11 Reasons to Attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival This Summer

I’ve written about my attendance at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival here before. It’s a wild and wonderful adventure I take every August, where I totally unplug from the outside world and set into the hum of a life in the woods, sleeping in a tent (with many fabulous amenities) and creating something truly one of a kind every year with hundreds of other wyms.

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Since I love the Festival and the amazing things it’s done for me in the 12 years since I started attending, I have a vested interest in getting as many Fest-curious wyms to attend as possible. Further, I’m part of a group of past, present and future attendees of the Festival who are working, in love and in direct one-on-one communication with other attendees, to change the intention of the Festival (See #9 below) and we need more, fresh wym power to help us continue the work.

If you’ve always thought about coming, now is the time to turn that thought into a plan. Without your support, it can’t continue. In order to turn folks’ maybes into a yes, I’ve compiled a top eleven list of reasons to attend the Festival.

Photo by Jae Sevelius
Me, doing my best to make a beach chair look glamorous. Photo by Jae.

1. Because it Won’t Be Here Forever

It’s no secret that attendance at the Festival has declined over the past couple of decades. There are so many other queer and lesbian adventures that womyn can take now. Olivia Cruises are basically the opposite of the Festival (but cost about quadruple what it costs to go to Fest). And it’s less stigmatized to travel while queer now than it was when the Festival began in the late 70s. Maybe, with the internet, lesbians and queers feel less isolated than they used to. It’s a different way of life in this century.

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Built by hand, from scratch, every single year. And I get to use a sledgehammer!

I think that is what makes Festival so important and special. It’s a piece of our herstory that is living. It is a thriving metropolis one week a year in the middle of the woods. It’s populated with some incredible people, where saying “Hi” on the path is normal, where you never have to play the “is that a teenage boy or a hot girl” game (pro tip: it’s always a hot girl) and you’ll make lifelong connections with people you never expected. There’s no cell service so there’s more one on one interaction. People are focused. People are free. It’s nothing like an Olivia Cruise. It’s nothing like any place you’ve ever been.

But the thing is, this place is created by hand every single year. It costs money to do that. Even if most of the workers are volunteer, they still need to get fed, performers still need to get to the Land. And if folks stop coming to the Festival, it won’t continue.

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Me and my friend Leo. P.S. All photos by me unless otherwise noted.

2. Being Exposed to Lots of Body Types

When I was a tender 22 year old facing my first Festival, I was most nervous about showering in public. I knew group showering was just something that was part of it (they call it “open air” showering) and it was just a thing people got over when they got there. My first year was 2001, a year so hot we were in the 100s for several days in a row. After the load-in that first day, I was so hot, hungry and dehydrated that I immediately didn’t care that I was naked with strangers. I was just so grateful to be showering.

My first Festival was also the first time I ever saw naked women’s bodies that looked like mine. Imagine living for 22 years never realizing that your naked body was pretty normal, compared to everyone else. Since we live in a sex negative, body negative culture that prioritizes hairless, thin, muscular bodies, it’s not weird I didn’t know what I looked like naked was totally normal.

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There’s an incredible array of body types at Festival, that span gender expression and body hair. There’s also a normalized nudity culture, where if you’re hot it’s fine if you take your top off. My first year that was a total culture shock, but now I’m used to it. I don’t walk around topless (I find it uncomfortable as a fat person with big boobs to not be in a bra, but that’s just me), but I appreciate that lots of other people feel comfortable.

And the showering? I find the group showers to be so fun! My bestie Victoria and I try to time our showers together every day so we can shave our legs next to each other and gossip about our dating lives experiences.

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Victoria, getting me a beer.

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Chilling with my friend Jamison in the shower area.

3. Objectifying Women in a Feminist Way

Along with normalized nudity comes normalized body appreciation. And there’s the kind of “You look really good today,” comments (both in an out of clothes but usually it’s outfits). And there’s also just the really hot womyn around all over the place. Bikini wearing tractor drivers. Muscley butch carpenters making things out of wood. Spectacularly cleavaged red and blonde haired girl working at the front gate. (That’s me, by the way.) Some hot androgynous person lying on a tarp at a stage. Dapper dandies strutting through the woods to night stage.

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My friend Lexi always does this leaning thing that is so hot! I love a good lean!

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Shelly and Jen, great for ogling in a feminist way. Photo credit, Cordelia.

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Olive, looking fly and fashionable as always!

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Rainy day = bikini wearing tractor driver.

