"I'm gonna get my ass kicked for this," says Kyle Justin, the muscle behind Ladyfest Orlando (www.ladyfestorlando.org), "but women are just more creative than men."
That might sound strange coming from most men, but Justin, 27, describes himself as a longtime feminist who has always favored female musicians to their male counterpart. (He's a musician himself.) Which says a lot about how he came to bring Ladyfest, a daylong celebration of all things female (Sunday, Sept. 29, at Dante's) to Orlando in the first place.
Justin was sitting in a Boston laundromat earlier this past summer with a copy of Bust magazine. While skimming through an article on riotous rock outfit Le Tigre, he stopped on a sentence describing how band member Kathleen Hanna had participated in Ladyfest Midwest Chicago and loved it. When Justin got back to Orlando, he e-mailed a select group of women, and an even more select group of men, to gauge their interest in putting together a homegrown version of the event. Fast forward four months and you have Ladyfest Orlando.
While it might seem strange that this estrogen-rich happening was spawned by a man, the truth is Justin was merely following a recipe concocted by a group of women from Olympia, Wash., in the summer of 2000. It was there that Ladyfest founders put together the first festival, a week-long event celebrating women's art, music and writing. It was also there that they set the precedent of donating all the proceeds to women's charities.
Ladyfest No. 1 booked top female musicians including Holly Golightly, Bratmobile, The Butchies and Sleater-Kinney, and they hosted workshops and classes on various subjects, from activism to auto mechanics. They even put on a highbrow art show. It was big, but it hasn't happened since in Olympia.
The Olympia organizers liked what they came up with, so they posted Ladyfest blueprints on the Internet, encouraging others to create their own events. To date, 12 Ladyfests have taken place in cities across the country and 15 more are in the works, including Ladyfest Orlando.
Our version will have some 25 musical and spoken-word performers, fashion exhibits and about 20 artists. In fact, there were more people who wanted to be part of Ladyfest than there was room to book them. "I've suggested that they try to contact one of the other Ladyfests," says Justin. "It sucks, but we've just had such a great response that we're full."
Which doesn't mean putting the festival together was without its problems.
"The hardest part about putting on Ladyfest was trying to attract a national act," he notes. "It's hard to get bands to come to Florida in the first place, but it's even harder to get them to come for a one-day festival."
So look for local acts instead, including familiar stars about town Susanne Turner, SUNNY, Amy Steinberg and Michele Lane, as well as Jen Shamro from Clearwater. But many of the names are new. "We are able to give the stage to local females who don't play out very often," he says. "That's a really great feeling."
As befits the Ladyfest tradition, all profits from the festival will go to charities that serve Orlando-area women. Beneficiaries include the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, CENTAUR, Lisa Merlin House Inc., PACE Center for Girls Inc. and The Pituitary Network Association. Charities also get booth space to help spread the word about their respective causes.
Guy Contella, the newly appointed impresario at Dante's, is excited by the Ladyfest concept. "I'm just glad that we can provide the palate upon which this diverse event can be born."
If all goes well, Justin would like to see the event expand to several days next year. Even if no one shows up, the organizing team is already planning a return of Ladyfest Orlando. After all, he says, the town has needed something like this for a very long time. And he's just the man to make sure it happens.