Thursday, December 31, 2015

Michfest 40: My Voice and Has Anybody Here Seen the Sunshine? (Part 4)

Friday August 7, 2015
I knew this would be a hectic day. I had sound check for Toshi’s set in the morning (why because I was “crashing” her set too), then I was reminded by Nívea that I was scheduled to be part of the artist panel on the WOC tent, so I did that at 11am, only to have to be at the WOC lodge at 12pm to talk to the women with Yaniyah about what they might experience in the lodge, etc. I usually sweat in that lodge, but after the previous day I realized I was good on the sweats for the week. Earlier in the day Holly Near confirmed that I could sing with her on her set (yes “crashing” this set as well), but there was a rehearsal that I needed to try to make later in the day. I thought I could do it all. It seemed possible, well nothing says time like land time. Yes you can make plans, but don’t cling to them. So what had happened was...

Toshi sound check

Yaniyah and I gave our talk and we got everyone set and ready to go into the lodge. There were enough fire keepers and some extra folks to help so I thought we were all good to go. When everyone was in, I stepped out of the area to get to the rest of the things on my list. I was trying to catch Holly’s rehearsal, but things took a little longer than I expected so I missed it. Luckily I ran into her in the Belly Bowl and she was able to give me the talk through. She also told me that Marcelle and Rhiannon were going to be doing a vox/tambourine number during her set! What??!!! I wanted to be down with that so bad, but not even Holly was involved so I surely wasn’t getting in. After our short talk I figured I would catch Mazz’s set on Day Stage before heading back to the lodge. I’m glad I did because it was killing! I was sad to miss Aima the Dreamer and Reina Williams (two of my faves), but I heard both sets from a distance.


After Mazz’s set was over I headed back to the WOC lodge just in time for the third door to be open and some folks were out. As is the way of the lodge on the land, you can come out when the door opens if you need to and go back in if you like. It seemed that the third door was long, intense and hot because Shirley asked the fire keepers to open the West Gate to let the air flow through. I checked on a few women to see if they were going to go back in. Some were staying out and others started to make their way back to the lodge.

Without getting into all the details, when all the women who were going back in the lodge were in, something happened outside of the lodge and I had to then work with one of the women who stayed out to make sure she was OK. Again, without getting into all of it I will say that the entire incident just reinforced for me the kind of feelings that were whirling around on the land that week. The exchange with this woman, while I believe was very healing for her, was so intense that I think the incident contributed to me losing my voice. Yes, on Friday night after I finished with Toshi’s set, which I will tell you about, I lost my voice. I think I lost it because I didn’t speak up about what I felt happened that day at the lodge. I know for some of you reading this you might think that sounds crazy or a least really strange, but let me tell you about energy and the use of your voice vs. stuffing things down. I don’t care what the incident is, if things are going on in your face and you choose not to use your voice, you just may lose it; and if not your voice it will be something. The thing is that on the land everything is amplified, but so much is given to the ground, which helps. My mistake was that I didn’t give anything to the ground or the sky or the water I just kept it and it killed my voice at least for a little while. I know there were also other factors that could have contributed to me losing my voice. The dust out there, the weather that day, all the singing I was doing on other people’s sets that I wasn’t totally prepared for. All of these things could have been a factor, but I tell you I felt my voice leaving me as I walked away from the lodge that day.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not walking away from the lodge ceremony all together. What I mean is that there will still be a lodge in Brooklyn and I will always take the opportunity to be in that ceremony whenever I can. I know how much power is in that circle. I didn’t panic. Well I did panic at first because the last time I lost my voice on the land I didn’t sing for a year and ended up having surgery. So honestly I did panic for a moment, but then my witches showed up and healing began.

On this day I had my final rehearsal with Hanifah and while we were in the rehearsal tent it started to rain like it was nobody’s business. It was at that moment that I started to think about the shows that were going to happen on Acoustic Stage because there is no tent covering there. Cris Williamson and Dance Brigade were scheduled that day and at that time, due to the amount of rain coming down, I figured that they would just cancel the shows on that stage for the day, which would be a bummer, but honestly the rain felt epic.

There are certain places that the Acoustic Stage sound travels, but toward the rehearsal tent is not one of them. So I wouldn’t know until much later that Cris’s show did go on, with workers from the stage standing over the musicians with umbrellas!

Yes hunny! These women held up umbrellas through the whole set. Instruments were covered with clear tarps and the show went on! I heard it was incredible and I’m sad I missed it, but I was glad that those who were willing to brave the rain got a show. Now as for Dance Brigade, they were not able to perform, but as luck would have it they were able to move their show to Saturday in the slot that Ferron was supposed to be in, and she was moved to Saturday night in place of Melissa Ferrick who couldn’t make it due to an injury. Wow! I felt bad for Melissa, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out, but I was glad that Dance Brigade got to do their thing and that Ferron would be headlining Night Stage one last time.

