October on Martha’s Vineyard is a time for hot chocolate, pumpkin carving, cozy sweaters — and a rocking music festival showcasing the Island’s many talented female musicians.
The third annual Ladyfest, an event created by Ritz manager Kelly Feirtag and musician Rose Guerin in 2017, takes place on Circuit Ave., Saturday, Oct. 19, from 5 pm on through the night. The festival’s proceeds will benefit Connect to End Violence, a domestic violence program and rape crisis center at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is part of the reason why the duo chose to hold the festival in October.
Feirtag and Guerin were redecorating the Ritz two years ago when they realized that all of the photographs of local musicians on the bar’s walls were of men. “We both sort of simultaneously noticed that we have a lot of fantastic women in bands around here, and none of them were featured. It kind of sparked the idea of having a Lady Festival,” says Guerin. “We very shortly came up with a reason to make it mean something, and that was our partnership with Connect.”
Ladyfest, which is put together entirely by volunteers, has grown significantly each year. “The first year, it was inside the Ritz, and we were at capacity way early in the night,” says Feirtag. “Last year, we [knew] we needed a bigger space,” she says. “We just thought, Wouldn’t it be crazy if we shut down Circuit Avenue for this?”
The town’s selectmen didn’t think it was so crazy after all, and the women got their wish. “They’re trying to push for off-season events because it gets so quiet,” Feirtag says. “It’s just another reason for Islanders to come out and hang out together.”
This year, in addition to shutting down Circuit Ave., the event will feature approximately 20 vendors, including food vendors and local artists, and will start earlier in the day, so that families are able to come and enjoy the performances. “Music starts at 4:30 on the Post Office Square stage, 5 on the Island Theater stage, and we go all night,” says Guerin. This year’s event will be emceed by Guinevere Cramer.
“We’re trying to reach out a bit more to the families in our community,” Guerin says, “and different areas of the community. We have a Brazilian duo that’s playing this year, which we’re very excited about.” Jhon Lucas + Carol, from the Southeast of Brazil and the South of Brazil respectively, will perform at 5:30 pm in Post Office Square.
Another new act this year is Sol y Canto, a family act featuring Rosi and Brian Amador and their daughter Alisa Amador (who will also play a solo set). “They’re Puerto Rican and Argentinian,” says Guerin. “They’ll be doing a lot of family-oriented music in Spanaish.”
Many acts from previous years of Ladyfest will be returning, such as Auntie Em and the Bedspins, the Space Invaders, the Outskirts, Sabrina and the Groovers, event organizer and vocal powerhouse Rose Guerin, and Kate Taylor and Jemima James, who will play with Guerin as a trio. A hip-hop act, Bombshell feat. Baby Girl & Lady Slim, will play at the Island Theater at 10:30 pm, and Island Hip Hop, a dance troupe led by Alise Haigazian and featuring elementary and high school students, will perform four dances in between sets. Another new band, the Jaywalkers, features Jessie Leaman (Outskirts, Edbury All Stars) and Barbara Puciul Hoy, and will play in Post Office Square. Two DJs — local favorite DJ AP and DJ Lili — will close out the night at the Ritz.
“I’m so excited and honored to be performing again with all the wonderful and talented musicians on Martha’s Vineyard,” says Emily Hunsaker, frontwoman of Auntie Em & The Bedspins. “Seeing so many individuals and companies come together to help Connect to End Violence, which helps countless women and families on-Island, makes me love this community even more.”
According to Jennifer Neary, program director at Connect, Ladyfest is the organization’s biggest fundraising event. “The amount raised that has gone to Connect has increased each year, and has helped the direct needs of survivors in our community,” she told The Times in an email.
Connect, which provides free and confidential services to survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence, and their nonoffending loved ones, supported over 330 survivors last fiscal year, according to Neary. Connect’s core services include a 24-hour crisis hotline, short-term counseling, group support, court advocacy, police advocacy, medical accompaniment, educational classes and training, Child Witness to Violence services, a legal clinic, referral services, and a Supervised Visitation Center. Connect facilitates Healthy Relationship classroom discussions in all island schools, including the Charter School, according to Neary.
Rose Guerin and Kelly Feirtag are passionate about raising awareness and funds for Connect, and its work supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence. “It’s a very rampant issue in the world, especially, as you know, with the #metoo movement,” says Guerin, “and also here on Martha’s Vineyard. [Connect] is a huge part of the community that more people need to know about, and raising awareness for them has been a huge goal for us.”
The funds raised by Ladyfest, along with other private donations, go to help victims directly. “Our funding sources often have certain limitations,” says Neary. “Donated funds go directly to meet the needs of survivors to live a life free from violence, not overhead for the program. This may be housing costs, food, daycare, utilities, and other needs the program has limited funding to meet. These funds help resolve obstacles for individuals who may otherwise have limited options for the decisions they have to make based on finances. One less obstacle in the road.”
Along with suggested donations for attending the event, the Ritz is hosting a raffle that has three separate prize packages participants can enter to win, each valued upwards of $500. The Outdoor Package includes a Felix Neck kayak tour, a Yeti cooler, L.L.Bean gear, a package from Dick’s Bait & Tackle, a tackle bag, an oyster farm tour, and more. The Wellness Package includes spa treatments, massages, flowers, yoga classes, a hair appointment, acupuncture, and more. The Year-Rounder package contains gift certificates to local restaurants, music lessons, an Offshore brewery tour for six, gift certificates to Our Market and MV Wine & Spirits, and more. Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased at the Ritz anytime from now until the end of the event, and participants are encouraged to enter as many times as they want. Winners will be drawn and announced on Sunday, Oct. 20.
Ladyfest is an event that Kelly and Rose prepare for year-round, especially fundraising to put the event together. “We’ve sourced the majority of our sponsorships and donations from local businesses giving little donations, and it’s been pretty amazing, the support from the community,” says Rose. “A lot of Ritz regulars have donated.”
The two women were the 2019 recipients of the Wiet Bacheller Volunteer of the Year award, awarded by MVCS.
Guerin and Feirtag hope to continue to grow the event in future years. “Circuit Ave. is a big street,” Feirtag says, “and we can fill it out. We’re only going down to Sharky’s, basically, so if we could next year go the whole street, and have another big stage down there, that would be awesome. We’d like to grow our off-Island base that comes, and just keep making it bigger and bigger.”
“We are very fortunate to have both awareness and funding raised for Connect as a result of this incredible event,” says Jennifer Neary. “Rose, Kelly, Larkin, and the incredible Ladyfest team have put a lot of time, effort, energy, and heart toward making Ladyfest an evening to celebrate the talented musicians and build a strong sense of community. We are grateful to them for choosing Connect to work with.”
Ladyfest’s all-ages outdoor events go from 4:30 to 11 pm, and (21-plus) festivities will continue inside the Ritz until 1:30 am. Anyone interested in volunteering for Ladyfest or sponsoring next year’s event can contact Kelly Feirtag at the Ritz.
Connect to End Violence is located at MVCS. Its 24-hour crisis hotline is 508-696-SAFE. More information is available at mvcommunityservices.org.