Michigan Womyn's Music Festival
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|Michigan Womyn's Music Festival|
The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, called "the Original Womyn's Woodstock"  and often referred to as MWMF or Michfest, was an international feminist music festival held every August from 1976 to 2015 in Oceana County, Michigan, USA, near Hart Township, in a small wooded area known as "The Land." The event was completely built, staffed, run and attended by women. The 40th Festival, in August 2015, was the last one. The Festival, throughout its 40-year history, occupied a central and powerful place in lesbian history, embracing and creating space for the vast diversity of female experience, or as Bonnie Morris described it: “an entire city run by and for lesbian feminists."
Controversy about the festival's intention to only be a space for cisgender females led to protests by trans women and a boycott of the Festival by the LGBT civil rights advocacy group Equality Michigan, which was later joined by the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.
America's first "women's music festivals" began appearing in the early 1970s, starting with day festivals at the Sacramento State and San Diego State University campuses, the Midwest Women's Festival held in Missouri, the Boston Women's Music Festival, and the National Women's Music Festival at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. These first regional women-only events exposed audiences to feminist and openly lesbian artists, most of whom operated independently of the mainstream recording industry. Festival gatherings offered an alternative to urban bars, coffeehouses and protest marches, which were some of the few opportunities for lesbians to meet one another in the early 1970s. The feminist separatism of the spaces was a direct outgrowth of and solidarity with the activism created by black power and other racial solidarity movements.
Foundation and early years
As a private, women-only camping event, the Michigan festival was founded in 1976 by 19-year-old Lisa Vogel, who, with sister Kristie Vogel and friend Mary Kindig, planned an event along the lines of the recent Boston Women's Music Festival and the Midwest Women's Festival.
In 1982 the festival, then in its seventh year, moved to its present 650-acre location near Hart, Michigan, attracting the largest audience to date (upwards of 8,000 campers.) Gradually, the festival added an acoustic stage (and an August night open mic stage) in addition to day stage and night stage programming. After much discussion, cement-paved walkways were added to ease women with mobility challenges and baby strollers. Barbara "Boo" Price became Lisa Vogel's business partner after the 1985 festival and was increasingly involved with production until the two parted ways in 1994, during a decade which saw many unique challenges to the festival—including the production of a 10th anniversary double album in 1985; the growth of the festival to five days (with new intensive workshops) by 1986; the extraordinary thunderstorms of the "Harmonic Convergence" year in 1987; an outbreak of shigella in 1988 (the swift handling of which was praised by both local and national health inspectors).
During the 1990s the festival updated structurally and musically to expand styles of stage performance for a new generation of performers, adding a runway to the Night Stage, a mosh pit, and acts including the Indigo Girls and Tribe 8.
Writing from a personal perspective for the Village Voice in fall 1994, festival artist and kitchen worker Gretchen Phillips expressed a nearly universal reaction to her first festival--"I had never seen so many breasts before, so many bare asses, so much damn skin on such a vast terrain. I decided to make that weekend all about studying my body issues"—and went on to include another frequently cited reaction:
"I've always used Mich as a place to charge my batteries for the rest of the year, planning my life around being there in August and learning my lessons, both fun and hard."
Playwright Carolyn Gage later said:
"At Michfest, she can experience a degree of safety that is not available to any woman any time anywhere except at the festival. And what does that mean? It means she achieves a level of relaxation, physical, psychic, cellular, that she had never experienced before. She is free, sisters. She is free. Often for the first time in her life."
Functioning, activities and services
Attendance at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival ranges from 3,000 to 10,000. Women build all of the stages, run the lighting and sound systems, make the trash collection rounds, serve as electricians, mechanics, security, medical and psychological support, cook meals for thousands over open fire pits, provide childcare, and facilitate workshops covering various topics of interest to the attendees, who are referred to as "festies". Hundreds of women spend upwards of a month out on the land building the festival from the ground up because every year the festival is torn down, leaving the land as close to how it was found as possible.
Community decisions are made through worker community meetings where the youngest members of the community are given as much access to participate as the oldest. Community service support includes ASL translation at every performance, mental and physical health care, AA meetings, camping for disabled women, as well as a tent solely for women of color. While men are not allowed at the festival, male children age 4 and under are allowed within the festival. Childcare for girls and boys aged 5 and under is provided by Sprouts, and for 5 and over girls the main venue is "Gaia Girls". There is also a teen circle. Brother Sun Boys Camp is available for boys aged 5 to 10.
