“I think moving forward, we’d love to see FemFest as a thing that just happens all the time, everywhere.” That was festival organizer Ellie Jackson in the closing moments of this year’s eight-day, multi-venue, multi-media celebration of femmes, trans, GNC, women, non-binary, and POC. It was a massive undertaking that included everything from music and art to workshops and comedy, and while we didn’t catch everything, five of us attended numerous events to bring you this highlight reel.

SUNDAY – LAKEFRONT BREWERY – KEG STAND UP

• For the second consecutive year, FemFest starts in funny fashion with a special installment of Milwaukee Comedy’s monthly Keg Stand Up showcase at Lakefront Brewery. Host Le Aboav kicks things off with a great set that focuses on their non-binary identification and long-distance relationships. With the tone set, Vickie Lynn then coaxes laughs and well-deserved groans from the sold-out Beer Hall with a story of finding her deceased mom’s vibrator. During her hilarious performance, Milwaukee (by way of Upper Michigan) comic Raegan Niemela talks about her U.P. roots and being bi-sexual before giving way to headliner Whitney Chitwood. The Chicago comic keeps the laughs rolling with stories about relatives in rural Illinois and an anecdote about applying for a job at Hooters. There’s a variety of comic styles and perspectives, but they all come together to kick off the festival in side-splitting style. [Tyler Maas]

MONDAY – JAZZ GALLERY – EXPERIMENTAL/ELECTRONIC SHOWCASE

• For those who wish to dabble in experimental genres, 11:11‘s set is a great place to start. It’s not so out there where people may write it off as weird for the sake of being weird, though it does not follow the same standards of pop music composition. They use a reverb-laden guitar not just for tone but as a percussive element, in addition to a clarinet, cello, and vocals. Their set is dynamic, in volume but also in diversity of sound. And there is feedback. [Maggie Iken]

• After some lineup shifts, it is announced that Spires That In The Sunset Rise will be on next. The duo’s frenetic energy enraptures the audience, leaving even noise skeptics enthralled with the multitude of vocal stylings, textural use of plastic bags, and incorporation of the venue’s staple baby grand piano. Though sometimes sets of this nature can drag on, the switching of instruments and variance of emotions portrayed could have even warranted a longer set time. [MI]

• The night ends with Nummy, a solo performer with a unique setup. Truly focusing in on the noise aspect of the event (and less on organized sound), her set consists of a portable stove top with a heated pan into which she periodically eye-drops and sprays liquid. Brevity is key here, with Nummy’s set only lasting several minutes before she looks up from her pan to signify she has finished. [MI]

• Also worth noting is that the Jazz Gallery, a staple in the community as well as in FemFest, is raising money to replace their roof. You can find more information through the Riverwest Artist Association’s webpage. [MI]

THURSDAY – ANODYNE COFFEE WALKER’S POINT ROASTERY – SONGWRITERS IN THE ROUND

• Kat Wodtke of Long Mama gets the caffeinated audience fired up with a spirited song inspired by Topsy, an elephant abused by her owner. [Catherine Jozwik]

• “This past month, it’s been very stressful to be a woman,” announces Dara Rilatos before launching into
a passionate, anthemic song about a woman’s right to choose. [CJ]

• Dynamic duo SistaStrings treats the audience to soulful violin and cello music (garnering a loud “Fuck yeah!” from an audience member). The sisters also improvise, accompanying musicians Charlotte Montgomery, Anja Elise, and Uncle Valentine. [CJ]

FRIDAY – 88NINE RADIO MILWAUKEE – GRACE WEBER MUSIC LAB

• “I like proving other people wrong, because it’s fun,” says rapper Iam Dexter during a panel discussion with artists Je’Love, Kizzy, B~Free, and Trinity Grace. Iam Dexter and musical partner Kizzy deliver a lively rap performance to a youthful, engaged audience. [CJ]

B~Free, described as a “musical Swiss army knife,” offers constructive feedback to the young performers during the open mic portion of the event. [CJ]

• Je’Love’s sultry performance of “Cream City” pays homage to all the talented Milwaukee artists and musicians. All the while, DJ Bizzon provides encouragement to aspiring young musicians. “If they want to learn more about the music industry, they can do that right here in Milwaukee,” he says. [CJ]

