Saturday, January 2, 2016

Michfest 40: The Final Countdown * Chix: The Revolution (Part 6)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015
I’m walking over the Brooklyn Bridge heading home from my sometime-y day gig and I’m on the phone with my girl Po-Hong. We hadn’t talked in a while so walking over the bridge was a good way to get a good long catch up in and take in the scenery. In the midst of the convo in pops Fest and what it has done for us, and how we are in some deep denial about it ending. I started to wax nostalgic about it all when she reminded me that she had only gone twice, but since going her whole life changed. I had gone for 9 years and I can say the exact same thing, but what of the women who grew up there? I mean what of the women who went through their 20s and 30s there? I mention this because when I think about my 20s and 30s and how pivotal a time in my life that was it’s astounding. I mean I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to think about leaving New York. I grew up here. I’ve now lived here longer than the town I was raised in. New York is home.

If you went to the land for the first time in your teens (as was Lisa when she started the damn thing), or in the 20s, that is EVERYTHING. In my 20s there was no stopping me! Everything was doable and I knew it. I was very clear about it even in my uncertainty. I changed how I ate, I started making my own music, I was singing in bands, I started writing music, I was working out and staying out late. Drinking and carrying on hunny, and it was good! Really it was amazing! Everything about that time is amplified and romanticized, but at the time that Festival was started I’m sure it was like a tall glass of ice cold water on a hot ass day! I mean think about it. It’s 1976 and there they were. Creating a world of their own. One that was safe, testosterone free, free of sexism, free of homophobia, free of the stresses of every day life, free to commune among the trees with your sisters. Free! Sound like Utopia right? Well of course it does. But was it Utopia, of course it wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter to make my point here. The point is that these women created a world. They made their own Paradise Island in the woods. They created a safe haven in a world where things were not safe for women in general and lesbians in specific on a daily basis. It was everyone working together. The workers, the artists and the festival-goers. It was that combined energy that made Lisa say she would “never do it again” and then do it 39 more times. How do you say no to that kind of community? How do you turn your back on that deep of an intention? You don’t. You carry on. So again, I am thinking about these women and those who are a part of this legacy. Those who also invested with love (in all the ways it shows up) and sweat equity. Those like Shirley and Juanita and Julie and Myrna and Connie and Jenn and Bob and Sam and Chewy and Falcon and Aleah and Yaniyah and Martha and B.E. and Bonnie and Penny and Ubaka and Pat and Myrna and Deb and Karen and Cassandra and Alyson and Martha and Qween and Terri Lynn and Jill and Kelly and Tory and Sue and Shira and Emily and Felicia and Susan and so on and so on and so on and so on who loved and fought and hugged and kissed and made up and broke up and mended fences and cried and laughed and healed and danced and married and separated and had babies and left all kinds of trouble behind, and worked till they were exhausted and partied the same way, found a way out of no way and protected each other as it were the last days on earth.  Trailblazers. Career breakers. Business owners. I feel like I am rambling on, but I must say this. For me, these women Sweet Honey in the Rock, Linda Tillery, Casselberry-Dupree, Toshi Reagon, Ruthie Foster, Vicki Randle, Karen Williams, Mimi Gonzalez, Marga Gomez, for me, they are the ones. Some I knew about and others I learned about when I got to the land. You can’t be a black girl and not know Sweet Honey, but you can be a black girl and not know about Linda Tillery or Casselberry-Dupree so I learned. I got hip to so many artists I should have known, but did not know at all. I was schooled and I loved every waking and sleeping moment of it under the stars.

Pre-Night Stage love with Cris Williamson

Saturday August 8th (Continued…)
I got myself dressed and ready for Hanifah’s set. I’ve really been into jumpsuits and rompers lately so I found a little number at Mandy no less. I guess they are still “to the rescue.” You gotta be a New Yorker to get that joke, but anyway… I was still being as silent as possible as I prepared to hit the stage. As I said, Hanifah’s set and Chix were the only slots I was originally slated to do so no matter what, I had to make it work for tonight.

Hanifah is always great as usual! The crew for Fest this year was Christelle Durandy on keys & backing vox, DJ Rimarkable on Live & backing vox and me on tambourine, backing vox and shakers. Besides doing joints from her band St. Lo we also kicked into Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling!” Why? The flow of Hanifah’s set in part was about her time at the festival and what it has meant to her over the years. The set was a little emotional because I felt like it was full circle for me. When I first came to Fest 9 years ago I came with Hanifah. For some reason she chose me to be her bassist and honestly she is only one of three people I have ever played bass for besides myself. She will always have a special place in my heart for bringing me to Fest all those years ago.

Hanifah Walidah

I remember that first year thinking to myself that I didn’t know how I was going to get back to Fest, but I had to go back. Lo and behold, Hanifah was asked back two more times in a row for night stage and eventually I was invited to play on Day Stage with my band blaKbüshe!

I got through Hanifah’s set this year with no problem. My voice had worked, but now I needed to shut up again to make it through my songs on Chix Lix. I was just supposed to sing “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, but Toshi asked me to sing with her for Chix and of course I said yes.