As time went on I could feel my voice slipping away, but I kept it moving. Elvira’s set was great and like Cris, she did it in the rain. The elements were supposed to let up by 8pm, but no dice. It just kept on coming. Sometimes it would slow down, but it surely wasn’t stopping. The duo of Elvira and Pam Parham her sign interpreter is one that I’m going to miss terribly. I hope there is a way for Elvira to take Pam with her wherever she goes. They are artistically made for each other.

Next up was Holly Near my secret girlfriend. No we are not nor have we ever dated, but she’s still my secret girlfriend. LOL. I love this woman so much! When I got on the land this year she was one of the first people I ran into. We talked for a while and that’s when she gave me an 80% invitation to sing on her set. I was praying for the other 20% and I got it. Holly asked me and a few others to sing on a medley of some of her most popular songs, which was wonderful! I wasn’t even mad about not being a part of the tambourine/vox hit because Rhiannon and Marcelle rocked that joint to the hilt! Daaayyyuummm! It rained pretty much through the whole set and people stayed. It was wonderful!

{Video: Marcelle & Rhiannon Tambouine/Vox Duo}

Then I stepped off and got ready for Toshi’s set. I asked Toshi before we got to the land if I could sing with her on her set. Why? A couple of weeks before Fest I went to see Big Lovely at Lincoln Center Out of Doors and then maybe a couple of weeks before that I sang with her and an amazing group of singers at Joe’s Pub for the Pete Seeger Sing-a-long. All I knew after both of those events was that I needed to sing with Toshi at Fest this year. So I called ahead and made a reservation so to speak and I’m glad I did because her set was off the chain! I sang with the band on the Pete Seeger song, “Which Side Are You On” and then I sang with them on “Sunshine,” which is one of my favorite Big Lovely songs! I was so amped! I was having a blast and that set went on! As I said, nothing was ending on time and nobody cared. It was pouring and Toshi sang, “Has anybody here seen the sunshine? Keeps shining in the pouring rain!” Perfect! Before the set closed we all left the stage except Toshi who broke out into her song “There and Back Again.” Yes indeed. We were going through.

Toshi in the rain!

Trust me when I tell you that more crying happened! Water on top of water.  I was all up in my feelings for sure after that set. Another day was done. We were that much closer to the end. I really couldn’t believe it. My voice was going and we would soon be leaving too. It was all too much.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Michfest 40: Sweat Lodge, WOC Tent and a Melting Me (Part 3)

Sunday, September 6, 2015
I am on my parents back porch in MA and I can hear the water fountain bubbling, which is attached to the Koi pond that my mother dug herself. I call her the black Martha Stewart. There is a grasshopper trying to write with me or at least he seemed chill enough until he launched headlong my way. Really son? My grandfather is inside asleep. My parents are also inside watching golf. Yes, these are my people. It’s peaceful out here in the yard. I can hear the sounds of nature. I haven’t been here in a while, but my mom asks me if I want to take home some kale so I know the crop from her square garden was good this year. Clearly she managed to keep the deer and other hungry wildlife neighbors out. I am home and thinking about home. Home, the place that will crack you open and you won’t even know what hit you. Home. The place where everyone knows your name, and can lift you up or tear you down with just one look. Home.

Thursday, August 6, 2015
This was supposed to be my chill day. No rehearsals, no set, which meant time to do whatever I wanted to do. I signed up to keep fire at the sweat lodge that morning for the moon lodge with Fyre. I actually wanted to sit the lodge, but I knew we needed morning help. Just to be clear, morning help means that you have to be at the fire and starting to get it going by 5am. So there was no hanging for me on Wednesday night. I had to go right to bed after Night Stage.

Thursday morning I woke up early and got myself down to the lodge. That day I was keeping fire with Sharon and sadly I can’t remember who else, but it could have been Lola or Laura. Anyway, Sharon told me she wanted to go in the lodge that day. I told her that I wanted to as well, but knowing that we needed fire keepers I just opted to sit out. Well we talked about it and decided that she would do two doors and I would do two doors. But somehow it worked out that Sharon was able to sit all four doors and I sat two. Well, let me tell you, those had to be two of the most powerful doors I have sat in a while because afterward I was just a ball of tears. OMG!

