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THURSDAY, JUNE 21, 2001
The rain was sweet most of the drive from my home in Detroit to the 27th National Women's Music Festival at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Scattered showers crossed my path for 150 miles but the views of Indiana farmland were still lovely out my car window. It wasn't until about 40 miles north of Muncie that it started raining cats and dogs, as my southern mama used to say; but I just slowed down and kept moving. I arrived at 1:30 PM, Central Time.
A gracious security worker named Tracy helped unpack and assemble Ona my scooter. Next came my drum and didgeridoo, windchime walker, my quad cane, a black plastic bag with my pillow--Ed calls it my "pill-pill"--and Nan's crocheted afghan, followed by a small softsided bag with my clothes. We disabled folks don't travel real light, but one thing that helps is I always bring my own dolly to such events.
Registration went smoothly though there was a pretty good line. Then getting set up in my room was a piece of cake with the loving assistance of Access Central volunteers, Jules and Carol. They even moved my car from the unloading area to the parking lot and brought me back the key.
I must say being disabled at women's music festivals can be more of an advantage than a bother. At National, we get air-conditioned dorm rooms with doors that open with the swipe of a card, not to mention front row seats for every concert. At the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, in addition to great performance seating areas, we have our own lines to buy clothing and snacks, as well as our own meal tent with chairs and tables (able-bodied womyn either sit on the ground or bring their beach chairs to meals).
Wouldn't it be great if society as a whole would make such adaptations for its differently-abled members? You know, we could each start by doing something outrageous like inviting a less able-bodied person to cut in front of us in line. Try it; it just might catch on!
After unpacking and calling Eddie, I scooted over to the cafeteria for an early dinner. The food is very tasty at Ball State but my favorite part of mealtimes is the opportunity to meet and talk with new and old friends. This time my new friends were Beverly, Terpie and Bobbi, and my old friends, Jan and Cindy from Detroit and Madeline, a wonderful woman from Columbus, Ohio whom I'd connected with at last year's festival.
You're going to see many such pictures on my festival journal entries. It was the women individually, as couples and in small groups that touched me most deeply.
I knew I was back at National when I started hearing live piano music at dinner. It's become a tradition for Sherry K--our National Women's Music Festival Chorus accompanist--to give us a dinner concert in the cafeteria. I'd first heard Sherry K play her original compositions in Ginni Clemmens's song circle at festival two years ago. Her music was so glorious that I asked her to mail me her brand new CD when it came out that summer. She did and I've loved playing it ever since.
The Mainstage concert starred women's music icons, Holly Near and Cris Williamson. It's always moving to be in an audience of women when these two perform. The energy currents fairly crackle! And it wasn't just Holly and Cris who turned the audience on: there was also a lively latin percussion/vocal duo from Albuquerque, NM called Café Mocha, and the funny Jamie Anderson as MC.
After Mainstage one could either go watch videos at a late-night pajama party in the dorm or attend the NWMF (National Women's Music Festival) Prom. I opted for the latter and enjoyed spending some time with another friend from last year, Heidi. She kindly posed under the rainbow-balloon trellis so I could show you what a prom picture should really look like! For many of the women who may not have been able to be out as lesbians during their high school years, this prom gave them the chance to relive it in a more authentic way.
To me that's one of the great gifts of these women's festivals, that women can be themselves without fear of encountering bigotry or prejudice. It is a place for all women along the heterosexual-to-homosexual continuum, with each person being accepted for themselves. And at National, transgender women are as welcome as everyone else; that alone makes it unique.
I was back to my room
by 12:30 AM. I downloaded the day's digital pictures onto my laptop,
and went gratefully to bed with my alarm set for 7:50 AM. Sleep
was obviously not going to be an important item on my festival
schedule for the weekend.
FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 2001
I don't usually eat breakfast, but by 8:45 AM I was definitely ready for some nourishment. As good as my spicy cheese sauce-covered scrambled eggs tasted, my true nourishment came from the people around me. I joined Madeline and her friends, Jane and Laura Kolb, one of the gifted Mainstage sign interpreters. Now I know what they mean when they say a good breakfast is the best way to start your day. I just don't know if they're referring to the people you share it with; but I am!
I scooted from the cafeteria out onto the front lawn to participate in the annual Opening Circle and Festival Blessing. The circle was cast by first calling in the Four Directions. That was followed by drumming and chanting. The pulsebeat of the drums was held by Wahru, one of the most power-filled performers/workshop facilitators at festival. But I needed to leave early to go to my first NWMF (National Women's Music Festival) Chorus rehearsal.
Joining the Festival Chorus entailed a huge commitment of time and energy. In essence, chorus would be our festival. But for women who love to sing, that was just fine. Actually I'd missed one rehearsal yesterday afternoon because I hadn't read my festival material closely enough. However, that was not a problem as we had four more rehearsals scheduled--not counting a soundcheck--before we opened on the Saturday night Mainstage. Besides, I'd worked with Justina Golden, our director from Northampton, MA, last year and knew her magic in pulling together 30-40 voices in a short amount of time. It was not simply her exceptional musical abilities, but her wit and terrific sense of fun that had brought me back.
In addition to Justina, we had the privilege of being accompanied by Sherry K on piano and Rachel Alexander on cello. And this was before we even started working with the soloists and musicians who were scheduled to perform with us tomorrow night! During our afternoon rehearsal we began to get a clue as to what was coming when the whiz guitarist, Kara Barnard showed up to rehearse "Under The Boardwalk" with the chorus, Rachel on cello and Sherry K on piano. Heather Bishop, our soloist for that number, was there too but had to save her voice for her Friday night Mainstage performance. Actually we'd already figured this was going to be an unusual piece when Justina had the altos holding their noses to sing part of the song! Then Lucie Blue Tremblay, a most original singer/songwriter from Quebec, joined us to rehearse her solo in the haunting Appalachian folk song, "Bright Morning Stars Are Rising".
All of these women--although well-known performers--were delightfully easy to work with. I was especially touched to see Lucie Blue's attempts to get Justina to let her sing her solo an octave lower than it was written. But Justina stayed true to her original vision and was so right in doing so--Lucie's high notes were breathtaking in their clarity and passion.
Lunch offered another treat, and this one came in the form of a very little person named Sarah. Again I joined Madeline--she has great friends!--and met Debra and her daughter Sarah, and Naeemah, a Priestess of Osun in the Yorùbá faith. I especially loved hearing Naeemah's story of 20-month-old Sarah being part of the community recently attending a sister's birthing and how she shook a rattle as the baby was born. We all agreed that Sarah is definitely an old soul. I was honored at how she took to me.
Between lunch and our afternoon rehearsal, I made a quick trip to the Crafts Area. Festivals are where I buy most of my clothes, so was particularly pleased to find one of my favorite artists in attendance. Helen Peterle of Down Cellar Clothing is from Connecticut and, in my estimation, one of the most gifted textile silkscreen artists around. The purple cotton jacket I bought from her two years ago has been my uniform; every time I wear it, someone wants to know where I got it. I used my birthday money well and bought a stunning dress. Are you surprised at the color?
These gatherings of women simply ooze creative talent. As I approached Helen's booth, I ran into Gloria whom I'd sat with at a couple of Mainstage performances in years past. She took the time to show me a small book with photographs of her textile art. Zowie! What amazing stuff. She calls them Gloria's Goddesses, and I can see why.
On my way over to afternoon rehearsal, I passed a drum jam happening at the Café Mocha latin percussion workshop. I stopped and added my didgeridoo to the mix for a short while. Such fun!
After our rehearsal I went back to my room and lay down for a brief rest. The day wasn't over yet. I ate a quick dinner and scooted over to Mainstage. I was delighted to park beside my new friends, Judy and Barbara from Lincoln, Nebraska. And then the housing goddess Susan appeared in all her splendor. This woman has a wonderful sense of style. Every year I look forward to seeing how she transforms the need to wear clothes into such unique statements of art.
