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National Women's Music Festival

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National Women's Music Festival
GenreWomen's music
DatesFirst weekend in July
Location(s)Middleton, Wisconsin, United States
Years active1974–present
Founded byKristin Lems
Attendance5,000 as of 1991[1]

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The National Women's Music Festival (NWMF) is an American women's music festival held yearly various Midwestern states since 1974. It is the first and longest running festival of it's kind.


The festival has been held on various college campuses in the Midwest, including the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Illinois; Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana; Ball State in Muncie, Indiana; Kent State in Kent, Ohio; Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio; and Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. It has been held at the Marriott Madison West Hotel and Conference Center in Madison, Wisconsin since 2009.[2]


Founding and early years[edit]

In 1973, Kristin Lems began attending graduate school at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. That year, she wrote Women Walk More Determined and asked to play it at the local Red Herring Folk Festival, but she was denied. Because they had refused her and the festival had never featured any female performers, she organized a one-day "Womanfolk Festival" to highlight female folk musicians.[3] It was successful and as a result, she and the other organizers decided to create a larger scale women's folk festival the following year.[4] The first National Women's Music Festival was held from May 28 to June 2, 1974 and there were 300-350 attendees.[5][6] Lems, with a group of other female students, planned a six day festival that would feature concerts, open mics, workshops, and art shows. Well-known musicians such as Janis Ian, Roberta Flack, and Yoko Ono were set to play the festival, but they didn't show up due to an issue with the festival's promoter. The organizers had to find other performers at short notice.[7][8]

The second festival was held from June 10 to June 15, 1975. In addition to concerts and workshops, there were consciousness-raising groups and film screenings.[9][10] During the third festival, there was a controversy over feminist separatism.The organizers disagreed over whether or not the festival should be for women only, but some performers kicked out or tried to prevent men from entering concerts or workshops. The University of Illinois threatened to close the festival due to Title IX violations for excluding men from the event.[11][12] There were 2,000 attendees in 1976.[6][13] The fourth festival was held from June 28-July 3 in 1977. It featured Maxine Feldman, Lucha, Jane Sapp, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Anne Romaine, Hazel Dickens, Margie Adam, Willie Tyson, Alive!, Hysteria, Malvina Reynolds, Judy Eron, Patty Hall, and Kay Gardner. Be Be K'Roche played their last concert at the 1977 festival. There were workshops on "Black Women and Social Change," "Political Songs of the South," and "Racism in the Women's Music Movement."[14] For the first time, all of the workshops and concerts were open to men as a result of the controversy during the third festival. Many women who wanted women-only workshops and concerts didn't attend in 1977, but the organizers encouraged them to begin their own festivals.[14] In 1978, the NWMF was held at the Champaign-Urbana campus and featured Margie Adam, Be Be K'Roche, Meg Christian, Ginni Clemens, Kay Gardner, Holly Near, Malvina Reynolds, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Cris Williamson. It had workshops on "Violin Repair," "The Production and Politics of Album Covers," "Racism in Women's Music Movement," and "How to Buy P.A. Equipment."[15]


In 1982, after years of struggling for funding and other issues with hosting the NWMF on the Campaign-Urbana campus, the festival moved to the Indiana University Bloomington campus. At this festival, the mayor of Bloomington, Tomi Allison, was presented with a bouquet of flowers.[16] The 1983 festival featured 80 workshops, including the first Music Industry Conference. There was an increased emphasis on making the festival accessible for poor and handicapped women as well as highlighting new/up-and-coming musicians with "Performer Showcases." The ninth festival featured a showcase for classical music composed by women.[17] In 1984, the tenth anniversary of the festival featured guest speakers Ann Bannon and Mary Daly. Performers included Kate Clinton, Sue Fink, Kay Gardner, June Jordan, Adrienne Torf, the Betsy Rose chorus, Susan Freundlich, Dovida and Henia Goodman, Casselberry and Dupree, Holly Near, Beth York, Erika Thorn, Tricia Alexander and Lori Noelle, Toshi Reagon and the Agitones, and Alix Dobkin. There were an estimated 3,100 attendees; 100 men and 3,000 women. Maida Tilchen described the 1984 festival as the "coming of age of women's music."[18]

In 1986, the festival featured Tracy Chapman. In addition to the musical acts, the festival featured spirituality, writers and music industry conferences, as well as workshop series's on older women and classical music.[19]