When I came out of the lodge, Shirley was coming up from the Womyn of Color (WOC) tent dedication. I heard the African drums coming over the hill and I felt an urge like no other to be near them. So I just rolled down there fresh out of the lodge and ran into my friend Jaz and her wife Shawnta and proceeded to cry like a baby. I came in right at the moment Yaniyah was giving this powerful speech about Lisa who is there in the damn tent! I was done. I mean it was amazing and powerful and necessary and on point and I was a puddle through it all.

When that portion ended, the women who were instrumental in starting the WOC tent were brought up. I know Amoja and I believe Lola (not the one named above) were part of that and sadly I can't remember who else (if you know please let me know and I'll add them), but let me say I could be off about all the names because I was a hot mess at this point so I slipped out the side. I just couldn’t take anymore as the women started drumming again. I dragged myself back up to the lodge, rinsed off, got dressed and headed back out into the world. Not the real world, but to Festiland.

That day on Day Stage was Round Robin with Nedra Johnson, Gretchen Phillips, Holly Near, Marcelle Davies-Lashley and Cris Williamson and then Cocomama. Needless to say I missed both sets because after the lodge I was scheduled for a massage, but not just any old massage, a hot stone massage! Yes hunny, there were hot stones in the woods! So after the massage, even though I was melting, melting, melting, open to the point that someone could probably put a hand through me, I thought it was still a good idea to go see Gina Breedlove at Acoustic Stage. What was I thinking?! Really, what the hell was I thinking???! That woman proceeded to sing the house down and then start speaking in tongues to boot! Now just stop it. Folks didn’t know what hit them that afternoon. Sheeettt! I don’t know what hit me, but what I do know is that after Gina’s set I was damn near inconsolable. Anybody that came near me I could feel all their stuff. I was feeling everybody’s sadness, joy, anger, devastation and even numbness. I was a mess! LOL! I can laugh now, but that day, not so much. I know people that encountered me were probably like, “Whoa!” I was gone baby gone...

Medusa & Gina Breedlove


I wanted to stay for Marga Gomez, but I knew I needed to eat to find my way back to the ground. Also at some point during the day Elizabeth Ziff asked me if I would sing on the BETTY set. Great! But I’m a mess! She had no idea or maybe she did, but either way I had to pull it together.

Night Stage that evening was BETTY, Jill Sobule and Medusa. I really love them all and all my people were playing that night as well. Well, that’s crazy to say cuz all my people were playing every night on every stage, but that night I knew I would be up watching everyone.


I pulled myself together enough to find something to put on for the BETTY set. It was just one song, but that now made two sets I had “crashed.” It was lots of fun to sing with Alyson, Amy, Elizabeth and everyone else who was asked to chime in the “E-I-E-I-O Yo!” chorus. Hey why not? I won’t get this opportunity again, like this, here.

The Mama's Hustle Band

After the BETTY set, I quickly changed back into my “street clothes” to enjoy the rest of the night. Jill and Medusa were amazing as always. I first met Medusa in 1998 while working at VIBE magazine. I was invited to speak on a panel at a hip-hop conference at Oberlin and she was there as one of the musical guests. I had never heard of her before and for that event she came as Medusa and Feline Science. Her DJ then was Dres who has now gone on to take the yoga world by storm. Anyway, ever since that first meeting I have been in love with her style and that final Thursday night on the land she brought it along with Julie Wolf, Vicki Randle, LaFrae Sci, Kofy Brown, Shelley Doty, Judith Casselberry and Tammy Brooks. That set was nothing short of the super power that is the Gangster Pussy she sings about! And with that, another day is done.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Michfest 40: Off Land, Opening Day & a Little Herstory (Part 2)

Tuesday August 4, 2015
In all the years I had been to Fest (this year being my 9th) I had never left the land during the festival at all. It’s not rare for women to go for beer and wine runs, snack runs, or even thrifting for a cool outfit for some special occasion or another on the land. At Fest, you never know when you might be called on and need to look your outdoor fly best. This year I hatched a plan to leave and go hang with the boys for a while. It just so happened that Living Colour was playing with Aerosmith in Grand Rapids and I just knew I had to go. Of course I’ve seen Living Colour many times, but I had never seen Aerosmith! I didn’t know how I was going to get to the show. I didn’t have a car on the land so when I first hatched the plan I didn’t know how it would work, but I needed it to work.

Just a little background in case you are not clear why I could and wanted to make this happen. It’s because Vernon Reid of Living Colour produced my forthcoming record. So this is how I came into tickets with such ease.

