Meet the Queer Womxn F*cking Sh*t Up in DC’s Music Scene: WFSU DC Fest at Union Stage

This year, Womxn Fuck Shit Up DC will be entering its second year of hosting a day-long festival that highlights non-male, non-binary, queer, and poc musicians. This year, the event will take place on April 20th at Union Stage.

I had the privilege of sitting down with some of the hard-working organizers to talk about the event, their experiences, and plans.

In true air-sign fashion, I began asking them questions before turning on my recording device, but we circled back to cover some ground.

For months, the inspiring women behind WFSU have been meeting weekly and planning an event that will attempt to shine a spotlight on deserving voices and fill the gap between the queer and music communities of DC. All of the organizers are doing their work for WFSU as volunteers and are even backing some of the finances out of their own pockets.

A portion of the proceeds from this year’s event will be going towards raising funds for a new DC record label focused on non-male musicians, This Could Go Boom!

The types of music on this years lineup range from ambient noise to classical to rock. Early Bird tickets are $15; General Admission tickets are $20. For those hoping to help out in some way, WFSU is looking to find volunteers and will post the interest form soon. Get your tickets here.

Read the interview below. (Edited for clarity and brevity)

Ava Mirzadegan: I don’t remember where we were- Was last year was the first year?

Ashley Dale: So actually you asked me about my background. I’ve worked in labor for the past 10 years and it’s ruled by white older men. I have worked my ass off for many years to have representation and to feel empowered. So when I was asked to work with Kristen, who does a lesbian party [along with WFSU DC member Dani], Qrew — she came to me because the team from LA had asked her if she wanted to put something together, and she was like “well with your background and labor, would you be interested in to doing a politically-minded music festival” and I was like “fuck yeah, let’s do this.”

So I asked one of my best friends in labor to join on and she jumped in and she’s incredible but we have no background in music. That’s not what we do. And so when we were throwing the festival last year, it was like well shit, here we are. But we just went with it, learned a lot, and Songbyrd was super helpful. We were at max capacity last year, with a line around the block. We didn’t know what to do with all the people. I don’t think none of us really expected it to be so huge. It was not the best.

I used to go to festivals all the time when I was younger. The older I get, I’m so fucking tired of getting literally stomped on by frat bros that don’t care that I exist. And I had gone to Bonnaroo, Firefly, and Governor’s Ball. I never ever thought that we would be trying to throw one.

AM: How are you feeling about this year’s event?

AD: This year we wanted to get a larger venue and something that was ADA accessible so we went with Union Stage. They’ve been really helpful with everything. We also have a couple of musicians on board – the Tucker twins who are in a local band called Sheila. They’ve been super helpful. We’ve gotten so much support from womxn and music and DC. It’s been really really nice. But yeah, we learned a lot last year. I was running around, everything was crazy, and I had anxiety, but we tried.

During the thing, we were like “this place is gonna blow up. We’re losing our minds and we were sweating, freaking out the whole time, making sure that everybody was happy and comfortable.”

AM: So do you have the lineup planned out already?

AD: We have the core emails sent out but we left some room for if people back out or can’t do it. So we have some space-fillers or can mess with the set times.

AM: How did you find the Tucker twins last year? Was it just local submissions? Do you have a deeper connection to the DC scene now?

AD: Yes, but we also are more than just DC. Our selection process was that we really wanted to just open it up on social media and whoever applies applies. We wanted to center people of color and make a platform for marginalized voices. Other than that, we have such a vast array of Music this year, which I’m really excited about. We’ve been like doing rolling submissions because we had I think 68 total is unreal. Last year. I think we had maybe 30 32 or 33.

Yeah, so this is just the one just one stage, so we’re going to have during some turnover. They said that they could split the stage lighting a bit so that we can have band setting up and like have like a burlesque performance or like the spoken word performance or acoustic. So we just have to coordinate that.

Yeah, this year has been crazy. We were going to do a spoken word event earlier in the year and then our venue just like shut their doors. After that were like, okay like this is like Bad Karma? Maybe we just shouldn’t do it. And I was like well, I work like a full-time job. I am recently become the president of the Labor Heritage Foundation, which is a labor arts and culture nonprofit, which is cool. I sing in the DC Labor Chorus, I play softball and volleyball, and I do a lot of other things.

AM: I want to know more about what else you have planned for the lineup – I know you had mentioned burlesque dancers.

