It’s time to rid the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival of its lousy reputation. De-louse the psyche of women who think they’d rather put a bullet in their head than attend; women who do things other than read palms, eat kale and listen to folk music. In essence, women who wouldn’t think to spell “women” with a “y.” These are the women who’ve let false rumors bury stubborn as lice, infesting their take on the annual gathering. No doubt: Michfest has a bad stigma. Prior to my trip, I attributed the festival to little else than the punch line to a bad lesbian joke, an amalgamation of all unflattering dyke stereotypes brought together under the umbrella of a single, corny, gay-ass event, one that was to be avoided at all costs. Moody emo beat poets? Check. Endless discussions about chakras, Amazons and quinoa? Check. Hordes of bearded, topless women in batiked sarongs? Check. A self-indulgent gaggle of female bodied individuals to be avoided at all costs? Absolutely not. Not in the slightest. Michfest gets an unglamorous, macrobiotic diet-eating, derivative Ani-performer-roster rep because yes, there is a little bit of that kinda shit there. Emphasis on “little.”
Not to get all Les Mis on you, but Victor Hugo once said something perfect that brings Michfest to mind: “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Yes. In a word, yes. Brilliantly put. Only plug the sentiment that this festival evokes into where “music” lives in the quote. Say what you will about V-Hug, but this quote is particularly relevant to the 33rd annual Michigan Womyn Music Festival. You’ll leave a different person, changed for the better. Here’s what you don’t know about Michfest is that it’s a sex-heavy, fun and games-laden, paradigm-shattering congregation that’ll undoubtedly leave you feeling rejuvenated in ways you can’t even fathom. You need to know it empirically.
So how do I describe what does goes down at this week-long event? For starters, the Michigan Womyn’s Music festival has little to nothing to do with music. Okay, maybe that’s not true. It has a lot to do with music. Nedra Johnson slayed the crowd with a single song, “So Good So Far,” at the Women of Color Poetry Salon. Esteemed west coast M.C. Medusa left heads spinning by the day stage with her commanding presence, masterful flow, and expansive lyrical skills (she scores extra points for recruited a fan from the audience to take over the mic as she took a break to hit a bowl onstage). And Toshi Reagon left people weeping and speechless with her heartwrenching plea-ballad to a lover, begging shamelessly for forever in the form of countless more todays. Slow and sorrowful, as if she knew her lady already had one foot out the door, the naked desperation in her lyrics and the vulnerability of her voice rendered thousands of women mesmerized, motionless, fixated on the stage like they were in the throes of hypnosis. Stretched out on blankets, towels, tarps and jackets beneath a perfect black and white sky, having never heard of her before, I got lost in the bittersweet symphony of her track, slack-jawed and tongue tied. And then it ended. “That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed Niki Cutler, owner of queer clothing company DITC, who was sitting to my right. Still gawking at the stage, my girlfriend’s eyes were as wide as restaurant-sized saucepans. “Yeah it was,” she agreed. With my head resting on her lap, I couldn’t find words to do justice to the majesty of Reagon’s performance. So for once in my life, I said nothing. The following night, a heated discussion about lesbianism as a religion gave way to Bitch and Animal launching into an impromptu late-night performance. “You give me an emotional boner,” they sang, strumming lazily on a guitar as we watched the flames dance, flames so big and celebratory that it seemed that they were springing wood themselves at the song’s outlandish hook. The campfire is where a lot of after-hours music was made. Louis Prima was sang, James Taylor was sang, Indigo Girls (I know) was sang… even a fowl-lover’s spoof on Sir Mix-A-Lots “Baby Got Back,” was performed (“I like big ducks and I cannot lie…”).
So yeah—Michfest has a little to do with music. Particularly at the campfire But it also has a lot– as in, a LOT– to do with sex. Every night of the week, there’s an array of hugely kinky parties going down after-hours in the Twilight Zone, nearby but off-premise grounds where the raunchier crowds dwelled, home to a “Wine and Sleaze”-themed party, a “Stud Stable” (in which butches, bois and gender queers were corralled into stables and then hand-picked by femmes interested in all breeds of sex-play), and a BDSM campfire where a gaggle of 40 and 50-somethings in leather, suspended themselves from trees, and displayed all their torture toys on tarps, as one bored-looking old bull dagger swatted limply at her lover’s corseted midsection and naked ass and with a chain-link flogger.
Then there was the infamous Cheese Ball Contest, wherein contestants vie for the title of Cheese Ball Queen; whomever can fit the most cheese balls under a single tit wins that title. This year’s champion was last year’s as well, Vanessa, a sexy large-breasted individual who was able to fit 99 last year, and 95 this year (she’s the reigning champ).
I could quote Poppy Chamberlain, a comedian who performed at the festival and kept the masses heaving with laughter for the duration of her set: “I don’t have patience for women with low self-esteem. I say to them, ‘Get over it and fuck me like a banshee.'”
Damn. I could sing the praises of this gathering for days.