Houston Women’s Festival brings the best of women’s art—and much more—to downtown this month
By Nancy Ford
Anyone who believes one performer at the Houston Women’s Festival is pretty much like the next—that is, a woman wearing tie-dye T-shirt with a guitar slung around her neck—hasn’t seen this year’s lineup for the October 20 event. Now in its 13th year, the annual celebration of women’s artistic endeavors, vendors, food, and fun has an eye on the eclectic.
“This year we’re on pace to have our best event ever,” festival producer Sharman Petrie says. “We’ve got an incredible and diverse lineup. There’s a little something for everyone, and even a few surprises.”
Ruthie Foster, a familiar Texas-born artist with newfound national recognition, headlines the downtown event at Jones Plaza. Foster, a festival veteran, will likely present her signature blues, gospel, roots, and folk sound with samples from her most recent album, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster, which reached Top 5 on Billboard‘s blues chart. A New York Post critic compared her to Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin.
Also returning to the festival is Susan Gibson, songwriter of the Grammy Award-winning song “Wide Open Spaces,” the best-selling song in country music history (as recorded by the Dixie Chicks). Gibson lives in the Texas Hill Country.
Additional performers taking the stage at the noon–10 p.m. festival are Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Kellye Gray, an Austin native who moved to Houston in the ’80s, performing at the then-hot jazz club The Blue Moon, moved to the West Coast, then returned to Austin in 2001; story-telling songstress Mary Cutrufello, who rocked Houston in the ’90s and has also settled in Austin after living in Minneapolis; folk-rock singer/songwriters Amy Speace and the Tearjerks; Trina Hamlin; and Paige Lewis, a Katy-bred, Houston-based singer.
New this year to the festival, produced by the nonprofit Athena Art Project, is folk-rock jazz songwriter Lindsay Mac, who plays the cello like a guitar. “You don’t see that every day,” Petrie says, adding, “and it’s not just a gimmick. She’s really good.”
In something of a departure from her standard, much-applauded frequent appearances at the festival, Austin-based rocker Ginger Leigh acts as emcee for the festival as night begins to fall.
“She’s a natural in front of a mic, and she’ll get the audience pumped up, dancing and on their feet ready for a good show,” Petrie says.
Leigh tours both nationally and internationally, sometimes as a solo performer, sometimes with an accompanying bass, sometimes with a full band. Recently, Leigh performed for a festival audience in Capodistra, Slovenia.
“Imagine performing for hundreds or thousands of people on a massive stage with a rainbow of lights towering over you and behind you, smoke machines, and huge speakers,” Leigh recalls. “All of this in front of the 15th-century Praetorian Palace in Venetian Gothic style. Now that’s inspiring.”
Back in the states, Leigh keeps it fresh with home-based gigs in Austin at her outdoor concert series “Love. On the Lawn,” now in its fourth year. This autumn, Leigh also has concerts lined up in Dallas, Port Aransas, and San Antonio, including a stop at a biker rally in Point Blank, Texas, on October 27. Leigh then performs at the first annual South Padre International Music Festival, which the organizers say “is rolling out the welcome mat for GLBT music fans.” Other scheduled performers of community interest at the November 2–4 Padre Island festival: Patrice Pike. (Details: www.southpadremusicfest.com .)
Leigh, a favorite among Houston Women’s Festival audience members, holds a special place in her heart for the nonprofit-produced event.
“When you buy a ticket to the Houston Women’s Music Festival, you are not only going to have a blast and hear fantastic music,” she says, “you are also playing a role in advancing a handful of female artists’ careers.”
AND MORE MUSIC
Houston-based GoGirls Music, the online community for indie women musicians founded by Madlyn Sklar (“You Go Girl!” November 2006 OutSmart), brings its GoGirls MusicFest 2007 to town on November 3 with a gig at Last Concert Café, following an October 13 stop in Dallas at Opening Bell Coffee. The tour travels to Momo’s Club in Austin on November 10. Show proceeds support animal friendly organizations—in Houston, the beneficiary is the Friends for Life shelter.
The new 16-track MusicFest CD will be available at all venues as well as online. Details: www.gogirlsmusic.com.
Houston Women’s Festival tickets ($15 in advance, $20 at the gate) are available online at www.hwfestival.org, or at Lucia’s Garden (2216 Portsmouth), DaCapo’s Bakery & Deli (1141 E. 11th St.), and The Shop (1207 Westheimer).
In case of a rainout, the festival moves to Chances Bar at 1100 Westheimer.