The Festy balances male and female talent

Erin Lunsford performs and emcees at the gender-balanced Festy Experience that includes Ani DiFranco, Joan Osborne and Drive-By Truckers on October 5-8 at Infinity Downs. Photo by Ron Paris Erin Lunsford performs and emcees at the gender-balanced Festy Experience that includes Ani DiFranco, Joan Osborne and Drive-By Truckers on October 5-8 at Infinity Downs. Photo by Ron Paris

When Erin Lunsford is on the road with her band, Erin & the Wildfire, she’s often overlooked. Because she’s a woman, Lunsford says, many assume she’s a groupie—even though she’s the band’s lead vocalist and it’s her name on the bill.

Though it’s initially difficult for her to pick just one, Lunsford recalls a particularly irritating moment when someone ignored her before a show—she says it happens all the time. At an unnamed venue, Lunsford says, the band received a complimentary meal. The waitress took the male bandmates’ orders, and skipped Lunsford after assuming she wasn’t part of the band.

“She didn’t even take my order. She just walked away,” Lunsford says. “It wasn’t her fault. It’s just systemic, patriarchal oppression.”

As a Charlottesville artist, Lunsford has been asking herself how music can be intersectional. To Michael Allenby, director of The Festy Experience, one answer to that question is a festival lineup that balances female and male talent. The eighth Festy Experience takes place October 5-8 at Infinity Downs in Arrington, and features an equal number of male and female performing artists.

“I’m so grateful to Festy for setting this example and don’t want to diminish how wonderful it is,” says Lunsford, who performs a solo set at the festival and emcees its main stage. “But at the same time, it’s like, ‘Duh.’”

“Most people who create festivals are trying to sell tickets, and what they think people want to buy tickets for—and by-and-large it’s true—are bands [fans] want to see, so [organizers] turn to the music industry,” Allenby says. “The music industry has its ego, misogynistic tendencies and some nasty people. If you’re going to go to that to get your artists, you’ll get male artists.”

By separating his event from the mainstream music industry and its commoditization of artists, Allenby says he can create an inclusive, family-friendly experience for his audience. He can focus on community, supporting artists and their careers—regardless of gender.

“We have to pull each other up,” Lunsford says. “Not that everybody needs to be an activist, but it would be great if everybody was an activist.”

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