One day before Fest, while on the phone with Shirley, she says, “Why don’t you ask Sharon if you can borrow her car?” Now see, this is the thing about Fest and the people there that I need you to understand. In the real world that would have been a crazy idea. Someone driving your car, and you’re out of state, and the venue is at least four hours total there and back and you are not on their insurance? Oh Hell Nah! But in Michigan, Oh Hell Yeah! When I asked Sharon she just said yes. No questions, just yes! I asked her if she wanted to be my plus 1 for the show, but she didn’t want to leave the land at all that week, which I get. So I asked LaFrae and got one more ticket so my friend Allison (my former college roommate who lives in Grand Rapids) could come too! Everything was a go; well kind of. We had to get LaFrae out of one Chix rehearsal, which proved to be much easier than I thought it would be and then we were headed into Area 51. Me in my pink Stetson once again and LaFrae in her 10 gallon hat. Rock n’ Roll Baby!

That night turned out to be pretty amazing! Besides seeing Living Colour and Aeorsmith who were both off the chain, we also got to meet Bret Michaels of Poison! Now that was a surprise! Although Vernon knew we were coming, Will, Doug and Corey (the rest of the band) did not so we surprised them, which was fun! We took some pics in the green room and then headed out to see the Aerosmith show, but not before getting a staggering wave from Joe Perry. Now that was a rock ‘n roll moment! Ha! Crazy.

The Area 51 Crew!
Me & Vernon!

Sadly we didn’t get to meet any of the members of Aeorsmith because the LC crew had to leave early because they had to catch a crazy early flight in the morning, but we still had the best time ever and one of the best seats in the house. But as much fun as I had, I was so happy to be heading back to the land. Everyone seemed real strange out on the world on that day. Area 51 is real. That night energetically felt like the Wild West.

Side Note: On the last night of the tour in Canton, OH, Vernon delivered my girl Kelly Horrigan’s package of a feather and leather armband to Steven Tyler. I may not have gotten a chance to meet him, but that was a big score!

Steven Tyler with his custom Kelly Horrigan Handmade!

Wednesday August 5, 2015: Opening Day
Sounds like baseball in a way. Opening Day. It’s like the Goddess screamed “Play Ball!” and we lined up the batters. But like in all sports there is the pre-season and that time for us is sound check. But not just any sound check, a sound check that takes so song that it damn near ends right before we are called for the show to begin! That’s just how it is and it’s OK. It’s just what it is. It is OK right? LOL. I had missed rehearsal for one of the songs in the Opening due to my LC/Aerosmith jaunt, but I knew I would be able to catch up.

Reina, Teresa, Gina, Nedra, Vicki! Sound check! 
Judith reached out a couple of weeks before about singing “Kind and Generous” by Natalie Merchant along with Gina Breedlove, Teresa Trull and Reina Williams.  Since I didn’t make rehearsal, sound check was my rehearsal. As much as I talk about how long this sound check process is, I’m so glad it happened so I could be ready for it all. For what you ask? Well, when we got to the chorus of the song women started running, walking and rolling out from behind stage with signs saying things like, “Thank You Workers,” “Thank You Nutloaf,” “Thank You Carps,” “Thank You Sweat Lodge,” and the list went on as women danced down the aisles and down the catwalk. What??? Too Much! We go through the song and somehow I don’t break down, but then here comes Staceyann with her damn poem! Damn you Staceyann! {Read "Rebirth for Michfest" by Staceyann Chin} I was doing so good and then the water works. We are all on the side of the stage listening to her, hanging on to every word, and we…were…a…mess! A straight up mess! Ha! I was so glad I heard that piece right then and not only at the opening. Really I would have fell out. When sound check for opening ended I was totally clear on what this week was going to be. Before arriving at Fest I was calling it CryFest 2015 or ManicFest 2015 (because I knew the emotions were going to way up and way down). It lived up to all of those things and maybe more.

Thank You! 

Staceyann Chin!

Read "Rebirth for Michfest" by Staceyann Chin

Yaniyah & Aleah: Love

Opening dress and shoe game! 

The Opening was an OPENING. There was joy and tears and laughter and sobbing and smiles and hiding the face and dancing and broken hearts and new love it was all there. All wrapped into a moment that we knew was the beginning of the end. I heard that Elvira broke down on the Acoustic stage the day before as she realized that it would be her last time hosting there. She called it “Battlestar Acoustica” and we gladly rode the ship. The water works were on, but so was the stuffing down of feelings. The declarations of, “I’m not processing this with anyone this week so don’t even start!” and “I just want to be present and enjoy this,” were abound. I can totally dig that. I didn’t want to spend my whole week breaking things down. I would rather just sit in my denial and be “happy.”

The Opening had its usual flair, but this time it was laced with a huge weight of sadness wrapped in gratitude. At some point I was hugging Hanifah and wiping tears from both our eyes. I wouldn’t be there without her. We came in, while simultaneously on our way out, in a blaze of glory. Elvira said it best when she said, “Thank You Blaze of Glory” and “Fuck you, Blaze of Glory!” That about sums it up. Gratitude.

