Out lesbian and former Christian music star will perform a this year’s FemmeFest.
Photo Credit: Eye Photography.

As a booking agent for The Evening Muse, Lea Pritchard worked very hard to bring in a diverse collection of artists and musicians. After noticing a female presence in each of the bands during a show one night, a co-worker approached Pritchard and asked, “What is this? A ladies’ night?”

As a musician, Pritchard had encountered this type of logic before. All it takes is one noticeable female on stage to deem a group a “chick band” and musical groups featuring one or more women are usually considered primarily for women. Women are often seen as “others” in the music industry, as an exception to the assumed male presence in musicianship. Even female headliners avoid using female opening acts.

As an artist herself, Pritchard grew frustrated with these confining interpretations of the female role in music. So, drawing from past experiences of performing at women’s festivals around the country and a strong desire to have the female voice in music recognized, Pritchard and a few of her friends determined to join forces for a cause, to create a night for celebration of female musicianship.

With the help of a few willing venues and supportive community groups such as The Charlotte Rollergirls, their dream began to grow and take shape. People responded enthusiastically to Pritchard’s pitch and the event jumped quickly from one venue to three. Despite its newbie status and terrible weather, FemmeFest’s first year was a wonderful success.

Now, four years later, FemmeFest 2011 in Charlotte is gearing up for yet another night of fun and celebration. With more artists, more venues and more people expected to attend than ever before, this year’s festival is a sure sensation. Attendees can enjoy a wide variety of styles from the musical minds of singers and bands such as Jennifer Knapp, Elizabeth and the Catapult, Donna Duncan and Reeve Coombs — just to name a few.

Grown Up Avenger Stuff

Jennifer Knapp, one of the more well-known faces gracing the stage this year, has been a recent outspoken advocate for the LGBT community. Having reached immense commercial success in the mainstream Christian music world back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Knapp took a five-year sabbatical to the natural wilderness of Australia.

Upon returning to the music scene in 2010, Knapp announced that she identifies as lesbian and has been in a loving, committed relationship with her girlfriend for eight years. Engaging in a series of written and televised interviews, Knapp sought to open the “coming out” door within Christian conversations and proudly declared herself as both a Christian and a lesbian. That same year Knapp released her newest album “Letting Go,” from which she will be performing at FemmeFest.

Pritchard appreciates and respects the strong LGBT presence that has always supported FemmeFest.

“There is always a really strong component of women like that — women who have come into their own sexuality identity, who are strong and know who they are, and are involved in the industry…They are always such an important component because they are just strong and wonderful.”

And, the famous faces are not the only ones to watch out for at this year’s musical celebration. Charlotte’s own Grown Up Avenger Stuff will be one of several bad-ass bands hitting the stage that you do not want to miss. This hometown indie rock band brings a bold yet quirky sound to their uniting message.

“I don’t know if it really constitutes a philosophy. It’s a call. It’s not something that we need for survival but it’s something that all things and all cultures of times have made….and so we want things that make us whole people and mammals, we have some sort of a spiritual side and a need to share emotions in that way. And music to me is one of those things that unites us all,” they explained.

Superhero clad lead singer Dierdre Kroener and her gifted trio of musicians “Mister Black,” Bradley Graham and John Tompsen combine serious talent and musicianship with a fun zeal for life and a positive message.

“We just want to be positive and bold in this community and encourage everyone who’s out there playing…it’s much more important to just have fun while you’re doing it,” Kroener explained.

The festival will be held Saturday, May 21 in the NoDa Arts District on the corner of North Davidson and 36th Sts. The bands will be featured in several locations including the Neighborhood Theatre, the Evening Muse, and the Green Rice Gallery, leaving festival-goers the freedom to meander from venue to venue, enjoying the musical tastes of their choice.

As a one-night festival of music that “aims to reach, inspire, and strengthen our cultural community by showcasing the diverse work of emerging and established female voices throughout the region and beyond,” FemmeFest is truly a celebration of not only women, but of community.

To this end, organizers will give all the proceeds to Relatives Crisis Shelter, a non-profit established to reach out to runaway, homeless and struggling youth and their families in the Charlotte community.

Boasting a vibrant combination of family-friendly environment, food and drinks and great entertainment, FemmeFest aims to be a fun, kick-off to summer outing for anyone and everyone.

To learn more about the artists mentioned in this article, check out their websites: Jennifer Knapp at jenniferknapp.com and Grown Up Avengers Stuff at grownupavengerstuff.com.

For more information on FemmeFest 2011, including on how to purchase your tickets, visit charlottefemmefest.org. Tickets are on sale now for $15 in advance or $20 the day of the show. : :

Leah Cagle is QNotes' former associate editor for arts and entertainment. You can reach editor Matt Comer via arts@goqnotes.com or editor@goqnotes.com.