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Mich Women's fest Chicago party April 17
by Micki Leventhal
2010-04-14

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On Saturday, April 17, seven diverse LGBT Chicago women will host a Four Months to Michfest party to encourage area women to attend the 35th Michigan Womyn's Music Festival August 3-8. The 4M2M party will take place at the Holiday Club, 4000 N. Sheridan Rd. from 7 — 11 pm. The event is free and features a DJ, hors d'oeuvres, Michfest slide show, entertainment and a cash bar. At the gathering attendees can network for ride sharing and gear exchange, and participate in a raffle designed to raise money to help low income women purchase festival tickets.

In some lexicons, "Seven Sisters" refers to the Pleiades constellation, in others, to the group of prestigious, historically women's liberal arts colleges in the northeast U.S. A final reference found on the internet is to the consortium of international petroleum companies formed in 1951 prior to the rise of OPEC.

These seven 'sisters' -- who range from boomers to millennials, identify variously as lesbian, queer and gender queer, and work in professions ranging from union organizer to nightclub promoter -- have their common bond in a love for the unique experience that is Michigan.

"From the minute I arrived on the land I felt like I had found something I had always been seeking," said Brenda Schumacher, who first attended 25 years ago and has returned every year. "These strong, beautiful, confident, sexy women [ were ] running the entire festival. They were dressed in cut offs, sparkly dresses, cowboy hats, chaps, tights, coveralls and just about anything you can imagine — and some dressed in nothing at all," continued the marketing consultant and producer of Decibelle Music & Culture Festival. "I was barely twenty years old and I thought, 'I want to be like these women and I want to live like this'."

Jenae Williams attended for the first time in 2009. "I am an overscheduled, meat loving, TV watching, directionally impaired internet junkie," said the 20-something owner of Chicago Dirty Girls production company. "I not only survived but fell absolutely in love with a week of no cell signals — or accurate accounting of the time, being consistently lost — in the pitch black woods, outdoor showering — amazing under the stars, putting my own tent up — in the rain, and all the while consisting on a diet of who know and nutloaf — which is neither nut nor loaf. I called Fest my personal lesbian boot camp; I got it all in one place…the thing that really got me were the dozens of beautiful womyn aware of their awe inspiring selves. The sisterhood seems enigmatic but you soon realize the spirit of Michfest manifests so stealthily you can't help but carry it in your heart year round."

Retired special education teacher and lesbian/activist Pat McCombs has only missed two festivals, "the first one — the first year on the old land and the first one on the new land," she explained. McCombs began her Michfest career as a worker in orientation/registration and now serves as coordinator for Womyn of Color.

Over the years, veterans like McCombs have experienced the things that remain the same — vegetarian meals, communal work shifts, the Port-A-Janes and the sense of community as well as the many things that have changed and evolved including the addition of hot water for the showers, paved walkways, and expansion of the music program from a preponderance of Girl-With-Guitar folk rock to a full range of genres through and including rock, rhythm and blues, indie/alt and hip hop. They have also witnessed an ever-increasing diversity of the Michigan community accompanied by an opening of hearts and minds toward the many lifestyle choices within that community.

"The fest gives a woman a look into the numerous aspects/differences about our life as a lesbian woman or a woman period….It's very hard to just talk about because it is something you have to experience in order to FEEL it," said McCombs.

FestiVirgin Alma Izquierdo will be attending this year for the first time and hopes to attract other first-timers through the groups' promotional efforts. The massage therapist, makeup artist and event organizer had heard about the festival for years and thought "it was a place where the older, hippie/granola type lesbians or militant feminists or wiccan type women went…it seemed like I wouldn't fit in with anyone and it certainly seemed like there weren't going to be very many Latina women there." She explained that as years went by and her social horizons expanded, she has become more comfortable with the idea of the Michfest environment and feels that "it's going to be yet another life changing and empowering experience."

"You have no idea if most of the women there are Ph.D.s, work at McDonalds, drive a bicycle or a BMW. You meet people and just decide what you think of them based on their personality," said special education teacher Suzanne Blum Grundyson, who attended for the first time in 2007. "It's a nice feeling. You can be exactly who you are and make anything of the festival you would like it to be for you."

"It was a life changing experience for me," said relative newbie Sherry Wright, who first attended in 2008. A union organizer, she was particularly stuck by the planning and care given to accessibility for women with disabilities. "This said to me that there's a higher level of respect for each individual and you will be welcome and comfortable no matter what." She loves the friendliness, the women's space and "waking up knowing that I am among thousands of women in the woods. It's a safe and totally amazing feeling — a magical experience."

Nikki Cutler, a queer craftswoman who first attended in 2004 to sell her DITC clothing, couldn't agree more. She was struck by "the life altering emotional connections you make. One week in the woods with a cohesive womyn-herd is like no other feeling in the world. I walked out of fest a completely changed human being…it is beyond anyone's imagination what goes on underneath the layers of simplicity. Each year brings a new experience and I will never stop attending."

Ticket information and details workshops and music performances for the 2010 festival can be found at www.michfest.com


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