Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Fourth National Women's Music Festival program cover, 1977Fourth National Women's Music Festival program cover, 1977

Summer can evoke images of friends, music, freedom, and the outdoors. Although people don’t generally associate libraries with music and the outdoors, some collections of personal papers currently held by the Schlesinger Library contain materials from open-air events, such as women’s music festivals.  Many of these music festivals began in the 1970s, and women who attended them often experienced them as a form of fellowship. The events provided a supportive community for those who may have felt isolated in the larger society.

The concert programs, performance contracts, well-worn t-shirts, and other souvenirs represent the many facets and contexts of these types of festivals. One can access material about the same event from multiple people who were involved. One of these women, feminist, activist and musician Holly Near, wrote and performed music that came to represent the spirit of women’s music festivals. In 1976 Holly Near participated in a seven-city tour of California. Called “Women On Wheels,” it became known as the first major tour of feminist and lesbian artists. Near toured and performed widely at many women's music festivals and concerts in the United States and abroad through the late 1990s. Often cited as one of the founders of the “women’s music” movement, she also worked for peace and multicultural consciousness.

Holly Near's performance contract, National Women's Music Festival, May 31. 1980Holly Near's performance contract, National Women's Music Festival, May 31. 1980

A pioneer in women's studies and feminist philosophy, Joyce Trebilcot attended many music festivals at which Near performed. Trebilcot was the first woman tenured in the department of philosophy and the cofounder of the women's studies program at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The author of Dyke Ideas: Process, Politics, Daily Life (1994), she collected and saved memorabilia such as t-shirts, posters, buttons, and other items that capture the women's music festival experience.

 Concert program covers from the Michigan Womyn's Festival, 1987 and 1997Concert program covers from the Michigan Womyn's Festival, 1987 and 1997

These diverse items of remembrance can open the porthole just a little wider to a past experience, giving the researcher a more complete vision of an intense, momentary event.