Houston Women’s Music Festival returns to Jones Plaza
by Nancy Ford
It’s a long-running institution that marks a womanly welcome of cooler weather—and so much more. Each October, hundreds and hundreds of Gulf Coast lesbians make their traditional migration through the downtown maze of glass and steel to Jones Plaza, Houston’s spacious downtown outdoor amphitheater, for the Houston Women’s Music Festival. To the gratitude of many of those women, the festival returns this month after a one-year hiatus, offering a day of music, celebration, and socializing, all unfolding in front of a backdrop of non-stop music by choice female performers.
“People come to renew old friendships as well as develop new ones,” says long-time HWMF producer Sharman Petri. “But most importantly, it is a time for all of us in Houston to focus on discovering new music made by our women musicians.”
Though Athena Art Project is officially listed as the Houston Women’s Music Festival producer, few would argue that Petri has been the driving force behind the festival since 2002.
“I’ve served on committees, as a board member, and have been heavily involved in the whole production process,” she says. Petri took over the producer’s role in 2007 when Athena Art Project co-founder Shirley Knight passed the baton to pursue other interests. “Shirley is still involved in the festival, but her role is limited to consulting as well as event-day operations.”
What many festival fans don’t know is that Petri’s
position is strictly voluntary. “I think I speak for all us volunteers—we do it for community, and it makes us feel like we are doing something important by keeping music alive and supporting the musicians that give us the gift of song.”
Petri is responsible for changing the name from Houston Women’s Festival to Houston Women’s Music Festival. “I thought it was important to incorporate the word ‘music,’ because that is one of our main focuses,” she says. “Our mission is to support the artistic endeavors of women; I think we accomplish that mission just by hiring independent women musicians.”
The community, the talented women musicians, and the spirit of volunteerism are what keep Petri going, she says. “I love putting on the event for the Houston community. Female musicians are often under-appreciated in the music industry, so I take pride in bringing about an event that features women who make great music!”
When Petri stepped into the producer’s role in 2007, the festival had no major sponsors. “I understood that rising production costs and our need for growth meant that we needed to seek out contributors,” she says. “Just about every festival on earth has sponsors. It’s not just about providing funding for operating expenses and talent—it’s about credibility and visibility. Sponsors help create visibility for festivals. They place events they are involved with in their newsletters, talk it up to their clients, et cetera.”
Seeking sponsors, the first thing Petri did was to contact Bud Light through local distributor Silver Eagle. “They are committed to the LGBT community, and it is evident through the variety of events and nonprofit organizations that they support. This year marks the fifth consecutive year that Silver Eagle Distributors/Bud Light is a sponsor, and we’re very appreciative for their support.”
H-E-B grocery stores and Curve Magazine are also sponsors of the 2011 festival.
Rather than featuring a headliner this year, as it traditionally has in the past, the 2011 festival features local and regional artists, Petrie says.
“I thought it was important to feature our own home-town and home-state talent. Let’s celebrate the fabulous Texas-based talent we have right here in our state!”
Petri is very methodical about booking performers for the festival, she says, and labors over the process. “I look at an artist’s crowd draw, but I also look at what unique musical component they can bring to the Houston audience,” she says.
Petri admits it took longer to book
the 2011 festival than any previous one. Many variables are taken into consideration beyond the artists’ commercial draw, including the festival’s available funds, tour schedule—“and most importantly, talent! There is such a talent-rich pool of women musicians, so it takes quite a balancing act to determine the lineup,” Petri says. “It’s also not a matter of just who I like, but who I think the audience will respond to.
“And it feels great for me to know that I am helping further their careers,” Petri adds. “By scheduling the artists that we present, the festival helps develop their Houston fan base by putting them in front of a large audience. When they want to book a return date in Houston, they will hopefully have an audience that includes a large portion of people who saw and heard them at the Houston Women’s Music Festival. I’ve seen the results in action.”
Petri speaks the truth. HWMF alum and acclaimed regional rocker Patrice Pike found a national stage, becoming a finalist on ABC’s Rock Star: Supernova in 2006. In 2009, HWMF newcomer Vicci Martinez was a featured performer on the Jones Plaza stage. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Martinez went on to nearly win NBC’s The Voice, under the tutelage of Ce Lo Green.
After festival gates open at noon on October 22, the music begins at 12:15 p.m. with an opening performance by Bayou City Performing Arts Women’s Chorus. Robin Kirby and Friends follows, followed by Wishing Chair, with opening emcee Lisa Schafer. Terri Hendrix, Shelly King, Gina Chavez, GBmojo, and Paige Lewis complete the day, with Ginger Leigh serving as mistress of ceremony.
“Actually, Ginger Leigh is wearing many more hats,” Petri says. “Most people don’t realize how integral Ginger is to the festival process. She designs all of the festival graphics, publication ads, and website. Plus, she knows the music industry inside and out. She has a handle on all the artists and music trends. I rely on her heavily for advice, and I couldn’t imagine doing the festival without her support.
“Ginger is really my co-producer,” Petri says. “I guess now that I’ve said that, I’ll have to officially give her the title!” [Editor’s note: OutSmart’s Nancy Ford also emcees the event.]
The afternoon also includes vendor booths, providing information about local women’s groups and businesses.
“Good food and beverage complete our real festival atmosphere,” Petri says.
Fans are also invited to have breakfast with the performers on Sunday morning at the downtown Crowne Plaza hotel, located within walking distance of Jones Plaza. The hotel offers special rates for festivalgoers who use promo code WMF.
Tickets to the festival are $15 in advance online, and $22 the day of the festival. “This year we’ll also take credit cards. Woo hoo!” Petri adds enthusiastically.
Eventually, Petri hopes to set up scholarships for emerging female musicians from HSPVA with funds raised by Houston Women’s Music Festival, and/or funding for emerging artists’ CD projects.
“So much funding has been cut from our musical arts programs, and it’s a shame,” Petri concludes. “It’s been proven that students enrolled in music programs perform better in math and social skills. Plus, music is a real gift and has healing power for many. We just can’t let music go by the wayside.”
What: Houston Women’s Music Festival
When: Saturday, October 22, 2011, noon–10 p.m.
Where: Jones Plaza, 600 Louisiana St.
Tickets: $15 in advance online at hwfestival.org, $22 the day of the festival.