“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
So, let’s talk about women in music. A recent Washington Post article asked, “What’s it like to be a woman in rock today?” Of course the answer is, that’s the wrong question. Does anyone ever ask, “What’s it like to be a man in rock music?”
Nobody was asking any questions at the recent HERAFest 2019, an annual celebration of women musicians in the DC area that took place at City Winery DC on Sept. 22. The female-fueled music festival featured nearly three dozen artists from throughout the region and provided an opportunity for some of the region’s diverse talent to perform for a broad audience.
In 2014, Cathy DiToro began grappling with this issue when she was told by a male audience member to “not act so masculine onstage with her movements.” A genuine WTF moment. Cathy — who performs solo and with local favorites The Legwarmers, So Fetch and Party Like It’s… — decided in 2017 to launch Project HERA to combat sexism in the music scene and promote female artists in the DC area.
HERAFest, first held in 2017, has become an annual female-focused, all-ages music festival, celebrating young artists and seasoned musicians. The 2018 show featured 15 acts and this year’s expanded lineup included Hayley Fahey, Mona Speaks Mountains, Emily Henry, Sheila, and Elizabeth II, among many others, and featured Jill Sobule as the headliner. Cathy’s determination and energy were self-evident at the all-day event as she seemed to be everywhere at once, interacting with vendors, artists, musicians, and even performing herself. A labor of love, indeed.
Stream Jill Comes Alive!, a live album by Jill Sobule on Spotify:
The number of musicians (performing on two stages at the spacious City Winery) was nearly matched by the variety of genres represented: rock, metal, folk, Americana, reggae, funk, punk, ska, soul, pop, R&B, and others I may have missed. Female vendors occupied the patio adjacent to the Wine Garden stage. Photographers abounded, many of them young women, recording and presenting their own visions of the festival. And keeping it all going through more than eight hours was a mass of volunteers making sure artists were happy and (mostly) on-time, running sound, and ensuring that the afternoon/evening was a blast for participants and attendees alike.
In the DC area, one can look at any venue’s calendar and see the sheer number of women artists dominating the live music scene. Paula Cole, Grace Potter, Angel Olsen, Joseph, Bea Miller, Mikaela Davis, and Shaed, among many others are playing venues like City Winery, Anthem, Lincoln Theatre, 9:30 Club, and Songbyrd in the coming weeks. And though I wouldn’t presume to know what they think about “women in rock music,” my guess is it’s the answer common to all working musicians: it’s hard — the hours on the road, countless stages night after night, the challenge of coming up with quality new material, and the personal sacrifices and choices that everybody inevitably faces — no matter their work.
If there is a deeper purpose to ProjectHERA, this is it — supporting women in the arts to succeed on their own terms; the pay-off for us all is a flourishing society where artists create, learn and share, succeeding commercially and artistically by setting and achieving their own goals. In that regard, HERAFest 2019 was a resounding success.
Here are some photos of ProjectHERA’s HERAFest at City Winery on Sept. 22, 2019. Photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.
Mona Speaks Mountains
Hannah Jaye and the Hideaways
Mona Speaks Mountains
Jill Sobule and Cathy DiToro