Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ladyfest Chicago celebrates independently minded art

by Cory Robertson

Ladyfest Chicago is a tailor-made festival, designed and assembled to fit the needs and desires of our very own city. An arts festival celebrating the work of accomplished women, Ladyfest first took place in Olympia, Wash., in 2000, but has been reinvented in a multiplicity of locales. "Ladyfest is simply an idea, and one that has been utilized in over 50 cities worldwide," says Beth Capper, a leading organizer for the festival. "It's a brand name, to use a crass term, and it is developed by the people creating it."

"Brand name" may be an apt term to describe Ladyfest insomuch as it implies a signature feel, but in the more commercial sense, the phrase is totally inapplicable: Ladyfest Chicago does not use corporate sponsors, doesn't charge an application fee for artists interested in participating and donates its profits to two local charities, Rape Victims Advocates and Chicago Women's Health Center.

This weekend, visual artists, spoken word poets, musicians and filmmakers will showcase their respective arts, with performances and workshops at AV-Aerie and Heaven Gallery. Capper recommends the festival's opening night in particular, which features musical performances by Anni Rossi, Diane Cluck, the Winks and Claire Chase, as well as screenings of experimental short films and an art show displaying works by women like Cristy C. Road and Lilli Carre.

Musician Anni Rossi's personal investment in Ladyfest seems characteristic of those involved. Originally a volunteer for the festival, Rossi got a taste of the scene behind the curtain but later decided to step onstage as well. Rossi, whose innovative method of folk pop involves simultaneously singing, playing the viola and stomping her feet, sees Ladyfest as a one-of-a-kind event. "I feel Ladyfest Chicago speaks to me because it represents a certain time and a community to me in Chicago that I feel excited about," she says. (Her song, "Wheelpusher," is UR Chicago's download of the week.) Rossi is touring with Electrelane in November and will release a seven-inch record, titled Sincerely Anni Rossi, on Electrelane's label, Too Pure.

Ladyfest comes to Chicago this month after a hiatus of six years. In 2001, Ladyfest Midwest took place in Chicago, but many of the festival's organizers subsequently moved on to create Estrojam, Chicago's other female-focused arts festival. Capper expresses her respect for Estrojam but explains her reasons for reviving Ladyfest: "I thought there was room for another festival bringing in smaller bands from the local and national community as well as bigger headline acts, and also utilizing other areas of the DIY community," she says.

Look for something slightly different from Ladyfest, then—a mix of local and international artists and organizations who have joined forces to create one uncompromisingly independent arts festival.

Ladyfest Chicago takes place Oct. 18-21 at various locations; for a full schedule visit