Sept. 6, 2007
14th Annual Iowa Women's Music Festival set for Sept. 15
The Iowa Women's Music Festival, to be held from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, will celebrate 14 years of free, outdoor celebrations of women's music and culture in Iowa. Planned and organized by Prairie Voices Productions, an all-volunteer collective, and the University of Iowa Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC), the festival will be held in Upper City Park in Iowa City. The festival features both local and nationally touring performers, as well as artists, craftspeople and vendors in an open-air environment. The event will be American Sign Language interpreted.
"It has always been important to us that the festival be as accessible as possible to everyone, regardless of income or ability to pay, so we have worked to keep the main stage event free of charge for all of the 14 years. It will continue to stay that way," said founding member Laurie Haag. Funding for the festival comes from individual donations, sponsorships and grants. This year's main corporate sponsors are Troy Knapp/Toyota Scion of Iowa City and Rockwell-Collins.
The mission of Prairie Voices, a nonprofit corporation, is to support and promote the work of women artists and musicians through the festival and other events.
Over the years, the festival has featured a wide variety of performers, including local favorites like BeJae Fleming, Nikki Lunden, the Mad River Band and Gayla Drake Paul.
"We have always had a commitment to presenting local artists, especially younger women who haven't had a chance to perform at some of the more competitive local festivals like the Arts Fest or the Friday Night Concert Series," said Haag.
The 2007 festival will feature UI student Emily Louise, Fairfield's Sharon Bousquet, Cedar Rapids' Janelle Lauer, and Iowa City female super group The Awful Purdies. Some of the better known performers in the past have included Sweet Honey in the Rock, Joan Baez, and the Urban Bush Women (all through a partnership with Hancher Auditorium), Laura Love, Claudia Schmidt, Ann Reed, Christine Kane, Nedra Johnson and many more. This year the featured performers are Wishing Chair, native Iowan Susan Werner (photo, upper left) and Ruthie Foster (photo, right).
According to Haag, "Sometimes people think that this sort of thing isn't needed anymore, and that women have all the opportunities that they need. But as a performer myself and as a person who talks to a lot of other female performers, I know that we do still need this sort of opportunity. Many venues are still not friendly to women."
Haag said that after the success of the Lilith Fair -- a concert tour and traveling music festival founded by musician Sarah McLachlan and consisting of female solo artists and female-led bands -- promoters saw that not only performers want such opportunities, but audiences want them too. "But there hasn't been a major festival featuring primarily women since then," Haag said.
Austin-based Ruthie Foster returned to her native Texas in the early 1990s after touring with the U.S. Navy band Pride and spending a few years in New York City under contract to Atlantic Records. Foster quickly established herself as one of the acoustic music world's brightest stars. From the Kerrville Folk Festival to Austin City Limits to stages all across North America and Europe, she won thousands of new fans a night and sold a staggering average of 100 CDs per show.
At a festival in Canada, she even broke Ani DiFranco's record by selling 1,000 CDs in a single day. All those records carried considerable critical acclaim, too, especially her last two, "Runaway Soul" and the live "Stages." Both live and on disc, Foster mixed contemporary folk with old-school gospel and blues with dazzling efficiency, showcasing a powerhouse voice that drew favorable comparisons to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin. Foster's latest recording, "The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster," which has been called "an honest to goodness classic soul album," features drummer George Sluppick (Mofro), bassist Glenn Fukunaga (Dixie Chicks, Terri Hendrix) and Hammond B3 player Anthony Farrell (Greyhounds).
"A lot of folks don't know this, but that really is my background," said Foster. "I come from a deep background of old soul and blues and even R&B. Early on, long before I ever got into the folk thing, I was doing more soul on acoustic guitar than anything else. And that's always been a part of the sound that I have."
"We are very excited to be able to present Ruthie Foster at the Iowa Women's Music Festival," said Haag, "She gets multiple standing ovations whenever she plays."
Susan Werner makes her first appearance at the Iowa Women's Music Festival this year as well. With six albums under her belt, an active touring career throughout the United States and a string of accolades from the likes of The Washington Post, The Village Voice and The New Yorker, Werner has become one of the defining artists of the folk music genre. Her songs effortlessly slide between folk, jazz and pop, and are delivered with a sassy wit and classic Midwestern charm.
Making a return visit to the festival, after a nearly rained out performance in 2003, Wishing Chair, composed of Kiya Heartwood and Miriam Davidson (photo, left) from Kentucky, brings back their passionate mix of intelligent lyrics, spell-binding storytelling and breathtaking harmony over a full folk-and-roll sound. Heartwood's percussive guitar work and wide-open vocals complement Davidson's tasteful use of a myriad of instruments: piano, accordion, banjo, hand drums and bouzouki. This duo is well grounded in some of the most powerful traditions of women's music -- powerful political messages mixed with beautiful melodies. They have become a favorite of the Iowa Women's Music Festival in recent years, returning after their initial performance to play several fundraisers, Haag said.
More information on the 14th annual Iowa Women's Music Festival can be found on the Web at http://www.uiowa.edu/~wrac/events/musicfest2007.htm, http://www.prairievoices.net and at http://www.myspace.com/iwmf. For more information or special accommodations to attend this event, call WRAC at 319-335-1486 for information.
Founded in 1971, the Women's Resource and Action Center is one of the oldest university-based women's centers in the United States. Among its services -- available to UI students, faculty and staff, as well as the public -- are information and referral, advocacy, support and discussion groups, individual counseling, and a wide variety of educational programs including seminars, workshops, festivals and discussions. More information about the center is available on the Web at http://www.uiowa.edu/~wrac.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500