Torrey is a town of a little more than 200 people located a little more than 200 miles south of Salt Lake City, along State Route 24 in Wayne County.
When the Women’s Redrock Music Festival takes place there this Friday and Saturday, it’ll draw an audience roughly two or three times Torrey’s population.
But while 2017 will mark the festival’s 11th season, a great many Utahns still have never even heard of it.
“Yeah, a lot of people don’t know about it,” acknowledged Hillary McDaniel, the festival’s new production director. “It’s kind of a hidden gem, and some people like it that way. And people like me, I’m more of the mindset that everybody needs to know about this because it’s so amazing.”
Before taking on a leadership role this year when the original quartet of founders decided to step aside, McDaniel had taken in the Redrock festival as both a fan and as a drummer with several bands that played there.
She’s seen first-hand the impact the festival can have on people. And so, knowing many people will wonder what exactly the point is of putting in the work to stage a women’s music event in a remote part of the state just to draw a crowd of 600 people or so, she has a ready and straightforward response.
“Well, the point is to showcase and highlight female artists. There is not [another] women’s music festival in Utah anywhere. You think about music festivals that you go to, and they don’t call them men’s music festivals, or say, ‘Hey, come to Menapalooza,’ or whatever, but … when I’m there, I see so many bands where everybody’s male,” she said. “When girls and women see other women doing things that are brave, and things that they want to do, when they see someone who looks like them — and gender plays a role in it when you see a woman doing something — it helps you step up. So it’s important.”
Women’s Redrock Music Festival
When • Friday-Saturday, Aug. 11-12
Where • Robber’s Roost, 185 Main St., Torrey
Tickets • $40-$90; womensredrockmusicfest.com
The birth of a movement
Laura Scholl is the owner of the Robber’s Roost bookstore in Torrey, where the Redrock festival is held and where the nonprofit Entrada Institute is housed. Entrada, according to its website, “was founded in the winter of 1992 by a group of desert lovers who wished to share their enthusiasm for the Capitol Reef area with like-minded arts and outdoor lovers.”
Scholl contributed to that mission by arranging residencies in Wayne County for women’s artists and musicians from around the country.
That was the genesis of the idea for the Women’s Redrock Music Festival. Carol Gnade, Jeri Tafoya, Laurie Wood and Lu Prickett founded the festival and organized the first event in 2007. And while McDaniel notes that plenty of other women’s festivals came before, “I think for Utah to bring it here in 2007, and have just women and female-fronted artists was pretty pioneering and epic for that day.”
Holly Near, a 68-year-old former actress turned folk singer and social activist, notes that what is called “women’s music” today really first began to take off when females protesting the Vietnam War decided that as well-intentioned as the likes of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs might be, there would inevitably be perspectives they couldn’t relate to and thus couldn’t express.
“Without really knowing exactly what we were doing, we started to build something that got kind of nicknamed ‘women’s music.’ And obviously, that was a code word for music coming through a woman’s lens, but it stuck, it took hold,” Near said. “And women’s music festivals, women’s bookstores, women’s record companies, all these things kind of started sprouting up.”
With the Entrada Institute enlarging its support role for the Redrock festival this year, Near was invited as part of the new “Legacy Program.” She will participate both as a performer and by leading a workshop called “Inspiring Change Through Words and Music.”
She said she accepted the invitation for two reasons, the first being she was pleased to see a younger generation of leaders taking over the festival.
“But the other thing is that it’s Utah! We get so much critical news from Utah, about it being conservative,” she said. “Every place has a whole spectrum of ideologies, and I feel like Utah’s gotten sort of pegged in the Mormon strategy, or this strategy or that, and here are these people who are doing big, open-hearted work that is worth supporting.”
‘The personal is political’
With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, 2017 has already seen plenty of activism related to women’s causes. Women’s marches earlier this year in response to what are viewed as regressive views and policies of Trump’s administration drew millions of attendees throughout the country.
Kate MacLeod, a folk singer and violinist originally from Maryland who moved to Salt Lake City in 1979, is a two-time Entrada artist-in-residence who will be leading off the performances on Friday evening.
