2 min

The little festival that could

Ladyfest keeps talent rolling into town

Credit: Capital Xtra files

“Ladyfest is a powerful thing,” Leslie Dish-Slayer tells me. “When people hear we have one in Ottawa, they want to get involved.”

Ottawa’s edition of the Festival is in its second year, a deliberately small, grass-roots effort with a girl power mandate: to “encourage fun-lovin’ independent, DIY feminists to join forces.”

“It’s like any event like this, but instead of having mostly male technicians, organizers and musicians with a couple of women here and there, we turn it around,” says Natasha Beaudin, one of the loose collective of organizers. “It counterbalances the idea (that music) is a man’s world.”

Ladyfest Ottawa is one of several festivals inspired by the original event in Olympia, Washington in 2000, which no longer happens. “I think they may have burned out,” says Beaudin. “It’s a lot of work to put on Ladyfest, and that was a much bigger event. We’d like to keep it small and manageable – and fun.”

Each Ladyfest is unique, but all carry the original mandate: “a non-profit, community-based event designed by and for women to showcase, celebrate and encourage the artistic, organizational and political work and talents of women.” It’s a specific description, but broad enough that each Ladyfest reflects the community that creates it.

Ladyfest is not an event exclusive to women. In fact, it seeks to be inclusive of just about everybody. “Primarily woman-organized, open to everyone with emphasis on the feminist, queer-positive, anti-racist, DIY and punk side of things” is how the website puts it. To Beaudin, everyone who is interested should be included. “Who are we to define gender? We want everyone to feel safe and welcome.”

You’ll find some good punk rock at Ladyfest, but the entertainment will be as diverse as the audience. “There’s folk, spoken word and lots of other stuff. It’s great for people who like live music. The concerts are intimate and there are workshops to suit every taste – bike repair to breakdancing,” says Dish-Slayer.

“All events are all ages, wheelchair accessible and affordable,” says Beaudin. “We’ll even do a sliding scale.

“The schedule is just coming together and will be posted on the website soon. For now I can tell you that on the Friday at Saw Gallery there’s five bands and a vegetarian supper.” You’ll also find workshops all day on Saturday, and another night of music, this time at the Sandy Hill Community Centre. “There will be five or six bands, including The Maynards from Halifax. They came last year and were an amazing surprise.”

Ladyfest is completely volunteer-run, and open planning meetings are held every Wednesday at the Second Cup on Elgin Street. They already have a solid volunteer base, “They’ve come out of the woodwork,”says Dish-Slayer. “But more are good.”

Tori Deckergommeaux overcame her initial skepticism and volunteered when she realised that “the organizers really know what they’re doing.” She is coordinating the vendors, “everything from zines to chain mail, and maybe a few sex toys.”

Dish-Slayer describes Ladyfest as “a great introduction to political activism for young women,” and the best thing about it is “the warm, positive female crowd.” But Tori has her own ideas about what makes Ladyfest such a blast: “It’s a great place to meet girls,” she says, grinning.


Jul 3, 4 & 5 at various venues.