Though there’s certainly lots of room for growth and tons of progress that still must be made, there’s likely never been more female representation in Milwaukee music than there is right now. Despite the growing role and increased respect of women musicians in the scene, there wasn’t a specific event devoted to celebrating it until Olivia Doyle decided to berth Riverwest FemFest. Beyond highlighting the talents of more than a dozen area acts—including Fox Face, Appleseeds, Sin Bad, The Grasping At Straws, New Boyz Club, and Fuck Of Seagulls—with partial or complete feminine presence, the inaugural event (happening at Cocoon Room and Riverwest Public House Friday and Saturday) will also serve to benefit the Milwaukee Women’s Center, a domestic abuse shelter.
Just days before the inaugural Riverwest FemFest brings music, art, poetry, and philanthropy together, Milwaukee Record spoke to Doyle to get some insight on why she decided to step up and start the benefit and to hear her thoughts on the state of women in the local music scene.
Milwaukee Record: It’s my understanding you moved to Milwaukee from Chicago about a year and a half ago. What was your opinion of the music scene at that point? What have you learned over the course of your time here?
Olivia Doyle: Back when I lived in Chicago, I was good friends with Scott Cary who was in Dinny Bulca, and now Brat Sounds, so I’d come up every once in a while for shows. So I was kind of exposed to it before I moved up here, but I feel really blessed to be a part of it. Everyone is so nice and it’s like a real community, which I never saw anything like that when I lived in Chicago.
MR: You got involved in the music the scene very quickly. What ultimately led to your decision to start FemFest?
OD: Well, I used to live in a punk house, Heavy Dose, that was short-lived over this past summer. Now I live in another one, so I’ve been setting up shows—not only me, my roommates and I have been running it. I’ve been helping put on shows for a while, and around November I was just thinking this would be a good idea. I was seeing Appleseeds a lot, Fox Face, and The Olives. I thought it would be really cool if we could get all these bands together and have a big thing. Originally it was just going to be a one-day show, maybe in my basement or something. But it kind of just ballooned into a much bigger thing. I’m still overwhelmed with how big it’s gotten. I was not expecting that at all.
MR: A lot of the bands land around the punk genre, but there’s a mixture other genres. There are bands with all women, there are all male bands, and some with a combination of both genders. What did you look for in terms of band selection?
OD: I started out asking bands I felt inspired by, but I also posted online to ask people if they were interested. I was trying to just pull in all different types of music, so it can get the biggest turnout. Something I think is really cool about FemFest is the first night is the folky, acoustic bands, then the next day it’s a punk show. I just wanted to have a really wide range of music at the fest.
MR: Talk about the organization that will be benefited because of this, and why is it important to you?
OD: It’s the Milwaukee Women’s Center. They help and house victims of domestic violence, which was my main draw to them. I did a paper about the shelter in school when I was at the very beginning stages of planning it. They’re a really great organization in our community, which I think is important. They also help people struggling with mental illness and substance abuse. I just think it’s a really great organization. The fest is about celebrating women in our community, so why not give back to the organization that already helps women—and men, and children—in our community?
MR: In your opinion, what is the state of women in the Milwaukee music scene? Is it in a healthy place? Is there more work that could or should be done?
OD: I think it’s in a healthy place. I’m an outside observer of it, like, I’m not in a band or anything, but there are lots of great bands with women in them that play just as many shows as bands that are all guys. Personally, I see it as a healthy place. As an observer, it seems to be in a good place.
MR: Back to FemFest, what are some goals that you have? Are you hoping this will become an every year kind of thing?
OD: Yeah, most definitely. That’s the goal with it. Hopefully in the future we can get an even wider range of bands and a bigger venue.
MR: What are you most excited for?
OD: I’m just really excited to see how it’s all going to play out, and how other people will respond to the fest when they come. I’m really proud of this, and I’m really proud of everyone around me being so supportive. I’m just excited to see how it all plays out.
The inaugural Riverwest FemFest will take place at Cocoon Room Friday, January 23 and Saturday, January 24. Each day’s show costs $7 at the door (or $5 with the donation of a new, unopened item from this list).