FRIDAY – CACTUS CLUB

• A good strategy to get folks out early: Start the evening with the debut performance by Jacquelyn Beaupré’s new band. The West Bend native is best remembered as one half of experimental Americana duo Blessed Feathers, but maybe not for long. Her latest project, Voulouse, is perhaps a bit more conventional than Feathers, which translates into a lot more instantly memorable music. The set feels like the true emergence of a new songwriting force, as well as a band eager to prove itself. [Cal Roach]

• Minneapolis singer/songwriter Reina Del Cid pegs Milwaukee as a place that might have some appreciation for a Tom Petty cover. “Wildflowers” may not necessarily be a feminist anthem, but its refrain of “You belong somewhere you feel free” rings true in the context of FemFest. [CR]

• If the city is still getting used to electric Caley Conway, rest assured that she and her band are quite at home already and bashing out gnarly thinking-person’s rock and roll. Conway’s lyrics and voice are still the focal points; the band just allows her versatility to spread out in ways it hadn’t before, and that goes especially for her guitar prowess, which seems to grow with each successive show. [CR]

Kia Rap Princess tends to put on show-stopping performances at these local multi-venue festivals, and Friday night is no exception. The surprise climax brings out recent Backline winner Kaylee Crossfire for a handful of tunes, including a rousing “Fsu,” the leadoff track from the duo’s 2018 collaborative EP Best Of Both Worlds. Cactus Club is at its most alive and moving. [CR]

• Bucks fans take note: Shle Berry was doing this whole beer-chugging thing way before David Bakhtiari hit the Jumbotron courtside at the Fiserv Forum. Tonight, a fan downs two onstage for a pair of PrideFest tickets (and, of course the prestige)—a more impressive effort, it must be said, than Berry’s own. “First of all, it’s Miller Lite,” she protests. “It tastes like asshole.” Berry is officially past her young-upstart status; where she goes from here is anyone’s guess. This headlining slot certainly suggests that her ability to command a room remains undiminished. [CR]

FRIDAY – CLUB GARIBALDI

• Solo artist BananaFish opens up the night at Club Garibaldi. Highly emphatic and emotional vocals are paired with a consistently chugging tenor ukulele, but this is not your run-of-the-mill singer/songwriter act. The foil of the artist’s overwhelming passion while performing against their meek nature while speaking is ultra-personable and a joy to witness. [MI]

• Taking the venue in a completely different direction, Ms. Lotus Fankh begins her set with an a cappella rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” It is apparent from the get-go that her vocal prowess is the star of the set, though she is also an instrumentalist. Building her songs as she goes, she starts with a pre-recorded drum beat on which she layers violin, guitar, and auxiliary vocals before she sings her soulful melodies. [MI]

• Turning the tables and making Club G a decidedly louder venue, Holly And The Nice Lions take the stage. They fill the room in their return to the fest with intentional feedback and sounds inspired by rock ‘n’ roll and classic punk. Frontwoman Holly, a veteran of the Green Bay rock scene, bops around on stage with an infectious energy. She also masterfully manages to troubleshoot technical difficulties (going so far as to swap out the guitar she was using) without her band missing a beat. [MI]

• And now it is time to dance. Even the most stoic of listeners are brought to their feet by Lauryl Sulfate And Her Ladies of Leisure. Her electroclash-influenced pop makes the entire room move, particularly during “Do You Feel Me” (included on our local summer playlist). For fans of Robyn, Kesha, and having a good time. [MI]

Witch Bolt performs their third set ever at Garibaldi. Somewhat of a supergroup from the Milwaukee punk scene (representation from Fox Face, Habitat For Insanity, Red Lodge, and plenty more), it’s not surprising they don’t sound like a band in its infancy. The heaviest sound of the night, this hardcore punk group hits the audience with a wall of sound that only lets up slightly with their last song. Upon hearing the news of Roky Erickson’s death, the band learned his track “I Walked With A Zombie” earlier in the day to close their set. They invite Holly back up to help them sing it. [MI]

• Closing out the lengthy evening of events spanning a number of genres, Faux Fiction takes the stage well after midnight. Very happy to be back playing their fourth FemFest, the band’s pop rock stylings are catchy and well worth the wait to those who have stuck it out through the night. [MI]