After I did not find the
comic sensation Vickie Shaw the least bit funny, I knew it was
time for me give it up and go home to bed. I mean that woman had
everyone else literally screaming with laughter, and I
barely smiled? Enough already. Unhappily, I missed seeing Heather
Bishop's set, but something bigger than my "wants" had
taken over; I was in bed by 10 PM.
SATURDAY, JUNE 23, 2001
I awoke feeling rested and ready to go. Good thing! This was going to be a big, BIG day.
My breakfast was graced by my new friends, Naeemah, Debra and Sarah. Ah, that child has totally captured my heart. But don't you think that would happen to anyone who met her? And what a glorious way to raise a little girl, to bring her to gatherings such as this. She's a fortunate child to have a mother like Debra. I never saw anything but love pass between them.
Soon it was time for our first chorus rehearsal of the day. While we were warming up, I asked my friend Judith to take pictures--1 and 2--of the chorus. By now our numbers were pushing 40. Justina and Sherry K took us through three of our four songs before it was time for us to go to the Emens Auditorium for soundcheck. We arrived in the middle of Lucie Blue Tremblay's soundcheck, and it was great fun to watch it from backstage. That was another perk I experienced because of my disability--the able-bodied members of our chorus waited in the audience seats out front.
I enjoyed watching the inner workings of backstage life, especially the stage crew and complex equipment, like this wall of ropes that operated the curtains. And I want to offer my gratitude to Sandy, a sister chorus member, who helped me through the soundcheck/performance by carrying windchime walker--I was using her onstage--and opening the necessary doors. After her soundcheck, Lucie Blue and her singers, Bobbie and Ruth, took time backstage to review a song. Then it was our turn.
It was eerie to hear this disembodied voice echoing through the darkened auditorium directing us through our soundcheck. I learned about onstage monitors--the small black boxes you see on the floor in front of performers--and how the sound they project is a second or two behind the actual sound being made. When you're singing with other instruments and/or voices, that makes it challenging to stay together. But Justina assured us if we kept our eyes trained on her and did not trust our ears, she'd keep us in time. For a singer like me whose ears are her best teacher, that was a real trick!
After soundcheck, I scooted over to the Crafts Area. In the night, I'd decided I just had to buy another jacket from Helen of Down Cellar Clothing now that I had the opportunity. I also wanted to check in with Merribeth, my beloved didgeridoo teacher. She'd been at lunch when I'd visited the Crafts Area yesterday.
I happily accomplished both tasks--tasks?!?--and scooted back to the dorm for a quick lunch before our afternoon rehearsal. I passed Cindi and the Access Central gang hanging out in front of the dorm. These women make it possible for so many of us differently-abled women to attend this festival; that and the fact that Ball State University is among the most accessible campuses in this country. I sure hope the National Women's Music Festival doesn't go back to Indiana University like they're thinking about doing. IU is a beautiful campus but nowhere near as accessible as BSU.
At lunch I sat with Barbara and Pat. Barbara shared about her life as a career military officer who played percussion first in the WAC band and later in the Army Reserve Band. She's close to retirement now from her post-military job at the Post Office, and she and Pat are looking forward to more time for travel and hanging out together. You know, every single story I heard over this weekend was fascinating. We may think our lives are ordinary, but to someone else they're new and different.
At 2:15 PM, we were back together singing, this time over in the Music Building. Had our numbers swelled or did we just look more impressive spread out in two rows instead of bunched together in four? Judith kindly took two more pictures of the chorus--1 and 2. Soon the Voices of Africa joined us to rehearse "Endangered Species".
What a privilege to sing with this group whom I'd admired onstage here at National two years ago and at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival last August. I'd even been listening to their CD on the drive down here on Thursday. The words and melody they had us singing deeply touched and stayed with me.
