Rebecca Lowry of R&B band All Young Girls Are Machine Guns wrote in her Femme Fest preview of a “rallying cry” for women of Nebraska’s music community to be heard and taken seriously.
On Friday, the cry was heard throughout Benson’s Maple Street as the main drag was packed for a warm-weather First Friday. The cry surrounded Jake’s Block Party (an annual concert happening the same night) and echoed through a large percentage of participating bars.
All Young Girls Are Machine Guns opened the festival at The Waiting Room Lounge with fiery, soulful songs like “Heard About You” — Lowry’s other title for the tune is “No Doesn’t Mean ‘Try Harder.'” Between songs, Lowry anxiously thanked attendees and volunteers in anticipation for the rest of the night. This was the first festival she planned, she had admitted. Perhaps in the spirit of inclusivity, she gave a final thanks to the men in her band, the rhythm section:
“I am so lucky that none of the guys in my band have ever invalidated my decisions and have contributed to this band,” Lowry said.
Though a more family-friendly environment (only three venues allowed minors) may have ensured a larger new fanbase for the participating bands, Benson was the perfect setting for such a heavy lineup. No other single area in Nebraska has the number of able-bodied venues that could cram 44 bands in the span of seven hours.
That massive number meant spreading the lineup across a noticeably diverse mix of settings. Sweatshop Gallery provided the perspiration-inducing environment for Manic Pixie Dream Girls and LIFE is COOL. The Pizza Shoppe Collective’s air swirled with calming pepperoni aroma the for quieter acoustic acts like Miniature Horse and Mary Ruth McLeay. R&B acts Edem Kegey, Mesonjixx and CJ Mills dominated the Reverb Lounge bill. And because we were in bar-hop-friendly Benson, there were still enough bars that didn’t have live music to enjoy a drink or two talking with friends.
High Up’s sound check at Jake’s Block Party unintentionally attempted to interrupt Edem Kegey’s croon during her quieter ukulele set at Reverb Lounge. But she ignored the outside volume and continued to play her gold-bow-topped ukulele, a calm protest against the noise to showcase her voice.
Femme Fest cultivated a laid-back and fun environment for both attendees and performers. Omaha Girls Rock band Sassafrass took the stage with All Young Girls Are Machine Guns for a cover of Icky Blossoms’ “Babes” before Sassafrass took over the rest of the set. Someone in the audience handed out flower crowns made of party-store leis and glow sticks for Virginia Tanous, who filled in for the absent DJ P2K. Femme Fest collected a massive finish with LIFE is COOL at Sweatshop Gallery, filled with clamorous percussion and horns.
Femme Fest was well-attended, no doubt with the help of social media. The hashtag “#BensonFemmeFest” garnered 55 posts on Instagram, with countless more hidden among “#FemmeFest” and “#FemmeFest2015.” Nearly one thousand people marked “going” on the festival’s Facebook event page.
Probably the best way to describe the attendance for Femme Fest is pushing through Burke’s Pub, dodging apple pie shots and #BensonFirstFriday selfies to get to the music. In the next room, there were almost that many people bobbing their heads to Pancho and the Contraband.
A major facet to consider about Femme Fest is the success of getting so many of these acts together at one time. It proves how prevalent women are in the Nebraska music scene, in the spotlight or otherwise.
Friday’s Femme Fest added a charge to the conversation about female representation at the local music level. Just last month, Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis applauded Maha Music Festival’s gender-inclusive lineup, and Femme Fest took that one step further.
What Omaha saw Friday evening was its women musicians — some well-known and others under the radar — converging to play a festival with a slightly risky (read: feminist) undertone. Women who front and work together with male bandmates, whose voices sail with delicate melodies. Women who dare to be funny onstage and women who are gritty punks that scream and growl. These are the women of Nebraska music.
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See below for comprehensive photo coverage of the inaugural Benson First Friday Femme Fest. [Editor’s note, our apologies to Black-Eyed Susan and Freakabout, whose sets we unfortunately missed in photos. We’ll catch you next time.]
The Waiting Room Lounge
All Young Girls Are Machine Guns
Clark & Co.
Belles & Whistles
Million Little Voices
— photos by Teylor Bruno
— photo by Chris Dinan
Big AL Band
Manic Pixie Dream Girls
LIFE is COOL
— photos by Lindsey Yoneda
Barley Street Tavern
— photos by Nickolai Hammar
24 Hour Cardlock
The Wagon Blasters
The Hottman Sisters
Pleiades & the Bear
Pancho & the Contraband
— photos by Chris Dinan
Minutes to Miles
— photos by Chris Dinan
Kait Berreckman Band
— photos by Nickolai Hammar
Pizza Shoppe Collective
Molly & the Dustbunnies
Mary Ruth McLeay
— photos by John Henry Theisen
—photos by James Dean