While she noted, “I hate to use the word ‘feminist,’ because that’s just such an overused word, and also people don’t like that word — even some women don’t like that word,” she still relates to the underlying principles of the word, and so decided her participation in the festival was important.
“I’m a person who believes in people’s rights and that women’s work has been undervalued. Is that a good way of putting that?” she said. “And so, I’m very involved with being a vocal person. In my work, I get to be an artist and be a part of changing that.”
For all the positive steps taken over the years and decades, females still face plenty of challenges today, she said, and Trump’s policies represent just a piece of the problem. Participating at events such as Redrock is another way to keep such issues at the forefront of the public consciousness.
“Women, we still have a long way to go in various arenas. Pay scale is one, which is not the most important thing, but there’s also reproductive rights and the assault on that and women as birthgivers and nurturers and caregivers,” Saliers said. “So, in a sense, the personal is political. And there’s always that at a women’s festival.”
Near, who these days devotes most of her activism towards women’s and LGBTQ issues, concurs that those areas are under assault.
But the fact that she can be asked how much progress has truly been made is enough to give her some hope that things will ultimately work out.
“These things that you just named causally would not have even been spoken of 50 years ago by a journalist in Utah. I just got chills! That’s amazing! I think sometimes that we forget that just the fact that this conversation is happening. … Now, does that mean what violence against women has stopped? That trafficking has stopped? That women get equal pay? No. But, those conversations aren’t secrets anymore,” Near said. “Some of those hard-fought battles are being undone as we speak by the current administration, and that, I think, has been very devastating to a lot of people — feeling like, ‘Oh my god, we worked so hard for this. It’s crumbling before our eyes.’ But things have crumbled before, and I think they will get built back up and maybe built better than they were built by us.”
Have a good time
Saliers, who has played at her share of women’s festivals over the years, admits they tend towards “very women-centric, obviously, women vibe, strong feminist bent, and just a real sense of camaraderie that’s indescribably important.”
What often gets lost under all that heavy stuff, she added, is that they’re also supposed to be a good time.
“It’s also just fun,” Saliers said. “It’s just fun, and you’re in good company, and everybody’s supporting everybody else, and there aren’t the typical divisions that you have to feel sometimes living in a patriarchal world. It’s a good combination of things to feel and think about.”
There’s just something about the experience of seeing live music that brings people together, she added.
“It just gets you on a cellular level. … It is electric. It’s people connecting,” she said. “There’s no artifice — it’s just us all up there working it out through music. For something to take me away from my family as much as it does — my family who I adore — it’s got to be a powerful experience.”
McDaniel said she and her team booked a variety of genres — “We have jazz, we’ve got folk, Americana, we’ve got rock, we have a lot of dance music this year, which is cool” — was done with the intent of showing that “women’s music” is not limited to the stereotypical singing and acoustic guitars, and that, “we try to showcase the idea that women can do anything and play any kind of music and just kill it!”
Near specifically wanted to point out, “This particular [festival] is open to men and women; it’ll be all women onstage, but men should know that they are welcome to come — or anybody on the gender spectrum!” She also noted, “I think it’s also to ask oneself, ‘Do we want to support having these kinds of things happening in our state and in our community?’ And if so, attendance is how things keep going.”
That, McDaniel added, reflects Redrock’s ultimate goal as much as anything — to simply to bring a group of unique people together for a common, shared, and impactful experience.
“This is not a typical music festival, or a typical gig at a bar, or a Friday night at a music club. This is 600 women all traveling … to meet in one tiny little town, and the whole energy of the place changes,” McDaniel said. “… That’s kind of the goal for me, that it would just continue and will become a Utah tradition that every single year, women artists get to come down to the desert and be a part of something really big and amazing.”
5:05 p.m. • Kate MacLeod
5:55 p.m. • Karyn Ann
7:05 p.m. • Daphne Willis
8:45 p.m. • Trishes
11:25a.m. • Mama J
12:25 p.m. • Heather Mae
1:20 p.m. •Namoli Brennet
2:30 p.m. • Mary Tebbs
3:45 p.m. •Dee-Dee-Darby Duffin
5:15 p.m. • Holly Near
7 p.m. •Emily Saliers
8:45 p.m. • Katie Kuffel