Two women are trying to make a dent in the glaring gender gap in music festival lineups.
Producer Audrey Joseph and DJ Leah Jackson, known by her stage name Ms. Jackson, are bringing a one-day all-female electronic music festival, TogetherFest, to the Armory in San Francisco this fall. The festival will feature DJs including Brazzabelle, Dani Deahl, Little Boots and more.
“We have this opportunity to really showcase women’s talents and create a space for people of all genders to come and watch great music together,” Jackson told The Huffington Post.
In a recent data analysis, The Huffington Post found that an overwhelming majority of festival line-ups are male. Out of 10 of the most popular American music festivals, male acts made up anywhere from 66 percent to 93 percent of all performers.
What makes TogetherFest so unique is that it’s not just the performers who are female ― the entire event will be run by women. From the stagehands to the bartenders, sound engineers and security, the festival is truly an all-female production.
“We want women who are talented, excited and who share that belief that women deserve a safe space and community,” Jackson said. “That doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
The Huffington Post spoke with Jackson about the inspiration behind TogetherFest, sexism in the music industry and what she hopes the audience will take away from the all-female festival.
What inspired you and Audrey Joseph to create TogetherFest?
I’ve had the idea for a female-only-focused event in San Francisco for about 5 or 6 years. And then last year my partner, Audrey Joseph, and I connected when she started working at the Armory. We came to realize that there is no music festival on the west coast that has an all-female-focused performance base. After we came to that realization, we really dove into doing our research about the problem that does exist in the music industry, including night life and music festivals. It’s a huge problem, it’s glaring ― and no one’s doing anything about it.
When Audrey and I finally sat down to put our vision together for this festival, we realized we want to fix that problem. I think the inspiration really came from the fact that we wanted to help fix such a major issue in our industry and in our world. Audrey has always been a big advocate for women’s rights and has been producing events for the past 25 years in San Francisco. She’s a risk-taker and we’re both making a statement by doing this event because it’s the first music event for the Armory’s reopening. It’s pretty awesome that we get to advocate for women in the first event in the space.
Why do you think there’s such a large gender gap at music festivals?
It follows the problem of sexism in our world in general, and the larger problem of sexism within the music industry as a whole. I think that the majority of people who are running the industry are male. When I was growing up, just starting my career in radio, that gender divide was just as alarming back then as it is now. I don’t think there’s been a real change. Men control the majority of the music business. There’s been some progress in the last 20 years, but from my personal experience ― working in music, being a DJ and also working in nightlife ― the change hasn’t been big enough. Audrey and I are both females and we’re going to be running the production and putting this entire event together as women. I think it’s a small move when you take a look at the big picture, but we’re nonetheless trying to initiate change.
Sexism in the music industry seems to be this systemic issue that hasn’t really made much notable progress in the last few decades.
We’re not trying to come across that we don’t support men in music. That’s definitely not the purpose of this. It is very apparent that there’s an issue of sexism within festivals and music, but I think there’s a space that can exist ― especially in the Bay Area ― that can really focus on women. Part of our lineup is LGBT, which represents the Bay Area really equally. I’m a fan of all music. We have this opportunity to really showcase women’s talents and create a space for people of all genders to come and watch great music together.
I think for this specific industry ― because it’s so male-focused ― an event like this really does open up so many more doors for women. Leah Jackson
I think it goes back to the idea that women need safe spaces for a reason, but it doesn’t mean that men and allies aren’t allowed into those spaces. I read that most of the people behind the festival ― sound engineers, stagehands, bartenders, etc. ― are women?
In addition to the performers, we’re actually hiring mostly women. Our bartenders are going to be women, our vendors are companies that are founded or created by women all around the Bay Area. That’s the community that we want to bring into the event. We want this to be a place that allows young girls to be like, “Wow, I could be a sound engineer,” or “I could be a stagehand or do security.”
We want women who are talented, excited and who share that belief that women deserve a safe space and community. That doesn’t exist anywhere else, and I think for this specific industry ― because it’s so male-focused ― an event like this really does open up so many more doors for women.
Watch a teaser for TogetherFest below and continue reading below.
Have you experienced sexism as a DJ or just working in the music industry in general?
I’ve been really lucky, I don’t remember anything specifically sexist. There’s been a few times when I’m DJing and people have said, “Wow, you’re a really good DJ.” And it’s a funny comment because in my head I’m always like, “Well, what does that mean? Are you surprised that a female DJ can be good?” It’s kind of like a unicorn thing, people will be like “I’ve just never seen a female DJ before.” It does make you feel good and special that I’m standing out but first and foremost I’m a DJ, I’m not a female DJ. I’m just a DJ.
What do you hope the future of TogetherFest will be?
Our future is to grow this out as much as possible. Hopefully we can have the event in different cities around the country, and feature artists from those areas and communities. How amazing would it be to have TogetherFest in New York or LA or Chicago or Atlanta? Our goal is to be able to reach those female artists around the country that might not have the opportunity to perform on big stages and bring them to a wider audience. It’s an opportunity to serve the underserved.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
TogetherFest will take place at the SF Armory on Oct. 8. To learn more about the festival or to buy ticketshead to their website.