Between Hanifah and Chix was Ferron. Talk about beautiful. I was taken back to the first time I saw Ferron on night stage. In 2008 she shared the evening with Bitch and it was magical. Everyone, including me was in tears so you know it was magic. Anyway, this year was no exception. Since it was Saturday night, the last Night Stage ever, people were taking their time and Ferron did the same. She had an amazing set. I was supposed to be chilling just getting my voice together. I was quiet, but I had to see the set. When Ferron finished it was time for the last set of Chix Lix on Night Stage. Already? Already.


I still wasn’t sure about my voice. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to sing the whole song. I was in my head and doing my best to get out of it because that was the only way I was going to make it through the song. As I said, I was singing “Every Woman” with Toshi first and then I got ready for my song. Chix was amazing that night! {SEE Chix Set List w/ Pics}. I mean I have been quite a few Chix and this was up there as one of the best in my book, but what else would it be? As we started to run down the songs it started to really sink in that this was it. This was really it and then I had to take a breath and compose myself again so I could get through.

When my song finally came up I knew I needed to take my time. As most of you know, I am known for wearing heals when I perform, but that night I wanted to feel the catwalk beneath my feet. So I sat on the edge of the stage and talked to the folks while I took off my shoes and then placed them next to Cathleen who was signing for Chix and then I started the song. I have to admit that it was a challenge at first. I was way deep in my head and I didn’t have time to stay there so I had to move into a different space quick. I had dancers that night so it was a big number. As I said, I sang “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, but I changed the words to fit the feeling of the Festival. {READ my Remixed Michfest "Stronger" Lyrics}

Shoes off

After all my panic and concern everything worked out, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was challenging. When I’m performing I do my best to be as present as possible especially in situations like this. I want to remember as much as I can. You might be surprised at how many shows go by that I don’t remember a thing that happened. I needed to remember this. To that end, I do remember some of it. I remember walking down the catwalk and touching hands. I remember being at the end of it with the dancers behind me. I remember hoping that everyone was with me because although I could see in front of me it was dark and I couldn’t see behind me because the dancers were there. I did the best I could. I gave it everything that I had. I gave it all the love I had in me to give. I gave every last piece of myself and that was the best I could do. When I came off stage I was shaking my head and later C.C. asked me why I was doing that. She asked me if I thought I didn’t do well because she said it was amazing. I wasn’t shaking my head because I thought it was bad, but because that was it. Singing that night was challenging and I wanted it to come with a little more ease, but it was what it was and it was yet and still amazing. For the encore the girls came out and sang a medley of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” “Roar,” and “Amazon Womyn” the reboot and they were incredible. Then at the very end of "Amazon" we all came out had to hold on the last “Rise Again!” while we waited for the fireworks display and what a display it was. We’ve had fireworks at Fest in the past; that was nothing new, but it was the last fireworks we would see like that with those womyn in that place. With the fireworks came the waterworks. I can’t remember whose shoulder I cried on mine, but I do remember folks just standing on stage after it was all over. It was a real moment of disbelief about it all. A real, “What do we do now?” moment. I mean we all have lots to do. There is life going on while we are all on this land of ours and everyday it seems like the world is going more and more mad, but really, seriously (said in my best Bob voice), what do we do now?!

Rise Again!

Chix Lix Band: Revolution
I stood with everyone else just looking out over the crowd of women who slowly made their way back to their homes on the land. As I stood and looked to the sky and out over the people I saw these two young girls standing by the side of the stage looking as bewildered as the rest of us. So I walked over to them and asked their names. They said Emily and Emelia (I hope I am correct about the second name). I asked them how old they were and they said 13 and 14. I then asked them how long they had been coming to the festival and they said 13 years and 14 years respectively. So that was their whole life! What lucky girls. Then I asked them, “What are we going to do without summer camp?” Emily said she had no idea. Emelia said she hasn’t processed it all yet. I asked them where they lived. Emily said Minnesota and then just as quick she said, “You can come to my house and do a show. I have a bunk bed and you can sleep there!” At that moment I knew everything was gonna be alright. I asked them if they knew anyone with a farm and they said yes and I told them to find me on Facebook if they were allowed to be on there and let’s get this thing poppin’! It was such a wonderful moment, but really it made me think about all the little girls that had grown up there. It made me remember Ruby and Maddie and Zander and Jiji and Zuri and Cree and Naiobi and add your daughter, granddaughter or niece here.  Summer camp to the Nth degree.

I have been trying to explain to people for years that Michfest is much more than a music festival. It’s much more than the haters, misogynists and purveyors of negative vibrations of the world put out there about it. It was a magic place and although I might have overused the word magic in this post there is not a much better way to break it down.

After Night Stage on Saturday there is a party in the Belly Bowl for the workers. DJ Rimarkable made that joint happen out of her understanding that the workers needed that release at the end of the week. So for the last five years Ri has been bringing the workers a sweet release. But this year the party for me was bitter sweet. I didn’t dance a lot. I just wanted to remember my sisters dancing and singing and having a wonderful time together. Being free and open. It was a sight to behold and one I will hold in my heart for a good long time.

 Fireworks and Waterworks


  1. This was truly a full circle. Part of me just wanted to bring back the original "Fucking Ladies" but was so good to have these brilliant women on stage for this last go round. Love you for this recap! -Hanifah

  2. Wow, those are my kids that you met! Emily, and the blond girl is Elin! They are Fest sisters, who are so lucky to have grown up at Fest.