In the default world, street “appreciation” is often a site of assault or unwanted attention. On the Land, though, you know it’s generally coming from a feminist place and it feels much more welcome. It always takes me about a day to get over Festival culture shock and drop my guard from the default world, but once I’m in it it’s so nice to be part of the giving and receiving of compliments, appreciation and friendly objectification. Also I like boobs and appreciate when friends like Vic take off their bra and throw it at Krudas Cubensi.

MV, heels in the woods.
Vic, with clothes.

(True story, a couple of weeks ago I was on a date and my date had planned to take me out for fancy hot chocolate after we went to the theater and we happened to be across the street from Scores–a famous, mainstream strip club in Manhattan. She said, “I can take you to Scores if you want. Or hot chocolate.” My response? “I’m not that kind of dyke–I like body diversity and predominantly real boobs. Also, I get that kind of thing for free all the time. Let’s go for hot chocolate.”)

4. Experience Incredible Music

It is a music festival, after all, so it’s wonderful that there are always new groups to discover. This year I’m really excited THEESatisfaction will be playing for the first time, along with my favorites Lovers, JD Samson & MEN and Indigo Girls. I’m excited to hear Sea of Bees, also, I’ve never heard of them but love it!

I’m also utilizing the feature on the Michfest website where you get to listen to the music ahead of time. I took it one step further and started a Soptify playlist (it’s best if you set it to shuffle) so I can pre-listen to the top 5 songs or recent albums of folks playing the Festival.

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Dorothy Allison performed last year!

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Sometimes when Amy Ray is finagling other queer artists to come on stage for Closer to Fine before the Indigo Girls show she says to the performer, “I think you know the words.”

In addition to all of that, it’s an amazing place to hear music away from the concerts. At my first Festival I got to attend a private Chris Pureka concert (just Chris and a guitar) after hours. Last year I was hanging out with Scream Club and we passed a bunch of my pals at a campfire late at night and my friend Katie asked them to play their song Acnecore. And they totally did. My friend Clare is a talented acoustic guitar player and singer and works across the road from me. Once I learned she knew Purple Rain I asked her to play it every day.

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5. Parties in the Woods

If partying is your deal, especially partying in safe(r) spaces, or going to concerts, dances, drum circles, intimate gatherings or costumed parades, this is the place to be. I coined the term “lesbian keggers in the woods” to refer to the revelry on the Land after attending the Lansing Kegger several years in a row. Seriously, some folks from Lansing bring a keg, dig a hole and have a by donation beer situation near their campsite with music, tiki torches and lights.

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The parties are what you want to make of them, too. Very DIY. In 2005 I was camped with four friends and we decided to throw a Fat Femme Make-Out Party (make-out parties were very trendy in the mid-aughts). I bought battery operated twinkle lights, put them along the path, created a make-out game and it was the most amazing Alice in Wonderland type of situation, with people coming and going, spontaneously finding it along their various travels.

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Any party you can imagine is fair game on the Land, with enough help and getting the word out (and making sure if it’s after 11PM you keep it low enough for folks to sleep or host it in the loud and rowdy camping area). I’ve seen people host old-timey jams, impromptu concerts, chocolate pudding wrestling, and my first year (2001) a group had “walled” off a whole grove of trees for a make-shift dungeon.

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Edward Fortyhands was a thing one year. Bring saran wrap, duct tape, forties and make about 14 friends.

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Me and Nicky on the Land.

My two co-promoters of Yes Ma’am are also Festival attendees and we’re scheming to figure out how to throw a Yes Ma’am in the woods. Stay tuned.

If you can dream it, wyms will come.

6. Practice Getting Dates in a Safe(r) Space

A friend of mine once commented “I was lead to believe that if I came to this Festival I would get laid all week.” Let me assure you, kind readers, this is not always the case. However, if you want to get laid, learn some ways to ask people on dates and get over your fear of rejection, this is a great place to practice. Here’s my pep talk post about asking people out. And here’s some good text ideas for asking people out, easily modified in person in the woods.

It’s sort of like going to a 3500 person mixer. It’s like “shooting fish in a barrel” since a large percentage of the people at the Festival are available in some way. Some are on a Free Ass Pass (TM) for the Festival. Some are single. Some are newly out and very excited about it. Whatever, there’s lots of people to meet and lots of people to go on dates with. So if you want to ask people out, probably folks will say yes. Anecdatally speaking, more people are available on the Land than in the default world.