After the Opening Ceremony, Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie took to the stage. I think this particular set was the beginning of me really thinking about the legacy of this festival. Teresa played at the first festival (along with Linda Tillery [who also produced her album], Holly Near and Meg Christian) and although she hadn’t attended all 40 years it has been part of her life that long. It started to really come into perspective for me what this particular festival has really done for female artists and how it really helped to galvanize an audience for women artists who were outside of the mainstream. Women who were lesbians/queer/feminist, the “Sister Outsider,” who chose to sing or speak the struggles of women, the love of women and the evils of the world. This festival gave them a space. I learned that there were a few other women’s festivals happening around the time that Michfest started. Some were one-offs like Boston and San Diego, but then there were others like Campfest, East Coast Lesbians’ Festival, New England Women’s Music Retreat (NEWMR), Sisterfire, the West Coast Women’s Music and Comedy Festival, Northampton Lesbian Festival, Gulf Coast Women’s Festival, Women’s Jazz Festival, all happening in the 70s and 80s, and of course National Women’s Music Festival (National) that still goes on today. But I’m just gonna go ahead and say that Michigan was different. A little bias? Sure, but it’s my blog so…   Lisa Vogel and her sister Kristie kicked off this crazy venture as teens and it is one that Lisa admittedly said she never thought she would do again after the first year.

Teresa Trull. The beginning and the end.

Teresa and Barbara have been playing together for a long time and their friend Vicki Randle also jumped on the set on bass for a song or two. According to Teresa she has played with Vicki off and on for over 40 years! Now that is a long and enduring friendship. Suddenly it dawned on me. As I was boo-hooing about my own festival loss, I hadn’t really thought about those who grew up there. Teresa, Barbara, Vicki, Toshi, Linda, Connie, Ferron, Judith, Shirley, Amoja (may she rest in power), and the list goes on and on. I hadn’t even reached my 10th year, but what about those who were their 30+, damn even 20+, that is a lifetime of once a year meetings and greetings, love, friendship and intimate relationships that saved lives. Well at least I know it saved mine year after year. Refuge.

Back to the stage, Teresa and Barbara concluded a sweet set with a mix of both of their tunes. I was supposed to be done for the night so I changed out of the dress I wore for Opening and back into my “street clothes.” As I said, I thought I was done till Skip the Needle came on.

For those of you who don’t know this band I urge you to get up on it. The crew is Vicki Randle, Kofy Brown, Shelley Doty and Katie Colpitts. Vicki says it’s her fantasy high school band and I totally understand what she means. Some of you might remember the R&B band Switch, well they were named that because of the fact that they could switch instruments during the show, well this band could probably do that on the instrument front (cuz they all play another instrument besides the one in the band), but instead they are switching up the lead vox from song to song and every single one of them is killin’! Then Kofy had the nerve to come from behind the drum kit and rhyme her ass off! Say what?! As Hanifah would say, 
“Say word!”

Skip the Needle
The Skip show began my run of crashing sets on the Night Stage. I didn’t think it was going to quite go down like that on this set, but Julie Wolf (who was sitting in with Skip) brought me on stage with her and I can’t say no to Julie! I honestly was just going to dance on the side next to her on the keys, but Vicki wasn’t having it. So next thing I know I’m out front with Katie, Vicki and Shelley singing their song “Stand Up.” Of course it wasn’t long before Marcelle was on stage with us and it was a party!

Seeing as how it was Opening Night and the last Fest, all of the sets on Night Stage ran extra long. Really Elvira did her best to drag out the Opening so everything else was behind. But the end of the Skip set was epic with Katie just leaning back into the crowd with her guitar still on and attached to the amp, but seamlessly she took it off and handed it to Shelley just in time to be lifted away by the crowd. Rock AND Roll yo! It was a great official start to the week, but now the real countdown was on. Breathe