AD: Oh, yeah, like a whole bunch of things. So without giving away too much, we have —

AM: Are you (Selena) playing again this year?

Selena Benally: Yes, in another capacity. My band the Osyx, who started last year will play. I’d describe us as various degrees of rock. I had a lot of fun last year and I’m excited to have the rest of my bandmates experience it. To be like, look what Ashley does!

AD: It’s the whole team. There’s six of us!! I don’t do this shit alone.

AM: So did you know the rest of the team before?

SB: Yeah, we love playing with Sheila and having them involved in anything we do. They’re just really great.

AD: They’re really cool. I met Courtney because we played rugby together. I actually started my College rugby team!

AM: Have you always been in this kind of organizational role where you’re leading the way?

AB: I guess! Well, so I went to Mason and I was a transfer student, had no friends and I knew no one and just worked a lot. So I was like, I need to make my life happen. I played rugby but they only had a men’s team. So I linked up the men’s team and they’re like, well, you know, you can come to our practices but there’s not a women’s team. So I started going to their practices and then I met these two other women that went, so we decided to start our own team.

It was really fucking hard. With Title Nine you’d think we would get more support but we didn’t. Mason kicked us off their fields because we were practicing on half of the men’s side during their practice and they said we couldn’t do that. It was really shitty. We had to pay our own insurance, would practice on gravel and in parking lots. It really sucked but we spent the first year, in 2008, just begging bodies to come out and then by 2009 we had an official team. It was cool and they’ve been playing for 10 years now.

So I knew “bandcamp” which was what Courtney was nicknamed, because music was all she talked about when she joined Rugby. We became really close because her class were kind of clicky and we had to have a stern discussion about how like we went through hell and solidarity is our thing. That this was not the kind of legacy we were going to leave.

Then she started to take her music more seriously. The twins are incredibly talented and so when we were about to plan the festival I reached out to them.

Since Phase Fest, we had like a lesbian Like Music Festival, but then it kind of has died out so I was like, I don’t even know if there’s a scene for that.

SB: There hasn’t been for a couple years. So I remember Phase Fest and playing that and having the queer community connected to the music community. It was so wonderful because there was that gap, where we were all friends again.

AD: And then you started a fucking nonprofit record label!!!

AM: Oh my goodness, what?

Both: This could go boom!

AM: Okay yeah, I was just talking to Erin via Facebook Messenger the other day. I’m trying to get the conversation going with her. So that’s amazing. So the whole thing is benefitting your label?

AD: Paying the artists, paying the festival expenses, and then everything else is going to the label.

AM: Okay, cool. I’d seen that last year funds had been raised for Casa Ruby but I wasn’t sure about this year.

AD: I was like you guys seen what Selena’s been up to because this is incredible and like we need to support it.

I was very stern about it actually because it’s so dope.

AM: Are you excited to have something kind of thrown in your honor? Like this is for you guys!

SB: Yeah! We don’t know how to give the thanks back to all the people in the community that are giving us their support and donations. We just started this back in June and it’s crazy how far it’s spreading and how quickly. On top of being able to release and distribute music, we’re planning showcases, workshops, panels, and asking the community what they want. We want to know what they think is lacking and providing that.

AM: My heart is so full hearing that. Have you guys signed anyone or planned any releases for this year?

SB: So our first release will be the Osyx album. We didn’t charge the label for the recording fees and all the proceeds will be going back to the label. So it’s kind of like our experiment for learning how to do all of this and learn what we can do better in the future. This year we’re planning to sign another act and put out a compilation of local acts, so that’ll be fun.

AM: So Dani what is your role in this?

AD: She’s on the team with me and runs the queer parties through Qrew. Yeah, so her and Kristen are partners.

AM: How are you feeling about all of us? Were you involved last year as well?

AD: It’s great and wonderful. Rewarding and exhausting and stressful. Kinda makes you want to rip your hair out sometimes, but it’s great. I love that I get to be a part of it and bring representation, allowing these people to be showcased, and give back to the community. It’s absolutely wonderful but there’s definitely a little bit of stress that goes into it.

AM: I’m assuming you’re also doing other things as well. So this is just like an additional workload for all of you guys!

Dani Muhrie: Yeah, we all kinda do extra, and I do Qrew as well.

AD: She’s a toxicologist! Her job is really cool!

