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Female musicians team up for IC fest

BY CARLY HURWITZ | SEPTEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Many of the women playing at this year's Iowa Women's Music Festival say that without the generations of strong female musicians before them, they would have probably never entered the field.

"When you're young, you don't necessarily think about the gender of the people you've listened to," said Lindsay Mac, an Iowa City native and alternative folk/pop musician who will take the stage during the festival Saturday.

Musicians such as Mac said their appreciation for female music artists has grown as they have matured musically; this weekend is a chance to show that gratitude.

The free-admission day stage will open in Upper City Park at noon Saturday. At 8 p.m. Saturday, Janis Ian will perform with guest Natalia Zukerman at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St. Admission is $25.

The festival is an occasion to highlight the musical talent of women. And while the focus is on "girl power," the musicians performing at this year's festival share a common thread, they don't think about the female aspect of their work as much as they think about themselves as musicians.

"I think about myself as a musician first, and I happen to be a woman," Mac said.

Iowa City native and singer/songwriter Pieta Brown has a similar belief.

"The festival is maybe more about just raising those questions than making any big statements," she said. "Certainly, [my inspiration] includes other women but not predominately."

This year's lineup encompasses the musical diversity, with acts ranging from rock 'n' roll to punk to folk and blues. The festival gives many talented women the chance to showcase their styles and hear their peers perform.

Prairie Voices Production, a local nonprofit organization that operates as a volunteer planning committee, will sponsor the event with support from the Women's Resource and Action Center.

Members of the organizations are excited about hosting the day portion of the festival in Upper City Park; they believe that the public enjoys the intimacy of the area.

"Other festivals seek to create a different cultural experience beyond the music and arts and make other choices about how to do it, which sometimes includes building woman-only space," said Laurie Haag, one of the founders and a leader of the festival. "We seek to create an environment in which female artists are taken seriously and treated as professionals and present them in a professional way to an audience that is eager to see and support these performers."

Performers on the day stage will include Angie Pierce Jennings, Camille Bloom, Mac and the Boom Booms, Jami Sieber with Natalie Brown, Pieta Brown with Bo Ramsey, and Dawn Drake and ZapOte.

"This year's festival may not feature household names, but they are high-caliber performers," Haag said. "We work hard to put together a diverse lineup."

One of the performers is Zukerman, who will open for Ian at the Englert. Originally from Manhattan, she comes from a long line of musically talented people.

"I started out on violin, actually," she said. "[That] definitely required growing up."

For this gig, she will play her acoustic guitar and sing hits from her new record, Gas Station Roses, which came out in May.

Zukerman's style combines folk, blues, and jazz. Her sweet and sultry voice and guitar playing captivate audiences.

The artist is thrilled to open for Ian, whom she calls one of the most iconic female singer/songwriters for her generation.

One of Zukerman's albums was given to Ian, which sparked the performers' musical relationship. For the last year and a half, she has opened for Ian, and she called the opportunity a "huge personal moment."

"She's very generous and so amazingly supportive," Zuckerman said.

She said she thinks Ian's fans agree.

"Her fans love her, and she loves them," Zukerman said. "She will stand till the last person is gone."

This weekend will mark Ian's first appearance at the Iowa Women's Music Festival. She was booked for the 17th festival last year, with the theme "At Seventeen," the title of one her biggest hits, but she was unable to attend because of medical reasons.

"Everyone wanted Janis to be booked again, as did Janis," said Lisa Schreihart, a Prairie Voices Production member and coproducer of the festival.

She said she thinks people return for the festival every year to see new and veteran performers from around the country perform live.

Drake and ZapOte have played at other such venues including the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, Schreihart said, and they will come to Iowa City to share their music this year. Iowa City natives Pieta Brown and Mac, as well as Jennings, are the local performers whose music is gaining in popularity.

"As an Iowa woman, I am excited to see who comes out to the Iowa Women's Festival," Brown said.

The chance to see new performers and know that the day is about supporting women provides a basis for growth and a way for everyone to connect.

"Women are the producers, [and] everyone is the audience," Schreihart said. "We provide a vehicle for women to be heard, and everyone is invited to listen."


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