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Last year I was not monogamous in some way off the Land and was therefore available for the first time in a couple of years to go on dates. I was so excited! I began my two weeks on the land with a list nine deep of people I was excited to flesh out for possible dates. (Victoria calls this her “bang list.”)

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Four immediately dropped off because they were otherwise involved. I put one on the shelf because they live close to me and I could flesh that out in the default world. I got to know a couple more and lost interest (brains, wit, charm and style are so important and you just don’t know enough about someone you think is hot from afar). By the end of the first week I was down to one possexibility who hooked up with someone else. This gave me and Victoria a lot to process about in the shower.

There was a wild card who arrived during the Festival, I spent a bunch of time with her taking walks and hanging out in my hammock. I used my date-asking skills on her and got a no. But it was okay in the long run. I was on the Land! It was a great place to get support from my friends, feel my feelings and go get some emotionally soothing tea from the Womb. (See that Lesbian Tea Basket Episode here.) 24 hours later I was over the rejection.

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Lauren, being a babe.

I’ve learned that whether or not I get laid does not determine the success of an event I go to. In fact, removing getting laid from factors of success is a really great way to ensure I’ll have a good time no matter what. And I definitely had a great time the years I went to Festival and was not looking for dates.

However, there are people I know who get laid every single year, and I call those people Ass Masters.

Victoria has a pretty amazing method of getting laid at Festival (she calls it the “Mukka Method”), which just involves being very blunt. Straight up saying to someone, “Do you want to make out?” It really works. Time is short at Festival, it’s important to get your nos out of the way so you can get to the yes’s!

Photo by Randi
Me and Victoria teaching Clare where baby tutus come from. Photo by Randi.

7. Get Your Nature On

If you’re like me, you live in a building that has four walls and windows. You might live a lot like me and not be able to hear crickets at night and sleep with street lights coming in your window. And if you’re seriously like me you hear the rumble of trucks, busses and annoyed cars off and on all night. It is so different to live outside. It’s actually really loud–I have to get used to the sound of the tree frogs, cicadas and crickets in order to fall asleep. I also seriously have a love/hate/wonder relationship with middle of the night thunderstorms because it’s awesome to be sheltered from them (put up a rain tarp) but the lightening makes it feel like you’re sleeping in a disco.

I love the feel of dirt under my feet, I love seeing cool caterpillars, ferms and trees everywhere. Since Fest is only one week a year, most of the wildlife (including birds, sadly) makes itself scarce so you don’t have to get all up in it all the time. But there’s nothing like living, working and playing in the forest under a blanket of stars and with the comforts of chairs, twinkly lights and a DJ dance party.

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8. Being Silly in Safe(r) Spaces

Fest is such an anything goes sort of place, that I am able to let loose in a way that I don’t as much in my day-to-day serious New Yorker bustling from place to place life. My old friend Megan (who I met first on an old online blogging site and then in real life at Fest in 2002 and then we both moved to NYC) lives in Austin now and we get to live in the same town for two weeks. We were walking one day and out of nowhere just started creating this song about eating breakfast with an ex. It was really hilarious and I wish we had it on tape.

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Dressing in costume is a great way to have fun in the woods! Latrice models some sparkly eyelashes. P.S. I call Kubby one of my “slow plays” as I’ve been flirting with her for years and one year we’ll finally make out.

One time I was just going to the restroom and ran into Gretchen Phillips playing a tiny keyboard while someone else sang a song and did some spontaneous dancing on the path outside the Janes. It was magical and so fun.

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Me and my friend Michiko.

My friend Sam who runs a SPA IN THE WOODS (you read that correctly) is obsessed with R. Kelly and we did a lot of singing R. Kelly this summer. It became a sort of call and response, an impetus for me to memorize the lyrics to the beginning of Bump ‘n’ Grind, and totally liberating. (Also, Sam gave me an R. Kelly facial, which involved her singing R. Kelly while massaging my face.)

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Sam, singing a little R. Kelly. DJ Average Jo is that fashionable queer in the background.

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Adriana is the other half of the In The Bush Spa, cutting hair.

Victoria and I were having one of our shower chats a couple of summers ago and I asked if she was going to the healing circle (have I mentioned that Fest is full of woo) and she said she always just giggles at things like that so she doesn’t attend. I said, “Sometimes you’ve just got to giggle for the Goddess.” Elvira Kurt, the resident Festival Emcee, overheard us and quoted me at Day Stage.

When you’re in a beautiful space with friends, anything is possible and ordinary things are easily made fun.