In 1994, the 20th anniversary of the NWMF was celebrated with a gala banquet and the performance and live recording of Kay Gardner's Ouroboros: Seasons of Life—Women's Passages.[21] In 1995, Rita Mae Brown was the keynote speaker. Janis Ian performed at the festival.[22] At the 1997 festival, the keynote speaker was Judy Chicago and Jane Chambers' play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove was performed. The festival featured Suzanne Westenhoefer, Cris Williamson with Tret Fure, the Three of Hearts with Margie Adam, Tiana Marquez, Barbara Higbie and Liz Story, Saffire, Ubaka Hill, Dos Fallopia, Jamie Andersen, and 2 Funkin' Heavy. There were nearly 250 workshops, several dances, an art exhibit, and a craft market.[23]

The festival moved to Ball State in 1998. Anita Hill, Holly Near, Heather Bishop, Dorothy Allison, Suede, Lucie Blue Tremblay, Catie Curtis, Kate Clinton, and a reunion of Alive!.[24]

2000 to present[edit]

The 2001 festival keynote speaker was Sabrina Sojourner. Wicca high priestess Phyllis Curott was the special guest of the workshop series on spirituality. Lou Montgomery performed Kali's Follies: Mid-life at the Millennium and Carolyn Gage performed The Second Coming of Joan of Arc.[25]

In 2003, the NWMF was held at Kent State University and it featured Alix Olson, Tret Fure, Melissa Ferrick, Marga Gomez, Georgia Ragsdale and Lucie Blue Tremblay.[26] In 2006, Margie Adam, Deidre McCalla, Alix Olson, and Tret Fure played the festival.[27] The festival moved to Wisconsin in 2008 because attendees asked for a more hospitality-oriented venue; a hotel or conference center offered more services than the college campuses it had been held on for the previous 33 years. It featured Paprika, Christy Snow, Sonia and the Disappear Fear, C.C. Carter, Tret Fure and her band, Jamie Anderson, Martine Locke, Andrea Gibson, Edie Carey, Cris Williamson and her band, comics Mimi Gonzalez, Judy Piazza, Karen Williams Ellis, Driftwood Fire, and the drag troupe All the King's Men.[28][29] The 2009 festival featured musicians Lucie Blue Tremblay, Sarah Bettens, Erin McKeown, Zoe Lewis, Patrice Pike, and comics Lisa Koch, Vickie Shaw and Roxanna Ward.[30][31]

In 2013, Cris Williamson, Melissa Ferrick, Big Bad Gina, Voices of Africa, Jean and June Millington, Gina Yashere, Kristen Ford Barb Nelligan, and Ginger Doss performed at the NWMF.[32]


There have been a variety of conferences held concurrently at the NWMF. The Music Industry Conference (MIC)[33]

Open mikes, auctions, stages, workshops, conferences[34]


Honors awarded at the National Women's Music Festival since 1986
Year Jane Schliessman Award for Outstanding Contributions to Women’s Music Jeanine C. Rae Award for the Advancement of Women’s Culture
1986 Dino Sierp[35] Jocelyn Cohen[35]
1988 Teresa Boykin[35] Lesbian Connection[35]
1989 Kay Gardner[35] Audre Lorde[35]
1990 Vicki Randle[35] Terri Jewell[35]
1991 Ronnie Gilbert[36] Toni Armstrong Jr., Hot Wire[35]
1992 Judy Dlugacz[35][37] Anyda Marchant (aka Sarah Aldridge)[35][37]
1993 Catherine Roma[35] Naiad Press[35]
1994 Myrna Johnston[35] Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon[35]
1995 Nikki Giovanni[38]
1996 Laurie Fuchs[39] Margarethe Cammermeyer[38]
1997 Margie Adam[38] Carol Seajay[38]
1998 Therese Edell[40]
1999 Terry Grant[41]
2002 Lucie Blue Tremblay Carolyn Gage[42]
2004 Tret Fure[43]
2006 Jamie Anderson[44]
2008 Kiya Heartwood[45]
2009 Tret Fure[43]
2011 Ruth Barrett[46]
2013 Ellen Hart[47]
2014 Edwina Lee Tyler Lesbian Connection
2016 Nan Washburn[48]
2018 Nancy Scott[49] Martha Wheelock[49]

