Girls Got Rhythm Fest returns
On a Saturday evening last May, Dana Raidt stared across the expanse of Amsterdam Bar & Hall as a '60s legend conjured magic amid a diverse communion of people. Ronnie Spector's voice, velvet and evocative, left the room silent, stunned by its indescribable resonance. Raidt watched, and then she placed her face in her hands, feeling an almost instant sense of calm and relief; they had pulled it off.
"They" is Raidt and longtime associate Travis Ramin, who established the first-ever Girls Got Rhythm Fest — three days showcasing femme-fronted rock bands from around the world. Planning was an ambitious undertaking, and had its share of bumps in the road. Though they'd both booked shows prior, Girls Got Rhythm was somewhat of a blind run.
"I stretched myself pretty thin last year," Ramin says. "Setting up the festival was a ton of work. We really did everything. We made posters, shuttled people from the airport, and I actually played in two of the bands and had to rehearse. It was a lot."
"Thankfully we're able to delegate more now because it was so intense last year and [laughs] we didn't know what we were doing," Raidt says.
Last year's lineup stretched across genres as pop icon Spector shared the bill with Japanese surf-punk band the 126.96.36.199's. The variety made it harder to hone in on a target audience, and GGR Fest 2012 wasn't as well-attended as expected — though for Ramin, Raidt, and those in attendance it was a dynamite weekend, and the die was cast.
Along with lower ticket prices — $35 for a two-day pass — GGR Fest 2013 offers a more clear-cut consistency among its nine acts.
"I think the biggest thing was not trying to appeal to this mass audience," Raidt says.
"That mass audience doesn't exist in 2013," Ramin adds. "'Not everybody loves rock 'n' roll,' Joan Jett might say."
"Very few people in the grand scheme of things seem to love rock 'n' roll anymore," Raidt continues. "Last year was awesome that it was all over the place, but it was all over the place. So this year we decided to focus more on the rock and punk bands."
Trimmed to a two-day spread, the fest features '70s punk titans the Avengers headlining Friday evening and the Runaways' inimitable Cherie Currie topping Saturday's schedule. Unsurprisingly, the concept is totally Currie's thing.
"It is night and day from what it was back in the '70s," Currie says. "Women in rock are completely accepted and all of the guys out there, they can't deny it anymore. You can't tell me that the sky isn't blue. Girls are great. Girls rock! Girls are exceptional."
Other acts on the bill include the pop-centric vigor of Milwaukee's Sugar Stems, Italy-based Marilu and the Machetes, and the fuzz-fueled darkness of local band Is/Is.
"The fact that we got Ronnie Spector last year was just amazing," Raidt says. "When we were booking, a lot of agencies and managers acknowledged that. We had credibility. We weren't just, like, two scrappy kids putting together a music festival."
As Girls Got Rhythm grows, what hasn't changed is the motivation to do it in the first place. Though the title leaves room for certain connotations, Ramin and Raidt are clear that GGR isn't meant to project an explicitly sanctimonious "second sex overcoming a male-dominated industry" type of attitude.
"Really, it's just about good music," Raidt says. "I consider myself a feminist and am a total champion of supporting women in music. But it has to be good music."
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