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Megan, playing ukelele.

9. Come to Help Out the Efforts of Trans Womyn Belong Here

You should come if you believe trans womyn are included in the definition of womynhood. Currently, the intention of the Festival’s organizers is to include only womyn-born-womyn. I believe we should change that intention to a spiritual definition of wymhood, and explain that at length in this post. There are hundreds of past, present and future attendees who work with Trans Womyn Belong Here to change that intention through grass roots, one on one discussions, workshops and providing safe(r) space on the Land for trans womyn. I’ve written about my desire for a spiritual definition of wymhood at the Festival previously.

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I love this Festival and I don’t want it to die from lack of attendance. I don’t want to have to start a new Festival where all wym-identified-wyms are included, I want this Festival to continue to evolve to reflect the womyn’s communities have already evolved throughout the lands. It happened with S/M in the 80s, when the lesbian separatists thought S/M was appalling and didn’t belong on the Land and now there’s a whole S/M cul-de-sac years later. There have been so many evolutions in this 38 year old Festival that I believe it can change again.

But in order to do that we need folks who can help! Come to the Festival! Be a friend and ally to trans wyms. Pick up a position of leadership and run workshops on trans-inclusion (the workshop proposal deadline is June 7th). Join the TWBH email list and work on planning what is going to happen this year. A lot of folks who were active in the past do not have capacity this year.

We need more, fresh, enthusiastic energy!

Consider joining us in the woods. If you have questions about attending as a TWBH supporter, there are a lot of resources available to you. Almost every Fest Womon is super helpy and wants to help get wyms to the Land, and the same is true for TWBH supporters.

Photo by Melanie See
Photo by Melanie See. TWBH didn’t (and probably won’t again this year) participate in the “tee shirt war” where folks wear shirts en masse to show support of either maintaining the intention or changing it. Last year (2012) at opening ceremonies a bunch of folks wore red. But I ran into a ton of TWBH supporters who were also wearing red and, unbeknownst to them, having a visual marker against trans inclusion. So confusing!

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2010 on stage visual protest thanks to Sia. Photo by Andrea Alseri.

If you have questions about attending Fest as a TWBH supporter (even if it’s just to be another voice on the Land having one on one conversations that are so crucial to this movement) contact TWBHResources at gmail.com. If you have more questions about Trans Women Belong Here, check out the website! If you want to run a fundraiser to help put together materials for the movement and provide scholarships to trans womyn who are fest attendees, do that in your hometown! Donations to TWBH can be made through this link.

If you’re in NYC, the Yes Ma’am crew (me, Nicky and Jo) are producing a TWBH fundraiser on May 22 at Stonewall! More information to come, but we are soliciting raffle donations (books, services, gift certificates, tee shirts, etc…) now.

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Also, there is this awesome purple tee shirt being sold showing trans folks and labrys folks welcoming one another. It’s available in sizes Youth XS all the way up to Unisex 5X!! Only $10!

10. Make Life-Long Friends

The first year I attended the Festival I was 22 years old and I didn’t know a single soul on the Land. I rode and camped with two strangers I met on the forums. I’m still friends with Erica a dozen years later and did a reading at her wedding. When I drove cross country half the folks I stayed with were wyms I knew from Festival. It happened slowly over time, but now I know hundreds of people by name and many of them I consider close, dear friends. Taking the risk to attend was one of the best things I ever did for myself. Festival continues to open my mind and heart in so many incredible ways, and the people I’ve met are a great part of it.

I also want to say that some of my dearest friends on the Land are people who don’t agree with me about changing the intention and I’m okay with that. I really believe approaching the situation with love and appreciating our differences is one of the best parts about this community.

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Victoria just tasked me with documenting every costume change this summer!

11. Amazing value for the money!

Just a bonus one… A ticket to Michfest starts at $450 sliding scale before the July deadline for early-bird tickets. There’s a layaway payment plan available. This ticket includes everything–meals, showers, space to camp, 36 concerts, a film festival and about a million other things. There’s a ride board to help you find someone to split the driving cost. There’s a huge forum full of resources for first-time festival goers to learn what to pack and how to enjoy your life in the woods for a week. There is so much! If you’re on the fence about going, do some research and turn that maybe into a yes! We need you, your energy and your light on the Land this August!

Read more of what I’ve written about Michfest at this tag.

