Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Founded in 1976 and continuing as an annual event, the week-long Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is one of the largest gatherings of lesbians in the world, featuring performances from women musicians and artists, hundreds of workshops, and sharing of lesbian and feminist culture. The festival helped pave the way for the mainstream success of women’s music festivals such as Lilith Fair and Ladyfest.

Summary of Event

Drawing from the hippie movements of the 1960’s as well as from radical politics, 1970’s lesbian feminism advocated a women-centered culture separate from the rules of patriarchal society. At the same time, women’s music was growing in popularity, with artists such as Alix Dobkin Dobkin, Alix and Maxine Feldman Feldman, Maxine proudly singing about loving women and living as lesbians. Olivia Records, Olivia Records founded by ten women in 1973, produced and distributed women’s music albums that were sold at women’s music festivals across the United States. [kw]Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering (Aug. 20-22, 1976) [kw]Womyn’s Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering, Michigan (Aug. 20-22, 1976) [kw]Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering, Michigan Womyn’s (Aug. 20-22, 1976) Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Music Festival, Michigan Womyn’s [c]Cultural and intellectual history;Aug. 20-22, 1976: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering[1180] [c]Arts;Aug. 20-22, 1976: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering[1180] [c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 20-22, 1976: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering[1180] [c]Feminism;Aug. 20-22, 1976: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Holds Its First Gathering[1180] Vogel, Lisa Vogel, Kristie Price, Boo

The first Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival took place over the weekend of August 20-22, 1976, in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, Mt. Pleasant, and first Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival[Mount Pleasant] with an audience of approximately two thousand women. Organized by Kristie Vogel, Mary Kindig, and Lisa Vogel under the name We Want the Music Collective, the first festival offered camping, food, and performances for a ticket price of $20.00. Performers included Dobkin, Feldman, Meg Christian, Christian, Meg Holly Near, Near, Holly and Margie Adam Adam, Margie —all of whom hailed from the growing women’s music genre and would become popular performers on the women’s festival circuit.

The early Michigan festivals were characterized by inexperience in combination with determination to produce an entirely woman-run program. Boo Price, who coproduced the festival from 1976 to 1994, was instrumental in bringing a more professional production ethic to the festival. Despite inclement weather—tornadoes visited the festival in its second year—producers and festival-goers alike were drawn to the spirit of the woman-centered community.

Describing the early years of the Michigan festival, Price explains,

There was an ecstatic quality to these first years of gatherings, punctuated by acts of social defiance: letting menstrual blood flow freely, throwing off shirts or all clothing, taking on male-identified jobs such as trench digging, tent stake sledging, stage rigging, tractor driving. Most of festival culture in the early days was the result of doing it all ourselves.

Although the festival was begun as a collective, it soon became apparent that it would need to be run as a business, and by 1979 the name of the founding organization had been changed to We Want the Music Company. From 1977 to 1981 the festival was held in Hesperia, Michigan, Hesperia, Michigan, and Womyn’s Music Festival and Lisa Vogel, who had been only eighteen at the time the festival began, assumed a leadership role. In 1982, Lisa and Kristie Vogel took on the responsibility of signing for loans to buy 650 acres of land in Hart, Michigan, Hart, Michigan in order to provide a permanent home for the festival. Thereafter, the festival was held on this privately owned and largely undeveloped land, which remains unused for most of the year.

After the festival was moved to Hart, coproducers Price and Lisa Vogel spearheaded efforts to create a more organized festival culture that was inclusive of all women. The Womyn of Color Tent Women of color, Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was founded in 1983 to provide a space where only women of color were allowed to gather. The tenth festival, in 1986, was the first festival in which women from outside the United States were invited to greet the entire audience at the opening ceremony. To make the festival wheelchair-accessible, concrete paths were laid in some areas, and by 1988 water and electrical systems had been installed to make hot showers available to campers. In addition, hundreds of workshops were offered to teach women about everything from feminist activism to drumming and stilt-walking.

The Michigan festival, like many women’s music festivals, has been punctuated by several controversies, beginning with its decision from the first year not to admit men; later it was decided that boys over the age of five would be restricted to a camp separate from the main portion of the festival. Concerns about sadomasochism (S/M) were raised in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, with many women arguing that S/M was inappropriate because it involved violence against women, while others argued that consensual sexual expression was their right. Beginning in 1994, transgender Transgender/transsexuality[Transgender transsexuality];and Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival[Michigan Womyns Music Festival] activists protested the festival’s policy of admitting only women born as women through the establishment of Camp Trans Camp Trans (www.camp-trans.org), a separate camp located less than a mile from the original Michigan festival’s main gate. Their desire to open the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to male-to-female transgender individuals has been viewed by many longtime festival-goers as a threat to the temporary safe space for women who have “survived girlhood.”

Throughout the 1980’s until the mid-1990’s, festival attendance ranged from five thousand to eight thousand women, peaking in the mid-1990’s at about nine or ten thousand. Thereafter, attendance declined; 2004, the twenty-ninth year, saw approximately four thousand festival-goers. Lisa Vogel, who has been with the festival since the first year, continues to act as the festival’s producer.

Significance

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, along with the dozens of other women’s music festivals that sprang up across the United States in the 1980’s, was a major catalyst for the growth of the women’s music business. The festivals provided space for musicians to perform and build an audience; enabled women’s music distribution companies such as Olivia Records, Ladyslipper, and Goldenrod to flourish; and provided opportunities for many women to learn sound engineering and professional production techniques—skills that many women were denied by a male-dominated field.

Although the heyday of the women’s music festival circuit may have passed, Michigan and the other women’s music festivals paved the way for the mainstream success of Lilith Fair, which toured the United States from 1997 to 1999. Newer festivals such as Ladyfest, a series of grassroots-produced art and music festivals for younger queer women that are often held in urban locations, also followed in the tradition of Michigan.

Finally, the legacy of Michigan is certainly felt by the thousands of women who have spent time on the land. Many call the land “home” and feel that the week of the festival is the one time of the year when they can truly be free to be who they are without fear of violence or judgment. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has indeed become a legend in lesbian culture. Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Music Festival, Michigan Womyn’s

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Penguin, 1991.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kearney, Mary Celeste. “The Missing Links: Riot Grrrl—Feminism—Lesbian Culture.” In Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, edited by Sheila Whiteley. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, Deborah R. “The Original Womyn’s Woodstock.” In The Woman-Centered Economy, edited by Loraine Edwalds and Midge Stocker. Chicago: Third Side Press, 1995.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morris, Bonnie J. Eden Built by Eves: The Culture of Women’s Music Festivals. Los Angeles: Alyson, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rothblum, Esther, and Penny Sablove, eds. Lesbian Communities: Festivals, RV’s, and the Internet. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2005.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sandstrom, Boden C. “Performance, Ritual, and Negotiation of Identity in the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Maryland, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Women’s Music: Passing the Legacy.” In Women’s Culture in a New Era: A Feminist Revolution?, edited by Gayle Kimball. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

May 27-30, 1960: First National Lesbian Conference Convenes

May 1, 1970: Radicalesbians Issues “The Woman Identified Woman” Manifesto

1973: Olivia Records Is Founded

September, 1975: Anna Crusis Women’s Choir Is Formed

1981-1982: GALA Choruses Is Formed

1992: Transgender Nation Holds Its First Protest

1992-2002: Celebrity Lesbians Come Out

April 24, 1993: First Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C.

Categories: History Content