A meditation on the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival : 1975-2015


The nutloaf was nutty. The drumming was drummy. I bought a dykey leather bracelet, got my period, howled like a wolf, showered in the open air and woke up in a tent underneath several inches of water during a thunderstorm. I washed dishes in a communal trough and let a silky wolf spider shimmy up my arm. I felt Lisa Vogel’s true love for each one of us in the fireworks show on Saturday at Night Stage.

It was Fest. It was the last Fest.

Before I left, I rubbed my new bracelet in the dirt and on the bark of trees in an effort to take the Land back with me. I tore off a piece of a fern, put it in my mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

I’m in the denial stage of grief: Lisa will hear our pain; feel our need; change her mind, I keep thinking. And then, more calmly: Even if Fest doesn’t continue in the same way we’ve known for the last 40 years, it’ll revamp; renew; reformat. We may not gather in 650 acres of pristine northern Michigan woodland, but we’ll figure things out on a smaller scale. Lisa gets to retire if she wants to. No one can be the lesbian Moses, leading us out of the desert of our lives, forever. Forty years is long enough for any job. It’s as long as I’ve been alive. 

“If you need it; if you want it; then create it,” we all heard from the stages – and though I appreciated the encouragement and felt a frisson of excitement at the idea of making something blossom out of the Fest seeds, I don’t think I’m alone in doubting that I can create exactly what I’ve needed, and got, in my years on the Land. The most creative idea I’ve got at this point has to do with an all-women’s potluck. And I don’t know any sisters in this town. So I feel sad and afraid.

The loss of Fest is serious and worthy of our grief. Many women depended on Fest to be:

  • The only place they ever got to fully inhabit themselves without the male gaze; without judgment; without fear; seeing themselves only through loving eyes and finding themselves enough.
  •  The only place they could set a bag down and walk away; knowing it’d be there when they got back.
  • The only place they could travel from a great distance with only a backpack; knowing their needs would be met by the Land and the women on it.
  • The only place they ever experienced a week without men – and, more importantly, with only women – and if you haven’t experienced this, I can’t explain its transformative power.
  • The only place they ever spoke – or listened – to a much older woman or a very little girl.
  • The only place no one treated them as inferior because they were deaf, or disabled, or a single mother, or had a full beard, or worked a blue- or pink-collar job.
  • The only place they really mattered to other people.
  • The only thing they were ever really a part of.

The “only place” part is, I think, a real indictment of the world we live in; of “Area 51.”

I know that women always have, and always will, find ways to connect and get our needs met – even in, or especially in, times and places deeply hostile to us. We are water that flows downward and rust that never sleeps, and this goes double for lesbians: What have we not done? Where have we not gone? When have we not carved out spaces for ourselves – and long, long before the Internet, when we were still criminals just by being who we were?

I know all this. I believe it. This loss, though, sisters. This loss.