The Womyn

Rebirth for Michfest by Staceyann Chin

by Staceyann Chin
[Reprint with permission from artist]
© 2015

When the first Michigan Women’s Music festival
happened/in August/in 1976
the local paper called it
an international gathering of weirdos
imagine that first flood of women
pouring into the deep dark Michigan woods
imagine them finding the courage
to stay on the land despite the angry men
circling the perimeter/the only plan
honk your horn/if there is trouble
call your sister/and she will come
that sisterhood has since grown
into a global jungle/from which we all come
sprouting eagle from Kingston and California
slithering snake-like from Scotland and South Africa
howling wolves from Brooklyn and Bangladesh
no matter where we spring from
we have never had any doubt/this place would be here
next August/to recharge us/for the year ahead
in our heart we could not conceive
of the final closing of these gates
and now/as we attempt to say farewell
the center of me is sobbing oceans
my heart broken open/my chest/cracking raw
my ribcage/collapsing
because I will never be here again/like this
on this holy ground
these eyes of mine will never see my daughter
in this place at thirteen/or thirty-three/like me
she will never see it/as I have seen it
open/sky/naked spirits/Amazon women
dancing/round red fires of sticks/and stones
taking back the imprisoned bones of ourselves
and finding new freedoms here
in communion/we mourn this bitter end
each of us/trying to remember/that life is a series of cycles
as old as the moon/as expected as the first coming of blood
we who believe in rebirth/see this period of rest
as only a practice test designed
to help us r/evolve in these complicated times
I ask you to remember that we are trained
in the tradition of doing things/they say cannot be done
I beg you to look again
to the determination of the generation
who built this pussy-centered city
with no fucking internet
no kick-starter campaign/no social media
no legal recognition of the right
to love whomever we fucking choose
those Amazons from that era gave birth to abortion rights
and the equal rights amendment
and rape-crisis centers
and women's shelters
that movement laid the groundwork
for decriminalizing the entire LGBTQIA-BCDEFG identity
forty years after that first gathering of weirdos/we are still here
because Michfest has always been about more than just music
it has remained a light/at the end of a yearlong tunnel
it has been a promise that has kept so many of us going
in return/so many of us/have tried so hard to keep it going
over the years/we have persisted in coming
insisted on defying the odds
year after economically challenged year
every August/for one week/we orchestrate
this neurotic amalgamation of tarp
and bug spray
and tofu
and Tupperware
this single-minded, slick-wet celebration of flashlights
and foam
these flooded sleeping quarters
these fucking RVs and second-hand Subarus
these butch parades and sweat lodges
is about knowing/with everything in us
that being called a girl/is not a fucking insult
under these Sapphic stars
it’s the highest form of compliment
this place has been a celebration of our girlhood
a recognition of the magic of surviving womanhood
it has always been an open invitation to those of us
existing outside the confines of gender-binary limitations
this place is an homage
to the bra-burning/radical feminists of the nineteen-seventies
they believed they could/not only pick a fight against
racists/sexist/homophobic motherfuckers
but/they believed they could also fucking win
we are still fighting those same battles today
which is why we still need to stand together
against the patriarchy
to stand/to gather
this miraculous gathering of women
is only going down
for an expected cycle of much-needed rest
after all/it has only been four fucking decades
since the young Blood Moon
only 19 years old/with ovaries the size of fucking Saturn
started this shit—radical/feminist/midwife that she has been
she has kept the course for 480 months
Lisa Vogel and the long crew and the short crew
and the cooks from Gals
and artisans from Crafts and the workers at the Night Stage
and the artist on the Acoustic Stage
and the witches from the Womb
and all women stirring the multiple cauldrons
that make up this crazy cavalry
they have been holding down the logistics
of this place of safety for 2,080 weeks
it fitting to acknowledge also
that it has only been 14, 560 days
since you magnificent Michigan festies
have been pushing this impossible rock
up the motherfucking mountain of misogyny
forty years is a very long time/my sisters
as the dust settles on our beloved dirt road
indulge your inconsolable ache
lament/weep/wail/cry all need or want
but know too/the seeds of joy we each planted on this land
will never be dead/instead/the legend of its roots
will grow large inside the heads and hearts
of all of us/who have loved here/and fought here
fucked out loud and without apology here
the memory of it/the spirit of it
will tingle inside the scarred chests
of warriors who survived
breast cancer
and rape
and female castration
and rape
and childhood molestation
and rape
and familial rejection
and rape
and ovarian cancer/and HIV and Aids
and drunken husbands/and human trafficking
and homophobia/and gender-policing
and poverty/and wire hangers
and rape
and rape
and rape again
this year/after we say our final farewell
we will again go home
to stand alongside incarcerated Black men
and undocumented children/and transgender boys/girls
and underpaid women/and all those bodies who remain targets
for the wealthy white bigots who would want everyone
who is not them
enslaved/or deported/or killed
with or without a yearly gathering on this land
we will never stand inside the gender-norms expected of us
we will continue to meet/in tents
in kitchens
in basements
inside convents
and churches
we will keep resisting/and out of this resistance
will come another core assembly of need and opportunity
a door that will push this community to birth itself anew
when it does/it is our duty to be ready
to receive it/every one of us
Lisa/and Judith
and Toshi
and Penny
and Holly
and Elvira
and Thokozani
and Sandy
and Hanifah
after the burning of our holy city
we must do something with this astoundingly beautiful ash
we have to cash in the credit of this place
to race toward a future in which our daughters
and our daughters’ daughters keep demanding
safety for every/body living this planet
this is call for Zuri and Cree
and Maddie
and Ruby
and Zora and Naiobi
this is a call for Zander and Josie and Emerson and Kai
this is a call for you/and you/and you/and me
this call is for all the girls/who grew up here
or came here
or heard about the magic that once existed here
to come together/to continue to fight
to grow up and out/to fucking bloom/and rise
and rise/and rise again
to find our Amazon phoenix spirit/to ascend
in flesh/in truth
let us use this moment to rewind/to reincarnate
to hatch and spawn/new blood
to amplify the ageless power we have all felt here at Michfest
the magic of this place must remain/in each of us
fueling us
protecting us
giving us direction
long after the pain of our present sorrow
is gone

