Mosh Pit Mama

The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival--where this true story happened--is as much a state of consciousness as a place.Imagine a land created entirely by and entirely for womyn, a land where decisions are made by consensus and work is shared equally by each according to her wishes and talents, a land where differences are celebrated and oneness is a reality. No, of course, the Festival does not always live up to these goals, but it comes as close as any community I've ever seen.

By the year 2000, "Michigan"--as it is known--will have been home for a quarter of a century to between 5-10,000 womyn and children from around the world for six days and nights every August. The "Land" is made up of 650 acres of meadows and forests near Hart, a country town in western Michigan, 20 miles from the Great Lake, Michigan. There are no buildings, only tents, that, in deference to the health of land and water, are totally removed after every festival, only to be reinstalled by over a hundred womyn construction workers, electricians and assorted workers every summer.

Days and evenings offer performances by world-class singers, dancers, musicians, poets and theater artists on three sound stages...and hundreds of workshops and intensives are offered for all tastes. It is a world where womyn who love womyn are at home, as are womyn who love men. Clothing or lack of it depends on the weather, and all sizes are considered beautiful. Each womon is expected to work two 4-hour shifts during the week, chosen from services as diverse as those needed in any city in which food must be prepared, garbage collected, wounds healed, newcomers welcomed, children cared for, and security maintained.

 Differently abled womyn, such as myself, are given all the help they need to manage this rustic outdoor life by DART (Differently Abled Resource Team), a collection of staff, volunteers, services, accessible seating areas, special lines, shuttles and the most centrally-located tenting area on the Land.

In attempting to be a place for young and old alike, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival generally schedules music ranging from womyn's, folk, jazz, world, classical, to punk rock. For a number of years, the punk rock performance has included a mosh pit, made up of hardy members of the audience, for daring members to "ride". The pit contains perhaps a hundred womyn packed close together with arms raised overhead. Riders--in 1996 when this story occurred--would prance down the Night Stage runway and jump on their stomachs or backs into a sea of hands that were supposed to carry them safely to the back of the pit. The reality was that perhaps a third were dropped somewhere along the way. Of course, I didn't know that until later! And so my story begins...

It's a warm, dry evening on the Land. Late sun burnishes tree-tops, as the sound of drums and womyn's laughter circles the kitchen tent after dinner. Full of Sloppy Josephines and corn-on-the cob, I report for my Night Stage security work shift.

My supervisor hands me an orange vest and flashlight. "It's the mosh pit tonight," she warns, "so the crowd might get a little rowdy."

I go to the disabled--DART--seating area, set up a chair, and muse out loud to a companion security worker. "You know, I'd like to ride the mosh pit tonight."

I'm surprised to hear these words coming out of my mouth. It's not something I've ever really considered, but, once said, I know it's true: I would like to do it!

Her eyes travel slowly over the connect-the-dot lines on my face, the long white braid slung over my shoulder, the rainbow-collaged cane propped beside my chair. She shakes her head and says, "It's not safe. They drop womyn out there."

"Oh, they wouldn't drop me. But I'm afraid I'll have to let it pass this work shift and all that. Maybe next year."

The Night Stage field is soon carpeted with womyn, children, blankets, coolers and low-slung beach chairs. Frisbees flicker against the Goddess Grove's giant pines. The yellow-striped main stage tent stands ready. Taped music blares through building-sized speakers beside our front-row DART seating area.

8 PM. The performance begins. Womyn's voices sing of life, love, justice and dreams. Drums pound, saxes wail, pianos soar, and I vigilantly wave womyn back who dare to cut in front of my differently abled sisters.

This new moon night takes hold with bright starry fingers as rainbow lights flood the stage. The final act appears.

The minute 7 Year Bitch's raucous rock beat hits the crowd, my area empties out like it sprung a leak. I look around to discover I'm protecting five womyn and myself.

Spotlights illuminate masses of womyn packed together at the edge of the runway...screaming, arms waving like oceans of surf, hands pawing the air, stomping feet raising clouds of dust. On the stage snakes a growing line of womyn, dancing in place.

The mosh pit has begun.

The first womon swaggers seductively to the edge of the runway, gyrates wildly and throws herself headfirst into the pit. She's carried back into darkness.The pit roars like an animal hungry for another morsel. The next tasty bit is thrown, then another and another. This pit's appetite is obviously insatiable!

I turn to a young couple standing beside me, introduce myself and say, "I'd like to ride the mosh pit. Could you help me?"

The womon named Carol replies, "Are you sure? That pit can get pretty rough."

"Yes. I'm ready...let's do it!"

I take off my orange security vest, give it to Carol with the flashlight, and settle her in the chair. As her partner Sue and I start off, we hear, "Better give me your glasses."

The world settles into blur. I feel totally out of control as I let Sue lead me like a guide dog toward the stage. Soon stumbling over people's legs, chairs, blankets, I cling tight to Sue's arm with one hand and my cane with the other.

We reach the stage. I approach a womon in a staff T-shirt who seems to know what's going on. Trying to be funny, I ask, "Is this the DART line for the mosh pit?" She doesn't laugh.

"I want to ride."

She jerks her head to the right and says, "See Jenny over there. It's her show."

Jenny, a large dyke with a voice like a drill sergeant, stands planted by the runway. It's her job to see they don't take off too soon.

"I'm here to ride the pit."

She looks at me, then at my cane. "Oh yeah?"



She lifts me in her arms like a baby, and deposits me at the front of the line.With effort, I push myself up with my cane and precariously stand.

For an instant, I feel invisible.

Suddenly, the mosh pit explodes like fireworks: womyn scream even louder, grinning, waving. A spotlight blinds me. Even 7 Year Bitch goes silent as band members turn and stare.

I raise my cane over my head and pump it twice, feeling like Sylvester Stallone in the movie, "Rocky". The mosh pit is in a frenzy now, yelling encouragement: "Good for you!" "Come on, womon! We'll take care of you!"

With cane as support, I shuffle slowly down the runway. Every ounce of attention is now concentrated on lifting these logs I call legs, while staying balanced and upright. I feel a twinge of discomfort parading my disability in this way, but when I look up from my dragging feet, I'm greeted by shining smiles and waving open arms.

I reach the edge, smile at my sisters, turn around, clutch cane to chest, close my eyes...and lie down.

I'm borne aloft on a sea of upturned hands. Urgent voices beneath me warn, "Be careful now!" "Get your hands up!" "Look at who you're carrying!"

I open my eyes. Stars cover me like a blanket. I giggle in contentment. Like a baby being washed, tender hands move over my body: buttocks, back, legs, arms, head, under my arms, between my legs. I'm surprised by a long-forgotten and complete trust.

It goes on forever. Time has stopped.

A moment comes when I hear, "OK, let her down. Gently, gently now!"

My feet are on the ground, legs rubbery, with no strength. But strong arms hold me up; I couldn't possibly fall. Sue's there crowing, "That looked fabulous, just fabulous!"

From the crowd gathering around me, a young womon comes forward; tears stream down her face. She hugs me, then whispers, "Thank you! You've given me courage. How could I ever be afraid again? All I'll have to do is remember this, remember you."

I am grateful to Jonia Mariechild who joined her version of this story--as experienced from the Festival audience that night--with mine in a performance piece called "Mosh Pit Mama" that we gave for friends at the Way of Joy in Oakland, CA (March 1997), at the Detroit Women's Coffee House (October 1997), and at Q-Spirit's Holiday Party in San Francisco (December 1997).

©1997-9 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.

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