Monday, July 26, 2004
Do you know what was hands-down the most fun of my entire four days away? The drive up and back! Not that I didn't have fun at the National Women's Music Festival, but those five hours traveling from Detroit to Columbus, Ohio on Thursday and the four hours coming home on Sunday with my friends Penny Hackett-Evans, Peg/Sooz Collins and Judy Drylie were absolutely fantastic! Like an extended sleepover, we really let our hair down and talked about things I haven't talked about with my girlfriends since I was 13. Nothing was too personal, too controversial, too politically-incorrect or too silly to be discussed. And we sang and sang and sang. What a kick!
On the journey down, one of our topics of discussion was "What would you like to happen at the festival?" Judy wanted to have fun, Sooz wanted to know that women are working to get Bush out of office, Penny wanted to have a "high" similar to the one she'd had when she first played in the Drumsong Orchestra with Ubaka Hill at Michigan, and I wanted to dance LOTS AND LOTS. In one way or another we each got our wish.
This was a more challenging National Women's Music Festival than usual. It was held at a new location--Ohio State University--and the organizers had been through tough times with three different festival producers in one year. But it was the 30th anniversary of this icon of women's music, and that made it very special. Perhaps the most special moment of the whole weekend was when we learned that every single solitary performer was performing for free as their gift to the festival! And we had some of the most loved and respected performers of women's music and comedy: folks like Ubaka Hill, Alix Olson, Margie Adam, Cris Williamson, Suzanne Westerhoefer, Pamela Means, Tret Fure, Kara Barnard and Wishing Chair, Jamie Anderson, Lisa Koch, Ember Swift, Zoe Lewis, Vickie Shaw and Sister Funk.
For me, there was one serious challenge regarding accessibility. My "handicap-accessible" shower had no hand rails and the built-in seat was so far removed from the shower controls that I had to stand up (when I was soapy) and walk over to get the shower hose while trying to hold onto the wall; I came very close to falling. Ohio State needs to install hand rails in the showers of their accessible dorm rooms, or at least provide a shower chair if they want to stop putting disabled folks at risk.
Part of what made things especially hard was my tendency to compare OSU with Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana where I'd attended my 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th festivals. That university is a national award-winner for its campus-wide accessibility. But except for the dangerous shower situation at OSU, my other accessibility needs were met. Most of the doors had automatic door-openers, including the one to my dorm room. All the restrooms had handicap-accessible stalls and there were curb-cuts on the streets throughout the campus. To be honest, my dorm room was even more comfortable than the ones I'd had at Ball State--it had a sitting room with a couch and desk, a microwave oven and small refrigerator, as well as a separate bedroom with two twin beds.
But having a new venue meant lots of other comparisons were being made as well.
For instance, the cafeteria at Ball State had been excellent, with numerous stations for different types of homecooked food. We'd also had it totally to ourselves, so meal time was an opportunity to meet new people and/or visit with old friends. A real sense of community was formed there. The cafeteria was also the setting for our late-night Goddess Jam concerts and you could always buy snacks, pop, juices, desserts and sandwiches to nibble on while you listened to festi-goers perform.
At Ohio State University, the cafeteria was only open for breakfast, lunch and dinner...and it was full of young people attending cheerleading camps, church missionary programs, cultural exchanges and sports camps. It wasn't air-conditioned and was especially steamy on Thursday. They charged a flat rate for each meal, and many of us had paid for meal cards when we'd sent in our registration. I ended up eating only two dinners and one breakfast there, as the food wasn't especially good, the choices were limited--one vegetarian entree per meal in addition to a nice salad bar--and it was too far off the beaten track to bother with. I ate most of my meals at the food court in the Ohio Union which had lots of good choices and reasonable prices. Unfortunately, though, there was no late-night snacking because the food court closed after dinner. So around midnight on Friday, Penny, Sooz and I found a local diner on High Street across the street from the campus, and shared a falafel sandwich, fried onion rings and Sooz had a donut. It reminded me of going to Tops Drive-In on Lee Highway across from my high school after night football games in the late '50s. Fun!
And, although I wasn't initially enthusiastic about the workshops being offered, I ended up attending several that were most enjoyable, involved wonderful women, and offered me new information and creative ideas.
I attended a Music Reading Made Easy workshop taught by Garbo Seltzer, a superb poetry-writing workshop facilitated by Mary Chi-Whi Kim, two Sacred Circle singing workshops--the first facilitated by Colleen Fitzgerald of Women With Wings (Bangor, Maine), and the second facilitated outside on the lawn by the women from Columbus, Ohio's own Women With Wings West--and two drumming circles facilitated by the incomparable Wahru--a rehearsal of the NWMF DrumChorus, and an amazing late-night drum jam that was graced by bellydancing by Jamie Anderson and by women from Habeeba's Dance of the Arts troupe.
