished it, learned from it and thrived in it. i have become the woman i am because of it. and i understand the continued need for that space that celebrates our shared experience of girlhood. that having been born female, raised as a girl child and having lived adulthood as a woman in this world is a unique experience, uniquely affected by patriarchy. (which is not to say that trans women have not also been horribly affected by patriarchy, but it’s a different experience.) i understand and have seen the emotional and too often physical wounds patriarchy has inflicted on many womyn born womyn. and i have read in horror too many incidents of butch or masculine-presenting women who were born women and still identify as women, who come to fest as the one place they can be themselves and be seen as women, be harassed and questioned about their gender on the land. that is unacceptable.
it is a complicated issue and i find myself agreeing with arguments on both sides. i do think nedra johnson perhaps said it best: i don’t have her exact words, but it was something to the effect of, perhaps those of you who support trans inclusion, don’t feel threatened by it, could consider yourselves more healed… that those of us who still need this womyn born womyn only space still very much need it to continue our healing. i hear that. and how can i argue with that? (nedra, if you read this, please feel free to correct me if i have misstated what you said – i’m going on memory alone, but your words did resonate with me.)
and so i remain conflicted, unable to choose a “side” or a stance. and frankly, i think the vast majority of women, particularly workers, feel similarly. i think we feel caught between the herstory of why festival was begun in the first place, that celebration and need for women-only space (and herstorically, it has been womyn-born-womyn space, for the most part)… and the evolution of the way we think about gender and sexuality, about femaleness, the reality we live in now where both are thought of much more fluidly than in the past, and where it is much more accessible than in the past for someone to alter their body physically to make it fit what they feel inside. it’s more than just being caught in between 2nd wave and 3rd wave feminism, but it is in part just that. ultimately, i find it impossible to cast judgement in either direction without diminishing someone’s humanity.
and so i also feel a responsibility to try to be one of those who tries to help those on both sides hear each other, see each other, understand each other. it kills me to see us warring like this with each other.
but i don’t know what the answer is.
my biggest fear is that this split will be a contributing factor to the ultimate demise of this place we’ve called home for 37 years now… that i personally have called home for 19 years of my adult life. economic times are tough right now, for everyone, and for all festivals and music productions, much less those having an internal political split that largely falls on generational lines. this year’s attendance was the lowest yet, and the worker to camper ratio as it stands now is unsustainable; next year will mean big cuts. again. is a festival for 2000 (instead of 6-8000 or even 4000) still worth doing? i say yes, but it might not look exactly the same as it has all these years. i feel like we’ve trimmed down as far as we can on crew and infrastructure while keeping the offerings of fest almost exactly the same; in order to have a next year, things might have to look a little different. i’m ok with that, but then, what next? how far can we trim down, how low can the attendance go, before there’s nothing left?
i don’t want michfest to end. i want us as a community to figure it out. work out our differences, somehow come to some sort of compromise, solution, understanding, answer, as we have done in the past with similarly politically hot issues like racism and s/m – though what that is, in terms of this issue, i don’t know. but most of all, i want us to be dialoguing about it, with open hearts, with love, and not anger and defensiveness and knee-jerk reactions. i feel like if we can collectively get back to that place, that best-self place that we all know from experience is what michfest teaches and allows us to be, that we can figure it out. with love and open hearts, anything is possible. i have to believe, sisters.
whew. (deep breath.)
more soon on the music and movies of michfest 2012.