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Festival Fits

The arguments against booking more women musicians


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Rock music festivals don't book enough female acts. Look at the numbers: Only 17 percent of the bands playing Coachella include at least one female member; Summerfest in Milwaukee, the "World's Largest Music Festival," comes in under 23 percent; closer to home, Bonnaroo lands at just under 25 percent. The numbers get even more pathetic if you look at most punk, hardcore and EDM festivals.

Every year the criticism directed at festival bookers gets louder, but things don't appear to be changing. It doesn't help that every time this topic comes up, it's met with a chorus of (mostly, but not exclusively) men who say adding more women to festival lineups isn't necessary, isn't possible or is actually a very bad idea. I have yet to hear one solid, thoughtful reason to not book more women — and I have heard a lot of reasons — so, in the interest of squashing the same lame-brain arguments and advancing to the next step (the step where we fix the problem instead of arguing about it), I want to address the five worst, most frequent reasons cited for keeping women out of music festivals:

There just aren't as many women playing rock music.

Oh, for real? You're familiar with literally every single rock band in the world, and you've crunched those numbers? No, you aren't, and you haven't. Not only is this a lazy argument, but it's also impossible to prove, so please stop stating it as fact unless you have a very large spreadsheet to present as evidence. More and more bands are being created every single day, and thousands upon thousands of those bands include females. Just because you haven't heard of these artists, and just because your own personal music experience is overflowing with men, that doesn't mean they're the only ones out there.

But festivals have to book the bands that sell tickets — female bands just don't sell.

Yes, I understand that music festivals are businesses, but here's the thing: Festivals count on the headliners to sell tickets. Those bands further down the bill — the dozens listed in the small print below Kendrick Lamar or Wilco or whomever? They aren't expected to bring in a whole lot, comparatively. They're there to round out the experience. It's absolutely possible for festival bookers to fill those spaces with more women without losing ticket sales. And putting more women in front of larger festival crowds could help those artists cultivate a bigger fan base. Having a bigger fan base might make it possible for more of those women to hold headliner spots down the road. Cool, right? (By the way, there are plenty of women headliners who do sell tickets, including St. Vincent, Sleater-Kinney, Alabama Shakes, Paramore, Florence + the Machine, to name just a few.)

A lot of bands with women in them just aren't as good.

I suppose you love every single all-male band at every festival you go to? No, you don't. And that's OK. But that doesn't mean someone else won't be stoked they're there. You're trying really hard to not include women — why are you so afraid of women?

Because then some talented all-male bands won't get those slots, 'cause girls got them!

So? When you go to a store and they're out of bread, do you stomp your feet and scream about how if peanut butter didn't get so much goddamn shelf space there would be more room for that bread you wanted? No, you are an adult. You go to another fucking store.

Whatever. Book your own festival if you don't like it.

That's as ridiculous as me saying "Whatever. Go start your own column or newspaper if you don't like the criticism you're getting." I am a music critic — I write critically about things in the music industry. People who book public music fests have their own job to do, too, and I'm just asking them to do it better. The responsibility doesn't fall entirely on their shoulders, either — I want to see the bands who are being booked speak up for their female peers who are overlooked. And as the ticket-buyers for these fests, we should support more female artists. Ask promoters where the women are. Let promoters know about them, buy their records, go to their shows. Make it damn near impossible for music festivals to keep ignoring them.

So now that we've covered all that, why not book more women? I'm sincerely asking.


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