Anna Bulbrook saws a mean fiddle and sings with a dreampop echo in the Bulls, Airborne Toxic Event, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. She has big eyes that make for a bold, direct stare and a bit of an Annie Lennox vibe. Those big eyes are capable of big vision. Bulbrook founded Girlschool to provide a platform for the many talented female musicians whom she felt were overlooked in the alternative rock scene. Thought became praxis this weekend when she booked a formidable gathering of women-led bands for three nights at the Bootleg Theater.
Making full use of the venue’s capacious space, the audience Friday night was able to move from the Bulls at the Theater Stage to the powerful emoting of Miya Folick on the Bar Stage to the slick funk of Kitten back on the Theater Stage. And that was just Friday night. While there was a somewhat repetitious Lilith Fair vibe in that evening’s bill, Saturday offered the raw power of Kim and the Created and the ’90s pop grunge of Veruca Salt. Tonight, there’s Allison Weiss, Kera and the Lesbians, and more. In volume (numbers) if not volume (decibels), Girlschool’s Field Day Weekend aptly proves its point that there’s no rhyme or reason in #musicbizsobro.
That said, the industry panel that kicked off the weekend was depressingly retro. Ten white women in their 30s and 40s all dressed in black perched on bar stools and complained how there were no women in their fields before them and, essentially, told women not to act like drunk sluts. It was a painful erasure of herstory and object lesson in how the radical activism of feminism can be reduced to self-help bandages for internalized misogyny. There was some useful conversation about the recent disclosures of sexual harassment by a predatory publicist; one woman spoke frankly about the decade’s worth of indignities she had sloughed off as part of the price of being a woman in show biz, and how her consciousness had now been raised by this Twitter outing. However, instead of acknowledging all the women who had broken barriers before them (only manager Carol Shields got any love; what about Sylvia Rhone, Marilyn Laverty, Ann Powers, Liz Rosenberg, Frances Preston, [your name here]), panelists moaned about having to invent the wheel. When two journalists complained that they had no “elders” to guide them, the “elder” NPR reporter sitting next to me and I burst into laughter.
When the “experts” began telling the audience “not to fuck the band” and praised sobriety, I felt like Revolution Girl Style had never happened, and I was back at the New Music Seminar circa 1993. Fortunately, at that point, Fabi Reyna, editor in chief of She Shreds magazine, walked on stage. Younger than the others and not clad in black uniform, she proudly confessed her love of a drink or two, or even more. After all, if men can enjoy the pleasures of spending a lot of time in clubs, why can’t women? Bulbrook speaks proudly about feminism, which is great; I love feminism. But as bell hooks and others have said, if we use this term lightly and vaguely, do we dilute its meaning? Sarah Banet-Weiser talks about how today’s “pop feminism” puts the burden of social change on women, and particularly on girls, to empower themselves as individuals. Empowerment is certainly the goal of feminism, but the means should be to take down the structures of oppression by creating alliances with others who are oppressed, not gender equity through self-improvement.
Girlschool is getting that last part right. But they don’t need to reinvent the wheel and spread a doctrine of 21st century chastity. The talk Friday got a bit wack. But the music was great.