Monday, December 28, 2015

Michfest 40: Long Live the Spirit of Sisterhood (Part 1)

Before we begin…
Please forgive me for any typos that you might see along the way or grammar that might be questionable. I am a self-editor and anyone who edits knows that is no easy task. I will do my best to make corrections after things are posted if need be.  Please read and enjoy.

Amoja ThreeRivers
This post is dedicated to Amoja ThreeRivers. A true trailblazer. May your soul fly free. Thank you for your work and gifts. Keep shining your light on us. Give Thanks!

Saturday, September 5, 2015 
I had a video conference call today. It had nothing to do with Festival and everything to do with my life. How I see things. How I’ve been operating. Do I want to continue to operate as I have been? It was a deep meeting. It was one that I have with myself often, but not so much with others. Well at least not someone who was willing to make an action plan with me. I guess that’s what I’m paying for, but it was more than that. I was on this call with a friend who is also a business/life coach cuz ain’t business my life after all? At least that’s how I feel most days. It’s challenging to draw a line in the sand, but I drew that line this past summer for a bit and it got me up out of my funk, but of course getting out of the mud is just one step. Not falling back in is another.

So today in my real talk/girl talk conference call my friend/coach says to me something that I tell people all the time. Something that I told a woman on the land as I was helping her to navigate what was coming up for her after the sweat lodge. I said, and it was said back to me today, “Go into your sadness. Go there, but don’t stay there. Don’t let it consume you, but go there so you can let it out.” So it is there that I will begin.

I am grieving for real. We are grieving, for real. It's a deep loss and that is when I remembered the five stages of grief. I think there are really more, but the “experts” say there are five:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Personally I would change the order to 1, 3, 2, 4, 5. But you get my point. Grieving is not linear so this blog won’t be either. In fact, this whole year was a lot of things, but linear was not one of them. So I’ll start where it hurts. It was probably one of the most emotional weeks of my life and I was only there for a week! I mean what of the long crew? I can only imagine. So with that I’m dropping in to my grief. Hold on to yourself…

August 10, 2015: Leaving the land
I cried in the van on the way to the airport. Silently I cried. I think only Juanita saw me. At least that’s what I think. I sunk down in the back and held on to my pillow as if it would beam me back into my tent. I was silently sobbing and wishing I could scream or at least wail and moan. It felt like something was being torn from my heart. Do I sound dramatic? Well, I hope I do because I need you to understand that I was and am in mourning. I am also in some deep denial. In fact De’Nile is a river running through my backyard. I’m not sure how far away we were from the land when I started crying. The tears came hard on my pillow. If I didn’t think that the wailing would have resulted in us having to pull over to console me, I really could have gone there. That’s how I left in that moment. Broken.
Upon leaving the land I kept thinking to myself, “Am I really never going to lay eyes on this place again? Really?” It all seemed like a bad dream. I was brokenhearted like losing a loved one or going through an unwanted, but expected breakup. I saw the signs, but I chose to ignore them. My only saving grace on that day was that I knew in a few short days I would see some of my Bay Area people again. I wouldn’t have to wait till next year. Wait…and here comes the sadness again. There is no next year! Damn!
September 5, 2015 (continued...)
I had planned my trip to Cali in my mind this past spring. I didn't have a lot of money at that time, but I did a gig at UC Irvine with Burnt Sugar and two of my people from LA came down to see me. One of my friends who happens to also be my first producer, came to the show and at that moment it clicked that I hadn’t seen his face for real in 5 years! That was way too long. At that moment I knew it was time for a trip. I didn’t know how, but I was going back to Cali and I was going to drive the Pacific Coast Highway.
As my dream trip got closer everything starting to fall into place. I had a place to stay in LA, I had a place in Big Sur, I didn’t know where I would stay in the Bay, but I was on my way to Fest so I knew that would remedy itself quickly and it did. I got so many offers of housing that I couldn’t even stay at all the places. I was going to Cali and it would be sweet re-entry relief.

