The Virginia Women’s Music Festival Kept Me Warm in the Cool Spring Air
Being assigned to cover the Virginia Women’s Music Festival seemed like the ideal opportunity to escape Richmond. First, the campground was less than an hour away. Second, there will be music which is always a plus. Finally, there would be only women there.
Living, working and going to school in Richmond often makes me forget what fresh air and grassy fields feel like. I enjoy the busy-ness of a city, but sometimes it is nice to get away and relax with some pine trees.
Packing the night before, I thought about the potential environment of an all-women’s festival. It could either be the worst stereotype, with women being incredibly insane and emotional about everything. Or it could be a little sample of how perfect everything would be if women ruled the world. Since I would choose a good horror movie over a romantic comedy, my preference was for the latter scenario.
I left early Saturday morning so I could catch some of the morning performances at the festival. During the drive I listened to Florence & The Machine and some Kim Gordon-led Sonic Youth to get into a girl-power mood. When I finally arrived, I was immediately shocked by how cold it was as I stepped out of my car. My short sleeve shirt was no match for the cloudy and windy conditions. The cold quickly became a running joke for the campers I met who had slept in tents.
Arriving an hour before the performances were scheduled to start, I decided to take a walk and check out the campgrounds. The festival centered around a single main stage, with an area for vendors, a campfire, small kitchen, large fields and a dance pavilion. Secluded camping areas surrounded the main stage, and I came upon a lake which I later learned was entirely women-made.
With a relatively small staff, the VWMF seemed to be very organized. I spoke to Billie Hall, one of the two main coordinators who has worked with CampOut since the beginning.
“We are all friends that run this camp,” said Hall. “It’s a safe welcoming place, and we try to make everyone feel very comfortable.”
After walking around, I grabbed a lawn-chair and shivered until the first performers took the stage. Most of the morning acts were acoustic, and the group that stuck out the most was Indigie Femme. The duo is composed of Elena Higgins, a New Zealander with Maori and Samoan heritage, and Tash Terry a member of the Navajo Nation. Their performance was a mix of songs sung in English and in their native languages, and had a variety of acoustic instruments. I caught up with Higgins and Terry after their performance at their merchandise tent.
“You hear once a year [that] the family gets together, like Thanksgiving,” said Higgins in a captivating New Zealander accent. “That’s what it feels [like] for me at this particular festival.”
Indigie Femme after their show
I could easily understand her sentiment. Even though most of the crowd was an older age group and there was a strong lesbian presence, I did not feel out-of-place as a younger, straight woman.
After a veggie burger and some homemade chocolate-chip cookies, I warmed up near the campfire and spoke to other campers. There I met Tammy, a three-time festival attendee, who arrived alone and spent most of her time riding her bike around the campground to make new friends and greet old ones.
“This is my peace,” said Tammy. “I just love [Virginia Women’s Music Festival] and it gets bigger and better every year.”
But the event wasn’t all music, campfires, and veggie burgers – Nearly every woman encouraged me to attend the Sunday memorial service, which honors all the women who have served in the military. Sally Terry, another organizer of CampOut, described the emotion felt during the ceremony. “The support from everybody is a really spectacular event,” said Terry. “For some women, the highlight of their weekend is coming to the service”
Back at the campfire, Tammy told me how she had lost her job after being photographed at a pride festival. Other campers told me how laws against same-sex marriage and adoption contributed to their feelings of being less-than-human. There was a common theme of rejection and isolation from family and close friends.
Tammy kept a smile in the face of discrimination and adversity
However CampOut and the VWMF seem to exist outside harsh everyday realities, and the event has become the ideal place for gay and straight women of all ages to come together in a safe environment. It’s a real change of pace from the worries of work and real life where they might be targeted for whom they love.
When the weather warmed up, I visited the vendors that were located around the main stage. Flame Bilyue, a Charlottesville artist, returned to the VWMF with vivid paintings that feature strong female imagery. “Some people are surprised when I tell people I’m going to a women’s festival,” said Flame. “I tell them that sometimes women just want to be together”
Flame Bilyue displays one of her pieces
As the evening performers took the stage, I retreated to the heat of the campfire. Fellow campers pulled up blankets and chairs as it got darker. For me, listening to Tret Fure sing about love and heartbreak while ladies relaxed near the fire was the perfect representation of VWMF and CampOut’s mission, and I know I’ll be back next year.
Maya Earls and is a second-year journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She was born in Los Angeles, and moved to Richmond in 2000. Her first journalism experience was managing social media for the Rock4Life benefit concert.She enjoys exploring Richmond on her bike and finding good views of the river. Her favorite past-time is watching people dance in their cars from her apartment window.
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