Cat Power

Ladyfest Comes to New York

After Galvanized did their thing, One and 20—a bluesy band consisting of three schlumpy boys and Carol Thomas, a black female lead singer with a stage presence somewhere between Aretha Franklin and Billy Crystal—took control. Thomas has a low, pretty voice, and her backup band works hard to turn out the kind of jam-funk this crowd would usually hate. The room loves her. She turns out to be one of the chief organizers of Ladyfest East, thrust into the position at the last minute.

The festival is extremely grassroots. A recent meeting took place in the concrete backyard of NYU student Erin Siodmak. Siodmak, Thomas, and three other women sat at a wooden table, eating pretzels and languidly sharing a six-pack of Tecate, planning the event by the skin of their teeth. "Do you want to call Le Tigre again, or should I?" one of them asks wearily. "I did it last time," someone else complains, a little pissed off. The meeting doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

A lot of the real planning takes place online. Like an old-fashioned ladies' society, people on the Ladyfest mailing list pledge individual services to the cause. One woman offers to make kitty-ear hats and underwear with "killer cute themes." Someone else volunteers to teach a self-defense workshop. A "gay boy who loves rock and roll" wants to make flyers. It's a real group effort, like a small town coming together for the annual talent show, straight out of Waiting for Guffman. All this is very un-New York. "People are e-mailing me, like, 'Where can I camp?' " Carol Thomas says at the meeting. "I'm like, 'This is New York—you could do Central Park, but I wouldn't recommend it!' "

A New York festival isn't going to be like Olympia, where people camped out in backyards and crashed on any available couch. And while Olympia bands are supported by small record companies, only a handful of Ladyfest East bands has been signed by a label with more than four other acts on its roster. Not one of them gets the gigs that way less clever local boy bands get. Ironically, this marginalization unites the bands, providing a segue between reggae-punk Ari Up from the Slits and Bionic Finger, a quirky pop quartet who sing sweet harmonies and who named their album Inner Bimbo. In this way, the New York festival has the potential to be even more effective than the Olympia one—it could mean the creation of a community where there was none. That old riot grrrl call to arms—"Overthrow cock rock and idolize your girlfriend"—could finally be more than a threat.

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