SATURDAY – FACILITATING SITUATIONS – FEMFEST GALLERY DAY

• Featuring work from more than 25 artists at a total of seven galleries located throughout the Milwaukee area, Saturday’s FemFest Gallery Day proves to be an excellent artistic complement to the music that’s taken over Company Brewing (more on that later). We stop by Facilitating Situations—located inside Hawthorn Contemporary in the heart of Walker’s Point—to check out work from the likes of Cynthia Ho (whose “Crackle” is pictured below), Izzy Waite, and more. [TM]

SATURDAY – COMPANY BREWING

• Before checking out Saturday’s daylong show, we venture up to Company Brewing’s upper level where we immediately see co-organizer Ellie Jackson, who introduces us to her mother. Pleasantries exchanged, we take a lap around the bustling Makers Market that’s stocked with great local goods from a unique cast of vendors. We were especially tempted to buy this shirt. [TM]

• Downstairs at Company Brewing, Kendra Swanson is playing to an affable and sizable after-brunch crowd (as well as to her headphone-clad baby). Suddenly, a burst of volume from the sound system gives Swanson’s otherwise dulcet banjo an alarming sonic boost. “I’m lucky that anybody wants to amplify me at all!” she jokes. [Matt Wild]

• Speaking of the sound system, festival co-organizer Johanna Rose is the woman behind it. And as if she doesn’t have enough on her plate, she’s now on stage playing a set as one half of the incomparable Nickel&Rose. With nothing but a guitar, an upright bass, and their voices, Rose and Carl Nichols are a stunning force of warmth and talent. Between songs, Rose characterizes her involvement in FemFest as “an exhausting privilege.” She remains one of the hardest working musicians in the city. [MW]

• “I always start with this question: Do my ladies run this motherfucker?” So begins the thrillingly electric and delightfully unexpected set from rapper Auti Marie. (Company Brewing’s response, in case you were wondering: “HELL YEAH!”) There are crowd-pleasing songs like “I Ain’t A Hoe.” There are dancers doing their thing on stage. Hell, there are even gift bags and gift cards that Auti Marie hands out to friends and fans during and after her show. Incredible. She blows the roof off the place, and it feels like things are kicking into high gear. [MW]

• We forget where we saw it, but we’re pretty sure someone called Wavy V “Milwaukee’s answer to The Zombies.” It’s an apt description, yet the group’s intricate, delicate, and baroque psychedelia is entirely its own. This is a band with not one, but two flutes. Emily Morrow and Riles Walsh have been terrific together since their days in The Candliers, and their voices and talents are on fine display today. [MW]

• If you ever need someone to quiet down a chatty crowd, hire Amanda Huff. Backed by a full band, the tireless singer instantly commands the attention of everyone in the room. Her voice soars and dives, her hands claw at the air. She’s an artist possessed, and watching her perform is like watching an exorcism. But a good one! People blink, drop their jaws, and shake their heads in disbelief. [MW]

• The weather has been kind of cold and damp today, but L’Resorts finally bring a tropical breeze to the proceedings. Dressed all in white, Martha Cannon, Vincent Kircher, and company briefly play with the stage lights dimmed before settling into their groove. We demand more recorded L’Resorts music. NOW. [MW]

SUNDAY – COMPANY BREWING

• “This is actually my third time to Milwaukee and I really love it here,” Kelli Frances Corrado tells the assembled crowd outside Company Brewing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The Seattle artist proceeds to perform a set of striking, spare music that’s both gothic and cosmic, her strong voice exceedingly expressive even when delivering melodies that are virtually monotonous. As she crafts a loop of a booming mallet on a single drum, a kid under one of the vendor tents yells, “What’s going on?” It is indeed an otherworldly set, and beautiful as such. [CR]

• Up-and-coming local singer/songwriter ANDII takes the indoor stage and plays a song called “MKE,” one of the most heartfelt and least corny tributes to the Brew City we can ever recall hearing. Outsiders might not get much out of the neighborhood-specific references, but who knows; combined with her other, more personal songs of love and loss, maybe she makes Milwaukee sound interesting even to random passers-by. [CR]