We finished rehearsing about 4:00 PM, with our performance call scheduled for 6:15 PM back here in the Music Building (it opens onto backstage). I scooted back to my dorm room, downloaded the day's digital pictures, lay down briefly, then got dressed in my long black skirt and solid color purple shirt, washed my face, brushed my teeth and went off to dinner.
I wasn't feeling particularly nervous, but still thought I'd do well to eat a light supper. One of the ever-helpful Access Central volunteers, Terry, helped me get a salad and take it to the table. I sat with Kassie, another purple-shirted chorus member, and finished my meal pretty quickly. It was now time to get over to the Music Building. All the way over, women were shouting encouragement to me. That's partly why I wasn't nervous; I mean, how can you be nervous when you know there'll be a couple thousand women in the audience wishing you well!
I obviously took no digital pictures myself, but Susan Daniel, the NWMF photographer, kindly emailed me this picture that she took of our NWMF Chorus performance that night. It was a truly wondrous occasion. I have no idea how we actually sounded but I do know we had a terrific time doing it. At the end of our performance, the women in the audience were on their feet shouting and clapping. Such an abundance of love!!
Now, performing was grand but what happened next is what will stay with me for life. We'd been hearing throughout the weekend--and even last year--that the NWMF was in very bad shape financially. Costs have gone up and attendance has been down. There was a huge question as to whether this 27-year icon of women's music would be around to celebrate its 28th year. During Lucie Blue Tremblay's luscious set, she'd committed to go on a Midwestern tour in October with all the proceeds being donated to the National Women's Music Festival. After her set, two women got up and spoke about how much this festival meant to them. One of them, a social worker and mother of three children who is helping to support her elderly mother, held out a check for $200 made out to NWMF, saying this was the best she could do but if she had it, she'd be giving much more.
Now here was the miracle. Joyce, the festival producer and only paid staff member, got up and announced that they would be passing a basket for women to give whatever they could to help the National Women's Music Festival stay alive. It didn't hurt that the basket would be passed by Vickie Shaw, one of the funniest women in the world, and that she'd said folks could shove their $$ down the front of her shirt if they wanted! Joyce was real clear about what they needed: $30,000. And if they collected $25,000, a woman who owned a company in Indianapolis would kick in the final $5,000 to put them at goal.
The women in this audience were not rich. It was not an opera or symphony crowd: these were postal carriers, teachers, UPS drivers, small business owners, social workers, hospice nurses, construction workers, policewomen, single mothers, retirees, you name it. In 15 minutes, Joyce appeared back on stage, tears in her eyes, saying, "I can't believe this! We've just collected $22,000!" While she stood there, someone came up to tell her that now it was up to $25,000! The business owner who'd pledged $5,000 joined Joyce to great applause. The Voices of Africa came back onstage--they'd already finished their set that had had folks dancing in the aisles--and played and sang a celebration song for the community. Women were on their feet dancing, tears streaming down their faces--I was very wet-eyed by then--everyone was clapping and singing. Such a celebration!
And it did not stop there. When I scooted out to the lobby after the show, women were auctioning signed T-shirts, and Jamie Anderson--tonight's bellydancing MC--and Vickie Shaw were out there collecting $$ in most creative ways! Everyone was smiling and laughing, having been brought together and touched by the magic of this dream being manifested so unexpectedly.
Although I'd expected to be utterly exhausted after such a long day, I was bursting with life and energy! I first went to drum with Wahru and Lori at the late night drum jam, and then finished the evening--by now morning--with a sandwich, chips and juice at the Goddess Jam Coffeehouse in the cafeteria. Everyone was still smiling! And it didn't hurt the mood a bit when a group of Coffeehouse, Showcase and Mainstage performers got up to sing and play together.
I was in bed about 2 AM
with a silly smile still plastered to my face and my inner voice
singing about the magic of women!
SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2001
My last morning at festival was spent packing and then arranging with my wonderful helpers, Carol and Jules, to load my car while I went off to the Crafts Area. Merribeth had invited me to come to her booth with my didgeridoo because she had a crystal singing bowl in the key of F, the same key as my didg. She wanted to see how the two sounded together. The answer was glorious!
But before that note sounded, I'd run into an old festie-friend, Dannyn, outside the gymnasium that was housing the Crafts Area. Dannyn and I had hooked up at Wahru's drum jam last night. It was she who had tied my new Nigerian cowbells onto Ona the scooter's handlebar for ease of playing. And here she was whipping out her tape measure to measure my basket because she had an idea for constructing a more perfect cowbell holder that she planned to send me in the mail. Now is this a dyke-thing, or what? I love it! I asked a passerby to capture this moment for all to see. Just one more example of the loving women I am privileged to meet.
And there was more generous-spirited love to come. After Merribeth and Harriet had played their didgeridoo/singing bowl duet, Merribeth asked if I was able to stretch out comfortably on the floor as she wanted to share a special vibrational healing with me. I answered that it was easy for me to get down on the floor, but getting up might take some help. That would be no problem, said she.
Merribeth, the didgeridoo and I go back a few years. She first gave me a didgeridoo healing at the National Women's Music Festival in 1999. I vibrated for hours afterwards! Then last year she did the same thing again. By the way, Merribeth always offers these healings to me freely, with no mention of payment. But last year I was able to do more than simply receive her healing; I was able to buy my own didgeridoo from her with my ever-welcome birthday money. I wanted to share this form of healing with others, even as I healed myself. With the didgeridoo, the vibrations set up equally for the one blowing as for the one being blown upon. A true example of the healer being healed.
I remember scooting all over festival last year with my brand new didg in my lap, blowing it every time I went outside. It takes awhile to get the hang of the loose-lipped style of blowing needed to get that low drone associated with the didgeridoo. But with the encouragement of my sister festie-goers, I was beginning to get the knack by the time I packed up to go home.
At the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival last August I remember two extraordinary times when I used the didgeridoo for the purpose of healing. One was with Jack, a differently-abled boy of 5 who immediately stopped crying when I started blowing the didg near him; the other was a young woman who was 4 months pregnant. As I blew on her belly, she felt the baby move for the first time. Since then I've blown the didgeridoo on friends in San Francisco, at WoMaMu (Women Making Music) camp in the California wine country, and at Carolyn McDade's retreat in Ontario a couple weeks ago.
Merribeth now proposed that we add a new dimension to our usual didgeridoo healing by using what she called the Chi Machine. So we started with my lying stomach-down on blankets on the floor and Merribeth blowing the didgeridoo over my back, legs, arms and head. Then I turned over onto my back and cradled my ankles in the Chi Machine. Merribeth turned it on (it's electric) and I felt my body being rocked sideways back and forth as she began to blow the didgeridoo on me. This must have been quite an interesting sight, but, believe me, I was not aware of that at all; I was merely feeling all that I was feeling. And it was grand.
I was up again--still feeling inner vibrations--and sitting in Ona my scooter when my Detroit friends, Nancy and Judith came by. I wanted to take their picture, especially since Judith had not been in any of the chorus pictures she'd so kindly taken for me on Saturday. And there was one more person I needed to celebrate with a photo before I left the festival: Holly. It was she who had helped me at Mainstage every night as I made the very tight turn on the narrow wooden wheelchair-accessible platform to get myself in position to exit going forwards instead of backwards. So many people had helped me throughout the weekend.
After a quick lunch, I scooted to the Access Central desk, asked Jules and Carol if they could bring my car around, and met them out front. They then most graciously disassembled Ona and packed her away in the car. What would I have done without the help of these two women!
The drive home was easy.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and everything looked lush and green
out my car window. Michigan
along I94 was particularly inviting. I was home in only 4 hours,
happy to see my sweetie.
© 2001 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with proper attribution.