Grassroots organizers plan for festival

Ladyfest Philadelphia, an activism, arts and music festival is returning to Philly.

From meeting at each other’s houses in the evenings to designing flyers and reaching out to bands, a handful of Philadelphians are extending themselves past their day jobs in the name of Ladyfest Philadelphia.

Ladyfest Philadelphia is an activism, arts and music festival dedicated to the artistic, organizational and political work of women, transgender, intersex, queer people and their allies. Organizers are currently planning the June 7-9 event to be held at the Rotunda.

From Olympia, Wash., to Chicago to New York, there have been Ladyfests all across the country — including one in Philadelphia 10 years ago.

Organizer Sara Sherr was an attendee of several previous Ladyfests, which inspired her to create her monthly women’s rock performance series called Sugar Town.

When Sherr heard that her friend Grace Ambrose was talking about bringing Ladyfest back to Philly, she was eager to contribute.

“[Ambrose] is someone I’ve known in the music scene for a while, so when I found out she was organizing another Ladyfest, I wanted to get involved again,” Sherr said.

Sherr, a 1992 alumna, and her fellow organizer Kristina Centore said Ladyfest was heavily inspired by the Riot Grrrl movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

“It was women standing up in the punk scene and kind of reacting against the fact that it was more of a boys’ club in music and that girls were just the girlfriends to the bands, so a lot of women started forming their own bands, and playing their own instruments,” Centore said.

Although the movement originated more than 20 years ago, Centore said the ideas of its foremothers are anything but outdated.

“I think a lot of what they were initially reacting against is still relevant today,” Centore said. “Sometimes it can be in more insidious ways and less visible, but it’s still there.”

For Sherr, an example of this made major news in 2012.

“I think women in general are still raising the same questions and seeing the same issues come up,” Sherr said. “On a larger scale, during this past election cycle, you had old Republican men saying ridiculous things about rape.”

Sherr isn’t blind to the often-negative connotation that is attached to the word “feminist.”

“Sometimes women think ‘I don’t want to describe myself as a feminist, we’ve moved past this’ and just be jaded about it when these issues are a real thing,” Sherr said.

When one looks at the big picture, the goals of Riot Grrrl aren’t unlike any other feminist movement, Sherr said.

“I think Riot Grrrl is just one way of being a feminist,” Sherr said. “This is their way of expressing their feminists beliefs — through their music. I think a lot of feminists want pretty much the same things. They are things that I think a lot of human beings want in general, when you look at the big issues.”

Although both Sherr and Centore are active in organizing Ladyfest, they don’t always work together. Although only 20 to 30 people are currently involved, there are about 10 different subcommittees.

Sherr, who has a background in music — she was a 1990s music critic and a promoter — uses her penchant for the scene to scope out artists to put on the Ladyfest bill.

What does Sherr look for when she’s booking bands?

“It’s a combination of things,” Sherr said. “Sugar Town was very much inspired by the music of Ladyfest — very punk focused. You know, something really unusual that you don’t see women doing in mainstream outlets, and I think that’s what Ladyfest is a part of. It’s a combination of bands I like and bands that I think are really pushing boundaries a little bit.”

Appropriate for an event such as Ladyfest, Philly specializes in girl-power acts, Centore said.

“There’s a lot of really great female-fronted bands here in Philadelphia,” Centore said.

Philadelphians won’t have to wait until summer to get a taste of what Ladyfest will have in store. On Jan. 26, Kung Fu Necktie will hold a benefit show for Ladyfest, also celebrating the 12th anniversary of Sugartown.

Hosted by Juliet Hope Wayne, the benefit will feature performances by Radiator Hospital, Bike Crash and Batty, including DJ sets by Grace Ambrose and Shabazz. There will be a $7-$10 sliding scale donation at the door, and the event is 21 and over.

On Feb. 16, The First Annual Galentine’s Cover Band Show will also benefit Ladyfest Philadelphia, featuring cover bands of various girl-fronted bands. The event will also be a launch party for a photozine organized by DIYPHL. Centore is happy to share the fundraiser, she said.

“It’s cool that we’ve found other organizations to partner with us,” Centore said.

Aside from the apt musical talent, the lively arts scene in Philadelphia creates the perfect environment for an event like Ladyfest, said both Centore and Sherr.

“There’s a really great climate here to have people planning things in a grassroots way,” Centore said.

Sherr expressed similar feelings.

“There’s a lot more women involved in the scene than ever before at all different levels,” Sherr said. “The DIY scene is really strong. There’s a lot of different kinds of places to do different kinds of shows that maybe wouldn’t work in a bar space.”

That combined with the still very-present feminist activism makes Sherr optimistic about the festival’s success.

“I think it just makes sense here,” Sherr said. “It’s kind of a perfect storm.”

Jenelle Janci can be reached at

CORRECTION: The Temple News originally misreported the dates of the festival. A Jan. 22, 2013 revision reflects the correct dates. 

1 Comment

  1. This is a FANTASTIC integration of feminist activism, culture, and community-building. And demonstrates how vibrant the feminist and social justice communities are here in Philly. I’ll definitely be recommending it to my students!

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