Production and performances
The music festival creates the space for performers of all genres to share their music. While many artists have earned mainstream success after their performance at the festival, the festival supports diverse performances. Genres include classical, jazz, folk, hard rock, acoustic, bluegrass and gospel. The festival creates a high-tech production with three stages in a rural outdoor venue. Musicians and artists who played at the festival represented a range of lesbian and womyn's art and music, from Laura Nyro, Hattie Gossett, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Tracy Chapman, Holly Near, Team Dresch, Kathleen Hanna, Tribe 8, Sia, Staceyanne Chin and many more.
Controversy about transgender people
Controversy about the festival's intention to only be a space for cisgender females led to protests by trans women and a boycott of the Festival by the LGBT civil rights advocacy group Equality Michigan, which was later joined by the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBTQ Task Force. In the late 1990s, a protest camp was established in the National Forest across from the festival and called Camp Trans, and, later, Son of Camp Trans. The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival maintained what producer Lisa Vogel referred to as "the intention" that the festival is "a community defined by lesbian culture", with "a focus on the experience of those born female, who've lived their lives subjected to oppression based on the sole fact of their being female". This intention, for the festival to be a place for womyn born womyn, has been criticized by many members of the transgender community, particularly trans women. In August 2014, Vogel issued a statement indicating that:"Again, it is not the inclusion of trans women at Festival that we resist; it is the erasure of the specificity of female experience in the discussion of the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation."
Several trans women attended the festival or worked on crew, including writer Bryn Kelly and writer/attorney Alice Kalafarski. LGBT civil rights advocacy organization Equality Michigan called for a boycott of the festival. Festival organizer Lisa Vogel referred to the boycotts as "McCarthy-era blacklist tactics". Shortly after joining the boycott, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National LGBTQ Task Force withdrew their support (the first and only boycott either organization had joined in their entire history), and the former Executive Director of Equality Michigan, Emily Dievendorf, resigned. Some people in the community of festival-goers responded to the boycotts with online media presentations, including "Myths and The Truth about the Michigan Festival" and "Michfest Matters: Voices from the Land".
Photographer Angela Jimenez spent five years, from 2003 to 2008, documenting the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, specifically focusing on the workers who create the festival each year. Several artists, including Dedemona Burgin and Sara St. Martin Lynne have created videos and other art celebrating the freeing experience of the "Land." These productions specifically detail the experiences of liberation that females feel in escaping male dominated culture and spaces for the Festival. In 2014, a new website was created, compiling stories from women who have attended the festival, about what the festival means to them.
Michfest Half-Way Soirée
For years, women created small gatherings outside of the festival and August in their own local communities, consisting mostly of small house parties and potlucks. After attending a festival in August 2004 and a pre-fest potluck, festie and entrepreneur, Lisa A. Snyder, was inspired to take the gatherings to the next level by creating a party that highlighted pieces of the festival in the middle of New York City. In 2005, she created the very first "Michfest Half-Way Soirée", a party that supported the local Michigan Womyn's Music Festival community, female musicians, and women-owned businesses. The worker community and festie community were encouraged to co-mingle and introduce new "festie virgins" to feel a slice of the festival energy, halfway to August. The benefit, the first of its kind (started by Snyder in New York City) also created buzz about the festival, appearing several times in Time Out New York  and most recently in the February 2011 issue of GO in "The Very Best of New York City Music" section.
In the 2010s, additional locations for the Half-Way to Michfest Parties (sometimes also called Mid-Way Parties or Michfest Half-Way Parties) have begun to pop up across the United States. Known locations include Chicago; San Francisco Bay Area; Portland, Oregon; Boston; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Santa Cruz, California; Syracuse, New York; Long Beach, California; Western Massachusetts; Tampa, Florida; Yellow Springs, Ohio and Bellingham, Washington.
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At Michfest, she can experience a degree of safety that is not available to any woman any time anywhere except at the Festival. And what does that mean? It means she achieves a level of relaxation, physical, psychic, cellular, that she had never experienced before. She is free, sisters. She is free. Often for the first time in her life.
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