There have been a variety of other awards given, many of which are more recently created. The Women in the Arts Appreciation Award was given to Harriet Claire in 1996 and the Fort Wayne Women's Bureau in 1997.[39][38] The Women in the Arts Kristin Lems Social Change Through Music Award's inaugural honoree was Kristin Lems in 2015.[50] In 2018, it was awarded to Gaye Adegbalola.[49] The Sarah Dwyer WIA Board of Directors’ Special Appreciation Award was given to Beth Kennon and Marilyn Krump in 2015 and Carla Carter, Jorjet Harper, and Nedra Johnson in 2018.[49] The Women in the Arts Technical Skills Award was given to Jill Anania in 2014 and Sondra Bolte in 2018.[49] The Women in the Arts Volunteer Award was given to Bonnie Zwiebel in 2014 and Connie Webb in 2018.[49] The Women in the Arts Marketplace Award was given to Goldenrod in 2018.[49] In 2014, Ruth Rowan was awarded the Phyllis Roark Philanthropy Award.[51] The Ruth Ann Rowan Believer Award was awarded to Bonnie Morris in 2017 and Kaia Skaggs in 2018.[52][49]

Notable performers[edit]

Musicians and musical groups[edit]

  • Margie Adam
  • BeBe K'Roche
  • Tracy Chapman
  • Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band
  • Meg Christian
  • The Deadly Nightshade
  • Alix Dobkin
  • Maxine Feldman
  • Melissa Ferrick
  • Ferron
  • Sue Fink
  • God-Des and She
  • Janis Ian
  • June Jordan
  • Laura Love
  • Holly Near
  • Toshi Reagon
  • Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • Tribe 8
  • Cris Williamson

Others - comedians, speakers, and workshop presenters[edit]

  • Kate Clinton
  • Angela Davis


Further reading[edit]

  • Doyle, JD. "National Women's Music Festival". Queer Music Heritage. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  • Eder, Donna; Staggenborg, Suzanne; Sudderth, Lori (January 1995). "The Nation Women's Music Festival: Collective Identity and Diversity in a Lesbian-Feminist Community". Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 23 (4): 485–515. doi:10.1177/089124195023004004.
  • Meyer, Marcy; O'Hara, Laura Shue (2004). "When They Know Who We Are: The National Women's Music Festival Comes to Ball State University". In Buzzanell, Patrice M.; Sterk, Helen; Turner, Lynn H. Gender in Applied Communication Contexts. SAGE. ISBN 9780761928652. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png


