'Girls rock' at Iowa Women's Music Festival


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Live, local music has been represented in Iowa City for years. Unfortunately, the musicians recognized are predominantly men. The Iowa Women’s Music Festival aims to give rising female musicians their time in the spotlight.

On Saturday, the Johnson County Fairgrounds will host the 21st-annual Iowa Women’s Music Festival, a free event started by Laurie Haag of the University of Iowa Women’s Resource and Action Center. 

“I put out a call asking if anyone would have any interest in starting it. About 20 people signed up and helped institutionalize it.”

The annual festival features six local female musicians/bands, this year including Girls Rock, Crys Matthews, the Matriarchs, the Honeybees, Kiya Heartwood, and Alix Olson.

The Girls Rock performance will feature performers age 8 to 16 who participated in a weeklong summer camp of the same name. Each age group of girls wrote their own song to perform at the Women’s Music Festival.

“That’s what the music festival is all about — giving women a chance in the spotlight,” Haag said.

Haag said showcasing local female musicians is important, as many Midwest music festivals still predominately feature men.

“I’m actually a musician myself,” she said. “I know from my own experience playing music in bars and at events that 20 years ago there were not very many opportunities for women. Even today when you look at the art festivals downtown, it is overrepresented by men.”

Lisa Schreihart, a production committee member for the festival, agreed with Haag.

“Women don’t get nearly the number and quality of opportunities to play as male performers do. On any given night in clubs or at any given festival a person can catch local, regional, and national male musicians perform. For female musicians, there just aren’t as many opportunities to hear them,” Schreihart said.

Contrary to popular belief, the festival is open to everyone: men, women, children, and well-behaved dogs. The family-friendly event is alcohol-free and includes many other aspects besides the music such as food, merchandise vendors, and kid-friendly activities.

Though Girls Rock has been a staple at the festival, it also features a new crop of musical artists from year to year.

“I love discovering new performers,” Haag said. “There are performers every year that I’ve never seen. One of the groups I had seen before in Quad Cities at a performance. This group before us called the Matriarchs blew me away. I thought, ‘We have to have them.’ ”

Riley Schultz, the fiddle, mandolin, and guitar player for the Matriarchs, said she believes showcasing female musicians is important.

“There are plenty of theories about what causes this, but to me this indicates a need to provide a platform to showcase the talented female musicians we have in the area,” Schultz said. “Not only does this nurture the representations we have, it also fosters a sense of community and leadership for all people, especially females who can identify with these women as role models.”

Schultz said the Matriarchs involvement in the Women’s Music Festival is meaningful to her and her band mates.

“I’m really impressed by the sense of community that comes together to recognize these talented musicians, not simply because they’re women, but because they offer a unique set of voices,” she said. “This festival is a means to lift those voices above the volume of the majority for a day so they can be heard. With the name like the Matriarchs, we have a clear female identity, one that is empowering for women as leaders, so I feel like we complement the purpose of the festival well.”

The event is funded by sponsors and personal donations, all of which goes to the artists, the stage, the venue, ASL interpreters, and any other expenses related to the event. Even after 21 years, Haag said money continues to be an issue for the Iowa Women’s Music Festival.

“It’s hard to say about the future, things have changed a lot over the years,” Haag said. “One thing we always face is funding, which is hard to find for local art. We compete with a lot of other local events.”

But Schreihart said the event has not gone unnoticed by from other parts of the state.

“Our recognition this year in the Febrary 2014 issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine as the Iowa selection in the list of 50 Must-See Americana events in the nation attests to the fact that people are taking notice of Iowa Women’s Music Festival’s efforts to present a great variety of music that is appealing to all and to present an overall compelling event that can represent Iowa well on a national scale,” Schreihart said.

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