Ladyfest looks a little different this year than in years past, but the importance of this event and the musical talent showcased remain changeless.
The event, which raises money for Connect to End Violence, a dual domestic violence program and rape crisis center of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), brings together some of the premier artists on and off the Island under one spotlight. According to MVCS communications manager Mary Korba, the event yielded $16,000 in revenue, and netted $14,000 in funds for Connect this year, including a $10,000 scholarship.
Ladyfest also brings the essential services that Connect offers to the Island into the spotlight, and spreads awareness of domestic and sexual violence during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Due to COVID-19, the event has been restructured to accommodate the necessary health standards, and includes both an online performance dubbed “Lil’ Ladyfest,” which was held on Oct. 29 on MVY Radio’s Facebook page, and an in-person event for ticketholders at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum on Nov. 5.
Kelly Feirtag, co-founder of the event, said the entire idea started when she and co-founder Rose Guerin were at the Ritz more than three years ago, and noticed there were no pictures of female musicians on the walls.
“We noticed there were all these beautiful pictures of male musicians playing, so we basically said, Why don’t we have a night where we have all these incredible female musicians come and play, and we can photograph them and add to the wall?” Feirtag said.
And with that, Ladyfest was born. But Feirtag said Ritz owner Larkin Stallings suggested the two add to the goal of empowering women and connect with Connect to End Violence to raise funds and awareness.
“Of course, we wanted Ladyfest to be for a good cause, and Connect is such an incredible program and the people that work there are so amazing, we wanted to honor them,” Feirtag said.
Guerin said the very first year Ladyfest “bloomed into this fantastic idea” that got more musicians in the door of the Ritz, and raised awareness for a good cause.
But the event didn’t stop there — it was so popular that Circuit Avenue shut down, and the entire roadway became one big party.
“It basically just spiraled into this big party, and we had Laurel Reddington and Alison Hammond talk to us about it on the radio. It’s a great event for a great cause, and we had a line around the block, and six bands led by female musicians,” Guerin said. “It’s just such a beautiful night where people come from all over and say, ‘I’ve never been to the Ritz, but I just had to check this out.’”
And when Guerin started learning about the cause, she knew the event would be a part of something “much bigger” than just a musical shindig. “It really guided us both [Guerin and Feirtag] as young feminist women toward something so much bigger than ourselves,” Guerin said.
Even with a downsized event, Guerin said, the talent is still huge, with Island musicians showcasing their passion and innate love for performing onstage.
With the likes of Guerin, Lilah Larson, Buck Shank, Willie Mason, and Don Groover, the online event left no rock unturned. Larson opened up, then joined the group for some original tracks mixed in alongside some songs dedicated to the Ritz and others.
An in-person event will be held at the museum, with limited admission, on Thursday, Nov. 5, from 5 to 6:30 pm. Suggested donation is $20, and audience members are required to wear masks and adhere to social distancing.
Connect program director Jennifer Neary said not only does Ladyfest highlight the immense female talent here, it shows the amount of community support that is available to those in need.
“It really shows people that they are not alone, and even with all the restrictions and heightened safety precautions, Ladyfest is still here, and the support for survivors is still here,” Neary said. She thanked those who made the event possible, the organizers, along with the Ritz, the museum, and MVY. The event was also supported by Rockland Trust. “We feel humbled and honored. Our team at Connect and MVCS are thrilled that the platform we have is still willing to put this performance on and raise awareness,” Neary said.
She added that domestic violence is common in our community and throughout the world, but Connect is here to meet the needs of the Island.
And with such strong and talented women up onstage, Neary said, that empowers women as well. “Seeing such beautiful and incredible women up onstage just doing their thing, it really is a powerful image,” Neary said. “It’s all about taking away the stigma and showing there is no judgment, and that we can put the topic out there and hopefully remove some of the barriers — it’s OK to talk about it.”
Morgan Beausoleil, the new education coordinator for Connect, said the past seven months have been challenging for everyone, especially the domestic violence survivors in our community. She said the invaluable support that Connect provides 24/7 wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of donors, and events like Ladyfest.
Reach the 24/7 domestic and sexual violence crisis hotline at 508-696-7233, or visit the MVCS website for more information about Connect.