The Sacred Circle singing workshops planted the seed of an idea that I could start such a group here in the Detroit area. When I mentioned the idea to my friends in the car coming home, they were most enthusiastic. It's a pretty simple proposition, actually: I just get the word out to my women's singing groups, open my home once a month (we're thinking of having it from 3-5 PM on the second Sunday of every month starting in October), and have some chants and short songs ready to start us off. I plan to take a tape recorder to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival so I can tape Coco's and Linda's Sacred Song Circle that is held Tuesday-Saturday mornings in the sacred grove. And, of course, each woman who joins us here in Detroit will bring (or compose) her own favorite chants and simple songs. Singing in circle like this, with no sheets of music to get in the way, or need to learn set harmonies (women are invited to create their own harmonies in song circles) helped me see what I've been missing. This is the way I like to sing.
Another gift of the weekend was seeing lots of women whom I've known at festivals over the years. In addition to festi-goers and craftswomen, I enjoyed reconnecting with Jamie Anderson, Wahru, Zoe Lewis, Alix Olson and Pamela Means. Alix surprised me by recognizing me and remembering my name on the Saturday night SheRocks! stage. As she was taking her bows, she grinned and said, "There's Raging Granny Patricia!" Then she, Pamela Means and I had a delightful conversation during the H.I.S. Drag King show later that night. Alix and Pamela are now (July 25-August 1) on tour in Sweden, knocking them dead, I'm sure. I'll be seeing them again on the Night Stage at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in two weeks (on Wednesday, August 11).
I also value new connections I made with young women at the festival. Zoe, Brennen and Eleanor, three high school students, were part of the poetry workshop my friend Penny and I attended on Saturday afternoon. I found them to be talented poets and fearless speakers of truth. When they came up to dance with me at Saturday night's SheRocks! concert, I knew we had successfully bridged the generation gap!
And running into my Michigan festi-friends Amy, Jack and Jennifer was a highlight of the weekend. I'd first met Jack when he was two years old--he's now six--and we'd immediately forged a heart-connection. Maybe it was the digeridoo I played over him that hot August afternoon, the tones of which soothed his rumpled spirits, but maybe it was simply that we were destined to meet. Since Jack turned five, he and his Moms have not been able to attend Michigan--Brother Sun camp would not work for Jack with his multiple needs--but Amy and I have stayed in close touch through emails. I've loved receiving photos of my boy in his baseball uniform, swimming in the pool, and walking--more like running--with his wheeled wallker. In late August Jack and Amy will be coming to the Detroit Metropolitan area for him to partake in a specialized two-week physical rehabilitation program. I anticipate our spending lots of time together.
If I were to choose my favorite concert of the 30th National Women's Music Festival, it would have to be the Saturday night SheRocks! concert that was held from 8-11 PM in the East Ballroom of the Ohio Union. Not only did Pamela Means perform solo with vocals and guitar, but she also teamed up with Alix Olson as Alix performed two poems. The second--a truthtelling one called "Pirates" that articulates all that the Bush administration has brought to our nation and the world in the past four years--reinforced my respect for this young woman who sees it like it is and tells it like a hammer nailed into your heart. They were followed by two bands--Swank with Mary Player from Cleveland and Toronto, and Sister Funk from Connecticut--that had me up on my feet from the first note until the last. Zowie!!! What musicians and what a beat! Mary Player, an older African-American R&B guitarist, positively blew me away.
I gave myself permission to stand out from the crowd whenever I felt called to do so. That meant standing up to dance when so inclined, performing with Wahru's NWMF DrumChorus on Sunday, parking my scooter where I could see--sometimes right under the stage--and scooting up to give a dollar bill to the MC at the H.I.S. Drag King show late Saturday night. I was also perfectly comfortable being hidden from view, as at the Main Stage concerts where the disabled seating was in the last row of Wiegel Auditorium. I liked being up there because I could stand and dance without having to worry about blocking anyone's view. Whether hidden or out in the open, I felt totally free to be myself.
One of Ohio State's advantages over Ball State was having the crafts area right in the middle of things. I was delighted to see that my favorite textile artist, Helen Peterie, was there with her Down Cellar Clothing. I found a new purple/blue jacket to replace the lavender/purple one I'd bought from her three years ago that is now looking pretty worn. My three traveling companions also found great-looking clothes there. Eddie had given me birthday $$ for "non-necessary" purchases, so I also bought a lovely Australian fire opal silver pendant on a chain from Wendy Waugaman of WLW Designs. I tried to find tie-dyed leggings for my friend Rima's 60th birthday, but Willow Moon didn't have any long pants with them. They promised to have a good selection at the Michigan festival. And after seeing Sooz receive an Amazon Empowerment Tarot reading with Chris Rivers, I opted to do the same. It was most interesting, especially when the card I turned up to represent my life right now was Moonwatch, one of the Matriarchal Guides. Chris described it as the most powerful card in the entire deck, and said it meant I was currently at the height of my powers. She said I was destined to be a transformative agent in today's world. As I say, it was interesting.
All in all, it was
a good festival for me. And I definitely got my wish. I doubt
if ANYONE danced more than I did!!!