• Local R&B crooner Natalijia takes the outdoor stage accompanied by a rudimentary two-piece band for a couple of original songs as well as crowd-pleasing covers of Mary J. Blige and SWV. She doesn’t have much material out there for consumption just yet, but with a rich, versatile voice like hers, she might not stay under the radar for long. [CR]

• Ladies Rock alumni Atheists And Airplanes provide the extreme noise portion of the day’s festivities. The group’s raw (maybe just barely post-) punk is reminiscent of very early Germs, only with much weirder lead guitar. The group really hits a stride when Emily “Kneival” switches to bass for the band’s closing trio of songs, rattling the light fixtures and drowning out the typically chatty Company crowd. [CR]

• The mighty Ruth B8r Ginsburg takes the stage as the sun still barely peeks over the rooftops and onto the courtyard. No artist or group better embodies the spirit of FemFest than Ruth B8r, and protest music never sounded so good as this eight-piece ensemble in top form. The opener is a fiery take on Florence Reese’s enduring workers’ anthem “Which Side Are You On?” with some lyrics twisted around into more Wisconsin-centric themes, and they follow this with a partial a capella rendition of Cher’s “Believe” that shows off the ladies’ dazzling harmonies before they plunge directly into a few of their groovy original tunes. From folk to funk and whatever lies in between, they’ve been one of Milwaukee’s most riveting live acts for years, and we’re still waiting for that debut full-length to drop. [CR]

• The Minneapolis love is strong at this festival, and very justifiably for Betazoid. The group’s sound is like guitar-free indie rock, quite unpredictable on all fronts. The trio of Tara Loeper (vocals), Lisa Harrigan (vocals and bass), and Emily Kastrul (vocals and keys) sing some incredible serpentine harmonies, and the songs are flowing, infectious, and weird, propelled by the sheer joy of pulling them off. [CR]

• “We are tinyhands and we hate cops and the government.” This comes fairly late in the set, but Fred Kenyon’s quip would serve as a fine introduction to the Milwaukee duo. Their decidedly un-radio-friendly set of energetic mandolin-driven folk rants culminates in a dizzying performance of “Nicotene,” from their recently released album, Who Said You Could Touch My Dog? This is one of the most riveting single songs we’ve heard all weekend. [CR]

• Milwaukee’s Large Print opens with “Triton,” a song that’s only been out for half a year and already feels like an indie-rock classic. The band’s intricate interplay comes off brilliantly in this setting, definitely reminiscent at times of gauss, with whom Large Print shares two members. “This is our first time playing outside,” says guitarist/singer Eric Risser. “I hope no birds shit on us.” [CR]

• We’re still trying to figure out how to categorize Milwaukee’s Warhola Cats—not that genre tags make any difference to the group’s growing fanbase. There’s something uniquely magnetic about frontwoman Elisabeth Gasparka’s songs and the way she delivers them, and she’s connecting with this evening FemFest crowd in a way that no one else has throughout the day. “Make Me” is perhaps the most moving song of the set; along with the band’s growing prowess as a live act, it’s indicative of the massive growth Warhola Cats have undergone since putting out their debut album at the end of 2017. [CR]

• Prior to Sypher Lady X taking the stage, festival organizer Ellie Jackson relates a story of Sypher’s reluctance to take part in the first FemFest back in 2015, puzzled at being booked amongst a bunch of rock bands and such, and it’s a strong testament to the diversity and spirit of togetherness that holds this community together that Sypher now returns for her third FemFest as a bona fide legend. The Latina rapper has the crowd eating out of her hand even when she’s just perched on a stool telling some life stories. [CR]

• It’s fun thinking back to those early Fox Face shows, scrappy post-punk affairs when the band was finding its sound in real time, always high-energy but nothing compared to the lean, mean force of nature the band has become. For its headlining set on Sunday night, the group plays a bunch of new material from an unfinished second album, and although the crowd at Company has dwindled somewhat, the roars of appreciation are almost as potent as the new songs. It seems very likely that the best is yet to come for this band, which ends the festival on the highest (and loudest) possible note. “I think moving forward, we’d love to see FemFest as a thing that just happens all the time, everywhere,” says festival organizer Ellie Jackson in closing. After a marathon eight days of events and 30-some hours of live music…yes. More of this, all the time, everywhere. [CR]

[Backdrops at Cactus Club and Company Brewing were made by Kristina Rolander]

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