Taylor Czerwinski and Chelsea Grinstead did something in December that had never been done in Charleston before: They put on an all-female music festival. The event, Femme Fest, took place at Tobin’s Market downtown and featured performances from Hannah Wicklund, Babe Club, Maya Gold, Grace McNally, Entit and Anna Crosby.
Czerwinski and Grinstead are the executive director and editor-in-chief, respectively, of 9 To 5 magazine, a local arts-and-music publication, and their connections through the indie mag helped them create a day for female musicians on the local scene.
“It was actually inspired by Maya Gold,” Czerwinski said of the first Femme Fest. “As a woman, musician she’d said, ‘Why is there not a festival or show where it’s all women acts? There are so many festivals where it’s primarily dudes.’ So, I tried to listen to what she thought we needed for the community, and through the magazine, I thought I could curate a festival that helped support women.”
“I think that while you might hear about Band of Horses at Rialto Row or something, you’re not really hearing about the smaller bands that are constantly playing,” Grinstead added. “We’re piggybacking off of the idea of who is unseen in Charleston, and a lot of the time, it’s female-led bands or female musicians.”
It’s no small feat putting on a festival in the middle of a pandemic on a shoestring budget and with minimal staff, but Czerwinski and Grinstead made it work and got a lot of positive feedback to boot.
“What I learned from the first one is how much Charleston needed that,” Czerwinski said. “The performers told me how grateful they were to have the space—how great the energy was. It was all about the feeling. That’s what made me want to do it again; I didn’t feel it was something that should only be done one time.”
Thus, the second edition of Femme Fest was born, with this version taking place at Tradesman Brewing Co. on April 17. The lineup will again feature Maya Gold and Anna Crosby, along with Shelby McDaniel, Jordan Igoe, Julie Slonecki, Aggie Flores & the Wildflowers and Brooke & Rattle.
But, Femme Fest isn’t just putting women in the spotlight onstage; there will be a community of female-led food, arts and crafts vendors on site as well.
“We were really hoping to cross-breed between arts and entertainment and music and really get people excited about making this a more relevant thing,” Grinstead said.
Putting on a music festival isn’t easy in the best of times, let alone in a pandemic, but Czerwinski said she enjoyed the challenge of making sure the first and second Femme Fests were done as safely as possible.
“I get inspired by seeing a void and being creative and making things happen,” she said. “I want to make people feel connected and inspired … We did the best we could with masks and social distancing, and everyone was really respectful with following the rules.”
Julie Slonecki has bounced around Charleston with her band Sexbruise? for years, but said Femme Fest is filling a void that some didn’t even know was there.
“Up until they did the first one, I hadn’t heard of anything like that,” she said. “I think it’s one of those things that no one brings up until they realize, ‘Hey, there are no lineups with all female bands’ … I think a lot of people weren’t aware of it or conscious of it, but once you notice the problem you can actually do something about it.”
Slonecki said it’s sometimes difficult for musicians who rely on local gigs to speak up when they see disparities when it comes to venues booking females or people of color.
“It’s definitely a difficult thing to address as an artist,” she said. “If you’re outspoken about any issue, really, you worry about alienating fans or venues—anyone within the industry. So, it’s a tough call whether you want to ruffle feathers and say what you mean. Being in the South as an artist and a more liberal-minded person, it’s kind of a hard line to toe because you have to know a lot of the people you’re playing for don’t think like you, just based on geography.”
Femme Fest is Saturday, April 17, 1-9 p.m. at Tradesman Brewing Company (1647 King Street Ext.). Tickets are $12-$77 and can be purchased at citypapertickets.com.