DM: Eh I don’t know, I work with biological fluids and specimens. People are always like “we never thought about the fact that somebody had to do that!” That’s usually the response I get, it’s fine. “So you see dead bodies?” “Yeah, pretty frequently.”

AM: How do they compare – seeing dead bodies vs. planning a music festival?

DM: Well they both involve time management. But other than that-

AD: Dani’s really good at time management.

DM: And I’m a little OCD.

AD: Yeah, I always have all these ideas and Dani’s like Ok, we need to think about this.

DM: But we balance each other out. I’m really analytical and detailed –

AD: And I’m like “we can do everything!! With our powers combined.”

DM: And I’m like “No bring it back in, we have no budget!”

AM: So did you guys have to like reach out for people to help fund you guys? Like, how are you guys doing all this on your own?

DM: So last year, my business partner in Qrew and myself were both a part of WFSU. And so we actually used some of the funds that we had sitting in Qrew to fund the initial and then paid everything back. This year, my business partner due to work and the busyness of life has chosen to step down, so we did not put the money up from Qrew this year. We have two sponsorships which is great. Other than that, it’s kind of small things out of our own pockets right now. We did set up an indie go-go because last year everyone was like “sell shirts sell shirts sell shirts!” So we set up an indie go-go and sold 3 shirts?

AD: Thanks mom!

*All laugh

AD: It was my best friend and my sister.

DM: So it hasn’t gone quite as well as we hoped. We were hoping for a little more money sitting there.

AD: We had sponsorship from This Free Life and Roxsplosion. And Seven Drum City is working with us which is great. Tagg Magazine is working with us for media. HomogGround Podcast is working with us again. Sophie’s Parlor which is like the longest running women’s radio show at WPFW.

AM: In what capacity are they helping you guys?

DM: Media’s a big thing. Because we have two swear words in our title, social media likes to –

AD: Our content is suppressed.

DM: So even if we try to post and reach out our content is suppressed. SO we reach out to all these other partners to help get more of our media out there.

AM: I’m glad that you guys are able to work your way around certain limitations. Nothing is holding you back.

DM: One of our sponsorships we had to file under WFSU DC, because they wouldn’t sponsor us with swear words. So we had to be really careful filing our paperwork so we could get the sponsorship. And when we did Sophie’s Parlor we had to censor ourselves and say “Women …Mess Stuff Up??”

AM: So is there a name change coming in the future or are you guys are sticking to it?

AD: I think we’re probably going to stick to it. We might change some spelling around to see if that helps.

DM: So we are a subset. WFSU started in LA and they had reached out about expanding the brand to the East Coast. So we are, in a sense, sharing the brand. Ours is different. We do spell womxn with the X, we do add DC to it, to make it separate. But it technically falls under the same brand.

AM: I’m glad that you guys are trying to set it up as its own thing though. Even if it is a subset like it is a DC Central.

DM: So I think we, even coming out the gate, set ours up very differently. They said their first year was a pretty small thing. You know, we double sold out our venue. We paid all of our artists. They don’t pay all their artists.

AD: They pay their headliner, but I work in labor so I was like hell no, all work gets paid. Sorry, we can’t do a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, but

DM: But it’s something.

AM: Well that’s where your heart lies. It seems super important that you guys are carrying about the artists themselves and also the community that they’re serving. You guys are really caring about all of them.

AD: Yeah. I mean, it’s our community so it’s important.

AM: Are you guys planning on doing anything more than just like a yearly festival. Is there something that you want to expand?

DM: We talked about ideas for two other types of events and sort of got in the planning stages for a different event last year and then it kind of just… We love it, but the problem is we do do so many other things. I mean, Ashley is part of like 12,000 Sports and her day job. All of us just have so much going on and it’s something we would like to do, but

AD: But if any younger folks wanna take it on!!

AM: For sure! Anything else to know about what has gone into planning this year’s event? And what you have planned for the future?

AD: We really wanted people that have something to say and deserve the space to say it and have been historically oppressed. It’s been really hard and there are so many talented folks – even just in DC there’s so much talent. But finding those powerful voices that deserve to be heard has been a challenge. We tried to be transparent and honest.

DM: And we would love to keep growing. You know, if this goes great we would love to find a bigger venue and/or do two days next year. With over 70 submissions, it’s already so hard to cut people as-is. We’ll see what happens. As long as the energy stays there and people are still interested, I definitely think it’s something we can do.

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