(The weather turned and my arthriticals turned with it, but I’m back now)
It’s flashback time. What author worth her salt would tell a story like this without flashbacks?
But first … here’s that little green butterfly in close-up. (those two evil eyes staring at you in the middle of the picture)
Picture it; Sydney, Australia, late 1980’s. (paraphrased from Sophia Petrillo) It was everything a young lesbian feminist political activist guitarplaying writer could want. Ahh, the wine, the women, the song … hmm … we’ll focus on the ‘song’.
We were writing songs of protest, (this was still an era when we fought nuclear proliferation and wondered if we’d live to see the turn of the century) songs of inner strength, songs about falling in love, (and possibly renting a U-haul the very next day – ask your nearest lesbian if you don’t understand the U-haul reference) We were marching in the streets, we were Reclaiming the Night, we were organising and performing in fund-raisers, cabarets, townhall concerts, and music festivals the length and breadth of the east coast. (I’m fairly sure it was happening on the other coasts too)
Occasionally an imported ‘star’ from the women’s music scene in the US would headline, but mostly it was our homegrown performers that moved us to be something greater than what we were.
In all of this occasionally we would dream of going ‘big-time’ and play at the Michigan Womyns Music Festival in, (where else?) Michigan. Very few of us could afford that kind of trip, so we’d console ourselves with the stories of those who went and returned.
Fast forward: Widder Island, BC, Canada, the early months of 2015. After working toward seeing Canada in our own RV for years, Mrs Widds and I finally signed the papers for our brand spanking new trailer. Next thing we did was sit down and decide where we would go sightseeing first.
Nothing too challenging because for all our dreamweaving, neither of us really knew anything about the care and feeding of an RV, even a (relatively) little one like our 7-and-a-bit-meter long travel trailer.
We discussed a short trip to the Northern Interior where Mrs Widds grew up, or maybe even a quick trip south through Washington’s redwood forests. We were certain of two things; we wouldn’t go far and we wouldn’t go for too long … which lasted until I heard this year’s 40th annual Michfest (as it’s colloquially known) was going to be the last, and Mrs Widds thought it might be a great adventure to see the Maritimes, which just happen to be waaaay over on the other side of the country.
Long story short, we didn’t have the time or money to get to the Maritimes and back (this year) so we settled on Niagara Falls as our eastern-most point and thence west through Michigan and back home.
The drive from Niagara Falls to the Canada/US border at Sarnia went as smooth as we could possibly dream, but once past the checkpoint we were back in roadworks and construction again. Oh yes, and one large tortoise crossing the road just as the roadworks began – a harbinger of how slow the traffic would get perhaps?
It occurs to me that an awful lot of our driving time was spent negotiating storms and construction!
Speaking of which, a storm was brewing to the south west of us as we bumped and thumped our way along Hwy 96/69. (so many opportunities for jokes there) It required another round of white-knuckle driving as the trailer swayed from side to side in the ever increasing wind. We made it to our campground on the west coast of Michigan just as the storm broke right over our heads. Yet another 8+ hour drive. Oiiiii!
The campground was chock-full of women on their way to the festival and we learned that although we were advised not to start queuing up until 10am the next day, women were already camped out at the gates. We resigned ourselves to wait at the end of a very, very, very long line.
It took us almost twelve hours to get in to the festival grounds. Twelve hours of inching forward fifty meters every half hour. I cleaned accumulated sand and dust dragons from the hidden corners of the trailer, and napped, and tried to occupy myself with house … erm … trailer cleaning tasks, being extremely thankful we had our very own toilet and water source.
Mrs Widds read. An entire book. She doesn’t suffer waiting or queues or fools easily. That book is what saved the organisers a fate worse than death.
We later learned they were not expecting anywhere near the number of attendees. Many women, like us, decided to go because it was the last festival, the end of an era.
Overall, I didn’t have a good time. There were moments that I enjoyed: catching up with an old friend from OZ that I hadn’t seen for a couple of decades.
A beautiful hand-made gold wire bracelet …
… Hitting the music tent and stocking up on CD’s.
… The beaming smiles; women would deliberately make eye contact just for the ‘beams’.
… Being completely surrounded by women, of all shapes and sizes and ages, all gathered together for a singular purpose, to make and experience music and community, together.
… but, that didn’t make up for the lack of adequate infrastructure, especially for someone with my degree of dis-ability in getting around long distances by shank’s pony.
The actual festival started on a Tuesday, but by the time we got there on Monday evening the festival resources were already at full capacity, and hundreds and hundreds of women and their piles of camping gear were flooding in by the hour.
There were tractor-shuttles but they were always full mostly with all that camping gear, and ran far too infrequently. There were long line-ups for everything, particularly at mealtimes. Thankfully we’d stocked the trailer in anticipation that we’d be having some meals just the two of us, but not 95% of ‘em. Even the queues that were specifically for otherly-abled women were overrun.
Some women had been coming to the festival for years, some from the very beginning, others, younger, who’d been coming here for all of their lives. These women were celebrating as well as grieving, and their celebrations and grief was so deep that it became a palpable shimmer above everyone’s heads.
Some like us, ‘virgins’, stood apart to a degree, separate simply because we didn’t have the history others did. The party was great, but the grief wasn’t ours.
Mrs Widds made the observation that it felt like being invited to a wake for someone we didn’t know all that well. The kind where you circulate the room, say your piece to the grieving relatives, then make a discreet exit.
By Thursday night, three days before schedule, we knew it was ‘discreet exit’ time. We hooked up ‘ol Bessie’ Friday morning and rumbled outta town. Rumbled because hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of vehicles using a dirt road do not a smooth journey make. Five kilometers of tsunami sized washboard corrugations left our backsides numb and kidneys liquefied.
At the end of the road we did a quick check to make sure nothing had shaken loose both inside and outside the trailer and headed north.
If you’re interested in the politics of why the festival ended and why it began, you can do a google search for ‘why did michfest end?’ (or just click on the link 🙂)
As always a workable truth is somewhere in the middle, but I liked what this piece had to say.
I do hope someone will pick up the torch so this sacred space will continue for another 40 years.
Next: A Cliché, I know, but Westward Ho
P.S. Coco is back. I’m guessing this is the official cat-sanctioned start of Autumn.