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Love you and your pictures! The red tutu with the sparking pink bikini top is hot, girl! Thanks for the smiles and beautiful womyn

  2. wow you started coming right around when I did- I totally remember the walled off dungeon and my baby queer self being soooo fascinated…I totally appreciate this so much..thank you for writing such a loving dedication and defense of a place that has meant the world to so many women. last year was my first Aug away from the land in 13 years. I have always felt like someone who was working towards resolution but I found that needed to take a step away from the conflict because the sadness I felt over it’s direction. I hope to walk those fern lined trails very soon…thank you for inspiring hope <3 a Pudding Pirate

  3. Wow Bevin. Just wow.

    And to think that I met you before you went to Michigan–I remember the place and the purpose, a Sisterspace planning meeting with folks from Philly Dyke March in Wm Way, but not the year. I’d been going to Michigan since 1989, missed 2001 through 2006 and got back to a home of my heart in 2007.

    Does it seem useful to add that there are wyms who id as het/straight at Michfest, always have been; hope they always will be? My sister chose to pass as a dyke in 1999 for her workshift because of trashtalking against wyms like herself.

    Thanks for this 11 Reasons.

    I support the intent and try to be respectful of wyms who are committed to changing that. I’ve been arguing this for two decades, accepting I might be wrong and still believing that for me, for now in this space, supporting the intent is the better choice for my experience of michfest and that of other wyms who share my experience, belief and choice.

    Be well and I’ll see you in August,
    laura

  4. I’ve been wanting to go for nigh a decade, just to experience it for myself. I can’t go this year on account of getting gay-married, but SOON. Thanks for writing honestly about it, B.

  5. in all the years I’ve known about TMWMF, this is the first post that’s actually made me want to go. Of course, as a disabled person, I can’t afford the travel, much less the ticket. Maybe I could set up a booth? I’ve got a 10×10 festival tent with open sides, a table and mad skillz. Only 8 spots available for massage therapists, all tiny 5×10 indoors? Nope. Barefoot Chiropractor not welcome. .

  6. Very Important PS! Bev, you missed an Amazing part of Lesbian Summer Camp, which is the Food. Not only is the food delicious, healthy, locally-sourced-and-organic-when-possible, it is also made communally, over these amazing fires that our systers tend All Night Long. Any womyn who wants to can go to the Main Kitchen and be a part of making the food that sustains us all, and I think that is an important and beautiful tradition. Eating together brings us together. I dream of Thursday night’s lentil and banana rieta meal all year… Love,
    Vic, the incorrigible foodie and nutrition coach

  7. Thank you for this piece Bevin. I’m so grateful for your continued thoughtful support of the place I call Home. Mich Fest feeds me like no place else on earth. I hope wyms reading this feel inspired to give the festival a chance – it has been truly life changing for me in so many ways. LabrysLoveForever, Vic (who may or may not be wearing clothes while posting this)

  8. Show me a trans woman that would rather you raise money for her to go to camp with you than use the money to get her wisdom teeth pulled, fix a ruined knee, pay some rent she owes her friend that won’t talk to her anymore, buy some “real clothes that fit” for a job, or some food, or a phone card, or new contact lenses, or some hair replacement or a wig… and I will show you a trans woman that I am probably not friends with.

    I also feel like trans women shouldn’t be tricked with magical, conditional inclusion when really I feel like so much of these efforts is just to provide a moral high horse or overcome some guilt.

    I would be impressed if you all paid but refused to enter. That would really be great. Or you know an actual protest of the realities with this festival’s culture, atmosphere, attendees etc. Fucking things up from the inside is a falsehood, a fantasy and apologist excuse straight from punks getting jobs. It doesn’t happen. Time and time again, things are changed by several small groups on the OUTSIDE refusing to participate. These small groups uniting to ATTEND and pay? I can’t abide.

    I am actually shocked and horrified by most of the content here. It really looks fun for you though! #1 actually cracked me up. “It’s no secret that attendance at the Festival has declined over the past couple of decades.”

    I don’t think everything is worth preserving in the sake of tradition. I mean, I am a queer person. I gave up plenty of traditions to enjoy who I am rather than sacrifice myself to enjoy things I was used to. Maybe it’s time to start over. This is what a lot of women like me have been saying about this since FOREVER. I am not speaking for all trans women, but I can definitely say that the trans women who do long to attend this festival aren’t speaking for all trans women by a LONG SHOT.

    Have a great summer!

  9. All kinds of “yes” for ALL OF THIS. Thanks for keeping the fire burning syster. Here’s to what I hope is another Love-filled and magical year in the woods. xx

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