Monday, August 3, 2015: Arrival
The morning that I headed to the airport I grabbed the pink Stetson that Bone gave me the year before and headed downstairs where my friend Ian was waiting to take me to the airport. We were on time, but then when I got the airport I found out that the flight was delayed. So now I was early, but still on my way.
At the gate I ran into Marie who is one of my lodge sisters. She was already posted up so I took a seat across from her and we caught up a bit. Then a while later, LaFrae walks up cool as usual. Clearly she knew about the delay. Well, looks like the morning gang is all here.

After about an extra hour wait, we were off. As we flew I was excited about being on my way to Fest and away from all the madness in New York. It was getting dark in my spirit. I needed some light and quick! I could always count on knowing that no matter what the year threw my way, there was always Michigan. If the year sucked I knew in August, there would be a bright side. If the year was bright then at Fest it would be super sun-shiny! That’s just how it always went. The ugly was minimized and the great was maximized. It was magic.
We landed in Grand Rapids, rounded up our things, LaFrae and I piled in the van with Qween and a couple of other women whose names I sadly can’t remember. It was so great to talk to Qween for a while on the way there. I know how things go at Fest and sometimes you never see folks long enough again to have a real good sit down, but that’s only because we are all working and there are so many people to sit down and talk to. Also when I’m at Fest I try and find some me time in all of it since we are out in nature, but honestly, like I tell everyone, Michfest is work. It’s not a vacation. It’s the best work ever, but it’s still work.
After a short ride in the van (about 2 hours or so) we arrive on the land, well we arrive at the road to the land and the line down the road is crazy! Now let me break this down for you. I usually arrive on Monday, but I have only seen the line to get in once and that’s when we drove in 2009. There is a road that leads to the festival gate and it’s about 3 miles long. The first time I saw the line it might have been a mile or two down the road, which was amazing to see in and of itself, but this year was bananas! The line was not just at the end of the road it was around the corner. I later found out that it was about 7 or 8 miles long! It was beautiful! I knew that the 40th was going to bring folks out of the woodwork and new folks who had never been, but wow! It was a sight to behold and I just loved seeing every bit that I could. My excitement for the line has never waned, but to be fair I have never had to wait in it. When artists and presenters come in they can bypass the line and go straight to the gate. It’s like Pre-TSA if you will. So to be fair my love for the line may not be shared by others who have to wait on it, but it still brings me joy.

As artists, we always go to the front gate first, refuel and van, maybe drop a couple of folks off, and then head to the back gate. This is the other road to get us to Central Heating, which is the performer support/workerville area. One of the best moments of getting out of the van at Central Heating is opening up the van door and seeing Penny or B.E. or Diana or Thokozani or Mariasha (who was back again after a few years absence) or any one of our fab sisters greeting you upon your exit from the van. You can always guarantee there will be faces you haven’t seen in a year sitting there seeming like they are waiting just for you. This year was no exception. We rolled in to see Staceyann, Elvira, Penny, Bunty and Lisa! Soon after LaFrae and I got out of the van and started pulling our things together to check in we were soon greeted by one of our favorite people, Vicki! Everything was so, so, so good. Immediately I felt better. “Welcome Home!”

Happy People!

I don’t really know how to convey to you how real that home is or how true that statement is. Welcome home. It’s not just some fake ass greeting that we throw around when we get to the land. We are home. Wonder Woman, the first Amazon I ever knew and loved, made her home on Paradise Island, but here the home of the Amazons is Michigan.

After all the greetings, I got my packet with my rehearsal schedule, 40th program book and calendar, put my stuff on a cart and headed to my home in the woods for the week. Funny enough my tent number was 51 This is only funny because last year Elvira started calling the outside world “Area 51.” No truer words have been spoken, but this year my Area 51 was inside the boundaries of the home.
When I got all my stuff into the tent that is when I started to take it all in. Was this the last time I would sleep out here? INSIDE VOICE: Oh no! No tears yet! I pulled them back, pulled it together and opened up the calendar. I started looking at the pictures that are always beautiful, but this year was even more special as they mixed black and white photos from early Fests with more recent pics. I was just flipping through as usual when all of sudden I realized there were dates missing. Dates of when submissions were due and I couldn’t find Fern Appreciation Day and then I just lost it. I just lost it right there in my tent. What do you mean I can’t submit for next year? Really? INSIDE VOICE: Really. Take a breath. Pull yourself together girl. Wipe your tears and go outside and play. OK. Pulling it. Leaving the tent. Going out to play.