“This is a man’s world,” James Brown sang. “But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.” And that lyric applies equally to the music world, which despite all the vital roles that women have played throughout its history, largely remains a lopsided sphere in which men exert an outsized influence. The inaugural “We Got the Beat” festival, a three-day summit at the Bearsville Theater co-organized by local author Holly George-Warren, whose 16 books include the best-selling Janis Joplin biography Janis: Her Life and Music, and the venue’s owner, Lizzie Vann, looks to level the playing field.
The event, which will take place March 25-27, will bring together powerful women in the music industry and music-related areas; address important issues relating to women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ communities; and aim to enrich and empower the lives and careers of women in general.
Panelists include musicians Kate Pierson (B-52s), Genya Ravan, Amy Rigby, Simi Stone, Cindy Cashdollar, and Cristina Martinez (Boss Hog, Pussy Galore); radio personalities Meg Griffin (WNEW, SiriusXM), Carmel Holt (“Sheroes”), Sarah LaDuke (WAMC), and Palmyra Delran (SiriusXM); journalists Amanda Petrusich, Kandia Crazy Horse, and Johanna Hall; producer Julie Last; photographers and filmmakers Ebet Roberts, Janette Beckman, and Barbara Kopple (Miss Sharon Jones, Shut Up and Sing); and others. The weekend also features performances by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love and multi-platinum singer-songwriter Joan Osborne. See the full We Got the Beat program. George-Warren answered the questions below by email.
PA: How did the idea for “We Got the Beat” come about, and what makes it different from other women-oriented music events or festivals?
HGW: Lizzie Vann and I first discussed the idea even before the Bearsville Theater reopened its doors. I’ve been attending conferences like SXSW and Americana for ages, and I told her about a really special one, the Rockrgirl Festival, which I attended years ago in Seattle. The Hudson Valley has so many talented women that it made perfect sense to bring them together at this beautiful space. Lizzie and I wanted to create a gathering where women can interact, network, exchange ideas, and hear great music. It will be very immersive and interactive.
You’ve mentioned how there were numerous talented women who nurtured and inspired you along your own path. Who were some of your early inspirations?
My first literary agent, Sarah Lazin, whom I met when I wrote for fanzines, played in bands, and worked as a junior editor, was a big help to my literary career. Pioneering women journalists like Jaan Uhelszki (Creem) have been super-supportive over the years. And of course, reading the work of Ellen Willis and Ellen Sander, for example, was very inspiring. Experiencing firsthand what women could do onstage really influenced me to not only to write about music but also to get up onstage myself. Seeing Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Lydia Lunch, the Slits, the Raincoats, Tina Weymouth, Sara Lee, and Kim Gordon was really inspiring to me. And of course, my bandmates in the Dischords, Clambake, and Das Furlines, who believed in me and taught me.
The music industry, like most businesses, has long been a male-dominated sphere. How does the dynamic for women within the industry compare now to when you entered the field?
Lizzie Vann is very fired up about this, and she is one of the very few women venue owners in the country. She can quote all the statistics on how comparatively few women win Grammys, how few are top executives at record labels, and how much less women earn than their male counterparts. She’s putting her money where her mouth is: She charges women who book her facilities for recording or rehearsals 82 percent of the fee that men pay, because that is the pay gap between women and men. I am encouraged that so many breakout artists today—in all genres of music—are women, and more women are becoming producers and engineers. I hope to see more women in top spots at record labels too. There’s an explosion of talented young women making music today, more than I remember in the decades I’ve been writing about music. And there are a lot more women music journalists today as well.
What do you most hope those who attend the panels and concerts—especially younger attendees, female as well as male—get from “We Got the Beat”?
To enjoy themselves, of course, but also to gain knowledge and contacts through meeting and interacting with so many talented and experienced women.