  1. Brown, Kristin (19 September 1991). "Music People: our international multilingual eco-feminist folkie". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  2. Weldon, Jane (May 2009). "National Women's Music Festival". Our Lives Magazine. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  3. Huttel, Richard (26 March 1974). "UI grad student organizing national women's folk festival". Features. The Daily Illini. pp. 19, 21. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  4. Kuzma, Cindy (6 April 2016). "Folk hero Kristin Lems". Illinois Alumni Association. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  5. Gitelson, Candace (April 18, 1974). "Women's Music Festival". News. Daily Illini.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Brown, Kristin (19 September 1991). "Music People: our international multilingual eco-feminist folkie". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  7. Trammell, Anna (31 March 2016). "The National Women's Music Festival". Student Life and Culture Archives at the University of Illinois Archives. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  8. Watts, Sher (July 26, 1974). "Women's Fest Promoter May Face Legal Action". Features. Daily Illini. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  9. "The Bulletin Board". CWLU News. Chicago Women's Liberation Union. June 1, 1975. p. 18.
  10. Schmitz, Marlene; Edelson, Carol (July 1975). "national music festival". off our backs. 5 (6). pp. 1, 18–20, 25. JSTOR 25772257.
  11. National Women's Music Festival Collective (April–May 1977). "Statement of Clarity". The Amazon. 6 (1). p. 17.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  12. "Music Festival". Hot Briefs. Big Mama Rag. 5 (4). May 1977. p. 7.
  13. Schmitz, Marlene (July–August 1976). "nat'l music festival's third refrain". off our backs. 6 (5). JSTOR 25784355.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Riley, Kathy (August–September 1977). "Women's Music: Much More Than Meets The Ear". Big Mama Rag. 5 (7). p. 13.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  15. "National Music Festival". News/Commentary. Sojourner. 3 (8). April 1978. p. 17.
  16. Tilchen, Maida (Jul 16, 1983). "National Women's Music Festival; Thriving in Indiana". Gay Community News. 11 (1). Boston. p. 8.
  17. "National Women's Music Fest" (PDF). Gaze. 4 (4). April 1983. p. 11.
  18. Tilchen, Maida (November 1984). "CelebraTen: NWMF's 10th" (PDF). Hot Wire: A Journal of Women's Music and Culture. 1 (1): 34–37.
  19. Deihl, Marcia (April 1986). "The Music Box". Sojourner. 11 (8). p. 42.
  20. Springer, Christina (May 1990). "The National Women's Music Festival: Bringing Non-Dominant Women to Full Boil". off our backs. 20 (5). p. 9. JSTOR 25797380.
  21. Morris, Bonnie J (1999). Eden built by Eves : the culture of women's music festivals. Alyson. p. 256. ISBN 1555834779. OCLC 925146173. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  22. "Women's Festival Set at Indiana U.". The Plain Dealer. May 23, 1995. p. 2E.
  23. Wukas, Mark (May 11, 1997). "For Ladies, Mostly Indiana University to Host National Women's Music Festival". Travel. Chicago Tribune.
  24. Simmons, Carol (Feb 27, 1998). "The Go! Guide to Outdoor Music Festivals". Dayton Daily News.
  25. "Women's Music Festival Offers More Than Music". Star Press. June 22, 2001.
  26. Katz, Dian (June 2003). "HOTSPOTS". Lesbian News. 28 (11).
  27. Massey, Liz (May 18, 2006). "Heavenly Harmonies". Echo Magazine. 17 (18). p. 48.
  28. "National Women's Music Festival Tickets Available". Quest: Wisconsin’s Gay News Leader. 15 (8). May 29, 2008. p. 13.
  29. Worland, Gayle (June 19, 2008). "Women's Festival Picks Madison". Wisconsin State Journal. p. B3.
  30. "Women's/Womyn's Music in the Air". The Weekender. Lesbian News. 34 (12). July 2009. p. 43.
  31. Anderson, Jamie (July–August 2009). "Your chance to make out and rock out". Curve. p. 13.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  32. "Nat'l Women's Music Festival July 4-7". Windy City Times. 28 (38). June 26, 2013. p. 42.
  33. Guse, C.W. (November 1985). "The Music Industry Conference: Third Annual Gathering at NWMF" (PDF). Hot Wire: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture. 2 (1): 38–39.
  34. "What is Feminist music?". National News. Lesbian Tide. 3 (11). July 1974. p. 19.
  35. 35.00 35.01 35.02 35.03 35.04 35.05 35.06 35.07 35.08 35.09 35.10 35.11 35.12 35.13 35.14 20th Annual National Women's Music Festival: Celebrating the Past, Building the Future, June 2-5, 1994. Women in the Arts/Nation Women's Music Festival Inc. 1994. p. 9. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  36. Jamakaya (July 10, 1991). "Heat and Passion Dominate 17th National Women's Music Festival". The Wisconsin Light. 4 (13). p. 16.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Hochberg, M. J. (1992). "The 18th National Women's Music Festival: Rhythm, Lesbian Spirit and a Good Dose of Humor". Outlines: The Voice of the Gay and Lesbian Community. 6 (2). pp. 44–45.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 "Carol Seajay Wins Advancement of Women's Culture Award". News News News. Feminist Bookstore News. 20 (1): 14. May–June 1997.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  39. 39.0 39.1 Seajay, Carol (July–August 1996). "News from the Bookstores". Feminist Bookstore News. 19 (2): 29.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  40. "Women's music legend Therese Edell dies". Windy City Times. 2011-03-23. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  41. Love, Barbara J., ed. (2006). Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975. University of Illinois Press. p. 185. ISBN 9780252097478. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  42. "Bio and Vitae". Carolyn Gage. 2018.
  43. 43.0 43.1 "TRET FURE – Cafe Carpe". 2013. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  44. "Bio". jamieanderson.com. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  45. "About". kiyaheartwood.com. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  46. "Journeying The Wise Woman Path". www.hopespringsinstitute.org. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  47. "Ellen Hart Honored". Bywater Books. 2013-06-10.
  48. Baer, Sarah E. (June 22, 2016). "Much to Celebrate at National Women's Music Festival!". Women's Philharmonic Advocacy.
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 49.4 49.5 49.6 49.7 43rd National Women's Music Festival: We Persist, July 5-8, 2018. Women in the Arts. 2018. pp. 17–19. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  50. Petlicki, Myrna. "Evanston folk singer records first album in a decade". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  51. https://ecitydoc.com/download/click-here-to-view-as-pdf-national-womens-music-festival_pdf. Missing or empty |title= (help) Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  52. "Bonnie J. Morris". www.bonniejmorris.com. Retrieved 2019-04-04.
  53. Willis, Ellen (2011). Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 142–145. ISBN 9780816672820. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  54. Petersen, Karen E. (1987). "Women-Identified Music in the United States". In Koskoff, Ellen. Women and Music in Cross-cultural Perspective. University of Illinois Press. pp. 208–209. ISBN 9780252060571. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png

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