Anybody who knows me knows that I am a community builder. I started a women’s basketball game, I make movies about girl gangs. I host parties and brunches, I make meals for people, I take my friends surfing. I’ve been joking about starting a surf camp for wayward girls. When I meet new friends I like, I introduce them to old friends I like. I’ve connected people that way for years, people who went on to play in bands together, to work together. It’s part of who I am. Ex girlfriends call me “the mayor,” In some circles I am known as “the Ambassador of Good Times.”
About a year and a half ago I was newly single and I saw Randee Riot’s photo album on facebook. She called it “Summer Camp.” Within were pictured Randee and her cute pals in cuddle piles on lawn chairs, in hammocks, in sunshine, out in the woods. I was intrigued, it looked great; I wanted to be there.
So I asked her about it and she said “Oh. It’s Michigan Womyns Music Festival. Katrina, it’s amazing you have to go!.” As it turns out, a few other women I know and love go to Michfest every year; the girls I play basketball with go and they all said the same thing. “Oh my god, It’s so much fun. It’s amazing. Katrina you HAVE to go.”
So I decided. “I have to go.”
I mean, when we were kids my stepmother played Buffy Sainte Marie and it was cute, I loved the political message. I am a feminist. I’m pro peace and nature. But please, that music is just so, uh, granola and most of its naked intimacy really makes me cringe all over.
I began, however, from Randee’s pictures and from my friends urgencies, to get the idea that Michigan Womyns Music Fest is about way more than the music. In fact, the whole experience of camping in the woods with a bunch of sexy friends who are way underdressed, the idea that we can all be together for a week in the woods and do workshops, play basketball, dance, do yoga, play football, shower together, do archery, go topless. It just all started to sound like too good to be true.
Also, I saw that Joan as Policewoman was on the bill and I like them.
Cut to early August, I didn’t have a ticket or a way to go, but a miracle happened, the heavens opened up and Randee came sailing on the Hand of God into my field of vision via text message: Contact Nicky Cutler right away; Go Magazine needs someone to go to Michfest.
So I did, it worked out and at the last possible second I got the green light. I packed up my jeep, reached out on facebook for a travel partner pal with a free week (“you have to be awesome and female”) Kat O. responded and we hit the road.
I hadn’t gone camping since I was a teenager. Since going single I’ve been threatening to go camping and here I was in the Michigan woods, pitching a tent. I felt like a girl scout again, improvising with ropes and tarp and twine and trees. We borrowed gear from other campers. We figured it out.
So how was Michfest? It was AMAZING. It was like being on a really pleasant, mellow acid trip. My cheeks ached from smiling all day long. I would say, “I’m just gonna go over here for a minute I’ll be right back.” Somehow these little errands would turn into wonderful journeys. Kat O. nailed it when she said it was like being a teenager, you’d go to the park to see what’s going on and then to someone’s basement to listen to them play music and then continue to drift pleasantly, aimlessly, throughout the evening. These desultory journeys were sensory treasure hunts; I found a spontaneous dance party, a bonfire with a rollicking conversation and someone grilling bratwurst in a cast iron skillet, bonfires with singing and s’mores, a conversation under a tree, a conversation in the shower, someone cute to make out with, a cuddle pile, a massage circle.
We also realized it reminded us tremendously of Mortville from “Desperate Living.” Minus Queen Carlotta but there were (female) leather daddies and crazy outfits and lots of gold lamé in this ramshackle, temporary city in the woods.
The showers at michfest are wide open in the woods. I stood showering with women of 70, women of 24, women of all sizes. And conversations just flowed everywhere. I felt the spirit of connecting with elders on a really sweet human level. I took an archery workshop. Other people took conscious communication workshops, dirty talk workshops, how to find your g-spot workshops. Team Dresch played and women crowd surfed without the fear of being groped by dudes. The sign language interpreters were amazing to watch. I’d never seen live music interpreted for the deaf before.
In the dark of night lit by torches and flashlights I watched a demonstration of fisting and female ejaculation. I hadn’t seen such a great graphic dirty show since Lady Hennessy took the stage at Pyramid Club in the late 80’s. I heard Dorothy Allison read her unpublished southern story within a story. I saw the milky-way, great oak trees, a raccoon in the moonlight that I whispered to. “Raccoon. I see you.”
It was my lesbian Heart of Darkness, my hippie Lord of the Flies; I went native, I drank the Kool Aid, I bought the tie-dye. It was a magnificent moment and I’ll never be the same.
There were drawbacks and downsides. Every ticket comes with 3 vegetarian meals a day and although I really like vegetarian food and would definitely cook something like what they served, somehow, overall the food just sucked. I wanted to like it. Some meals were great. But on the whole I was disappointed. I mean, would it kill them to put a little vegan bouillon in the rice? The weather on the whole was great but it did rain for two days straight and I had forgotten to pack any boots or any waterproof clothing.
One ugly thread was the political controversy that got visible this year with the implementation of red shirts to indicate the support of keeping MichFest only for wbw or “women born women.” Officially, the festival is not trans inclusive. Although I saw a full spectrum of the female gender represented from waxy, wasp-waisted high femme to bearded stone butch and a handful of ftm, mtf, trans and intersex people. It seemed like everyone was getting along. It was explained to me that no one is checking people at the gate for penises or vaginas or variants in between. It’s basically don’t ask don’t tell. However, there was a sad, uncomfortable, angry feeling among people who support trans friends and their inclusion. I brought it up with one old timer and she said yes, well, then they should start their own festival [that’s trans inclusive.] Some people simply won’t come to michfest because of this policy. Other people come and don’t tell their friends that they’re coming, because they don’t want to hurt their trans friends feelings by supporting a transphobic event. There’s an opinion floating around that the festival is losing steam and will die out because of this controversy, which is truly sad. I was pleased to see that there were trans and intersex people there, it made me feel at home because my chosen family includes queer folk of all gender persuasions.
I came home on a mission to convince all my favorite bands to play, my favorite writers to come read and to convince all my friends to come play in the woods next summer. At the end of the trip I returned to New York City and had the end of summer blues a little early. I don’t want to go back to school; to be civilized, I was Huckleberry Finn, a drifter, a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl, making friends, saving lives, having adventures, making maps, elaborate ones, of secret places, secrets with trees, with the soft ground, the surprise.
I didn’t want it to end.
all photos were taken with permission of the subject(s), and photo permission was cleared by the festival organizer / creator.