by Arthur Robinson
Fuss Fest is not only a music and arts festival, it is also a revelation. Created by four women: artist Pris Van Rye, Midwest Moms vocalist and OtherXcore zine author Sam Retton, Sci-Fi Caper vocalist & bassist Emelia Guadarrama, and vintage clothing purveyor Rio Toi, the idea behind the event is to promote the creative endeavors of women and femmes locally, not just in our Central Valley but across the state, by bringing people together for an all-ages, all-inclusive free day of live music, food, art, and apparel.
“I thought of it as kind of making a fuss about presenting women in music,” says Pris, one of the four driving forces behind July 15th’s festival, which, held in downtown Fresno, was up against Beach Hut Deli’s Two Year Anniversary at Tioga Sequoia just a few blocks away. Yet, even still, they managed to pull in a crowd in the Yoshi Now! parking lot, with many of the audience coming in from out of town.
More than a dozen bands, from all genres, performed on that Saturday under the Fresno heat. Attendees from the Los Angeles and Bay Area arrived in Fresno to the die-hard supporters of the local music scene in order to view female fronted bands and performing artists. Groups like the newly formed awakebutstillinbed, created by musician Shannon Taylor from San Jose, the rock ‘n roll sister duo Dog Party, who hails from Sacramento, and the closing band Sister Mantos, a multi-instrumental band singing songs in Spanish and English about love, queer & people of color empowerment with healthy doses of Latin beats, a strong punk attitude and a psychedelic blend of funk rock.
As others came out with sunblock in hand to support artists with local ties to the community, like Lace Marie Eyewear and Laura May, by purchasing their homemade goods and art. Many more appeared to celebrate all the local femme musicians in their own backyard like hip-hop artist and poet Kooleidoscope, who took a break from her hiatus to perform for a captive audience, and bassist/vocalist Erica Najera from La Niña and Light Thieves, who said “it’s gonna be the La Niña’s last show for a while,” but made sure to leave everything out there on the stage floor for a group of friends and family throughout their set on a warm summer day.
“We definitely applaud anybody that wants to try to do something in Fresno. We just want to try to do it too. We’re not taking away from other festivals. The support is there in Fresno. It’s just a matter of making it happen,” said, Emelia, just days before she set to open Fuss Fest with her band Sci-Fi Caper.
A refreshing statement of positivism put into practice during a summer where the issue of racial discrimination and sexual violence at music festivals is getting increased attention in the media. These issues range from a lack of female fronted bands and the representation for them, to allowing alleged abusers to perform at several high profile festivals like the Vans Warped Tour, as well as a general level of blatant disrespect for people of color, the LGBTQIA community and other marginalized groups from white cisgender males, many of whom have been a part of the community for decades, who respond with obscenities filled with misogyny and racism to these members of the same music community. And in the past few years, organizations such as A Voice for the Innocent, Safe Gigs for Women, and advocacy blogs like Safer Scene are working with gig and festival goers, venues, events, bands and artists to promote diversity and inclusiveness on and off stage to raise awareness about assault and discrimination, and to improve the overall safety of the community for everyone to keep the music scene healthy and thriving.
Places like the Warped Tour are places for outcasts to enjoy the music they like, together within their area, but these places and events have developed a stigma over the years. Recent high-profile stories of male performers traveling in these music scenes have surfaced over their engaging in sexually aggressive behavior towards female fans, especially towards minors, and have cast it as something of a breeding ground for predatory bad behavior. One incident, in particular, occurred in Denver on June 25 of this year during the second week of Warped Tour involving the punk rock band The Dickies. More specifically, it involved their front man, Leonard Grave Phillips, and a female acquaintance of the band War on Women touring as part of the group Safer Scenes, who, in protest of The Dickies’ often obscene antics, held up a sign in the front of the crowd that read: “Teen girls deserve respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men! Punk shouldn’t be predatory!” Phillips responded with a string of misogynistic obscenities directed towards the young woman, complete with fans in the crowd cheering the lead singer on.
Lines were drawn in the sand between the old-school and the new, and though the fire has died down here in the States, festivals abroad have women creating their own spaces in the other parts of the world to provide themselves a safe environment. The festival in Glastonbury launched its very first women-only stage known as The Sisterhood last year, and Sweden’s biggest music festival, the Bråvalla Festival, in response to a series of sexual assaults in year’s past, will be replaced next year by a women-only alternative.
“What do you think about putting together a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome, that we’ll run until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?” tweeted Swedish comedian and radio presenter, Emma Knyckare. Shortly after, the powers that be decided to put her statement to practice and have since made an official statement regarding the change.
While women-led festivals can be found the world over, not just in the United States, it can also be found in our very own city. Not just with the recent Fuss Fest event, but also with the Women’s Art & Music Festival heading into its second. The event will be held on October 21st at the Tower Theatre.
Fuss Fest remains committed to supporting women and welcoming everyone with open arms. The organization recognizes that by keeping the event free, the barriers that can keep people, (“especially women, femmes, and people of color”), from accessing the arts will be minimized. And by keeping the event open to all ages, young men and women who might not have access to enough live music due to age restrictions can get a taste of what Fresno has to offer.
And it’s a sentiment that Pris Van Rye shares with her fellow Fuss Fest promoters:
“There are a lot of music festivals and it’s very rare that you see female musicians or artists that are presented in that light. It’s a lot of male driven bands, male driven promoters. We kind of wanted to set something up completely different. Kind of put a little more light on female artists and musicians, as well as queer and trans and other people that aren’t really presented in the festivals that we have [right] here in Fresno.”
The Women’s Art and Music Festival of Fresno will be offering #WAMFF Open Mic/Live Auditions Fundraiser on Saturday, August 19 at 12 – 4 PM at Full Circle Brewing Co. The selected artists will have the opportunity to perform later in October for this year’s event. For more information about the Women’s Art and Music Festival visit facebook.com/womensartandmusicfest
photo credits: Arthur Robinson