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Girls to the Front Fest Celebrates Riot Grrrl Music

Oct. 20, 2010
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This weekend’s Girls to the Front Festival plans on “kicking the gender binary in its sexist ass with music, activism, workshops, discussions, films, readings, poetry, community, awesomeness and love,” according to the event’s organizers.

The idea to host the fest stemmed from a scheduled appearance by an author of a book of the same name. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, by Sara Marcus, chronicles the early-1990s “riot grrrl movement” that centered on female-powered bands like Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear and Bratmobile and combined punk rock with feminist ideology.

Local activist Evelyn Sempos became friends with Marcus when they met in high school in the early ’90s. At that time they both lived in Washington, D.C., one of the hot spots for riot grrrl bands (the other main spot being Olympia, Wash.). Marcus and Sempos bonded over common interest in politics and music. Sempos moved to Milwaukee 10 years ago, and was ecstatic to hear that her old friend had written a book documenting the scene.

“I was excited that she had completed this project and that it was done by someone who was involved and had firsthand experience,” Sempos says. “I got really jazzed about her coming to town, so I thought it would be a good time to pull people together for a big weekend event.”

Sempos asked her friend Lindsay Hayden (who also goes by the name Lauryl Sulfate) to help her organize the event and found a quickly growing group of supporters, including A Broader Vocabulary Collective and the Queer Zine Archive Project. The combined coalition has organized the three-day fest for Oct. 22-24.

The festival’s music events take place Friday and Saturday in three locations. Marcus will be on hand to talk about her book Friday at the Cream City Collectives at 6:30 p.m. and there will be a riot grrrl cover band and a karaoke session at the venue after her talk. Later that night local folk singer Sook will be joined by Chicago bands The Ovens and The Cathy Santonies, followed by DJ Televore at the Y-Not III.

A showcase will take place Saturday at the Hotch-A-Do café featuring folk act Lyra Vega and hip-hop artist Melissa Czarnik.

In addition to concerts and workshops, there will be a drag king performance by the Miltown Kings, a superhero-themed community walk, documentary films on the band Le Tigre and transgender musicians, and an “Ask a Feminist Booth.”

Hayden said the event is a celebration of feminism.

“It’s been made out to be that all feminists are dour man-haters with no sense of humor; there is much more of a multiplicity out there,” Hayden says. “I feel there is a whole contingent of young women out there that have been intimidated out of calling themselves feminists. I don’t think you have to call yourself a feminist to be living the lifestyle, but I think it is to your benefit to do so.”

More information, including a schedule of events and venues, can be found at girlstothefrontmke.blogspot.com.


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