LIVE REVIEW + GALLERY: BALRFest in Somerville, MA (06.29.19)
I remember being at my first local show. It wasn’t a particularly great place for a 16 year old, shy, and totally unprepared girl. It was a basement show underneath an auto body shop with a lot of obscenities written and drawn all over the walls, a torn up couch in one corner, and a bunch of guys in black cut offs walking around with PBR’s in their hands. There wasn’t really a door, just a black curtain that, as soon as you pulled it back, let out an entirely new atmosphere of sweat, BO, and beer-stank. Now, admittedly, I drink PBR from time to time today, as a 25 year old, but thinking back to this night, when a guy I was friends with that took me to this place asked me to try it, I shudder at the fact that A.) I took a drink from a dude at a basement show and B.) I pretended I didn’t hate it. I also want to take a time machine back to 2010 and get that girl out of there, call her a Lyft, wash the black x’s off her hands and tuck her in when she got home, because as is the unfortunate truth with the scene in general, women just don’t always have positive experiences going to shows. We’re often objects and prey, and I personally spent so much time trying to be liked by the guys who went to and performed at those shows, even when they treated me badly. I constantly felt uncool, I made myself listen to music I didn’t like or think was good because I wanted the dudes making it to accept me, and it felt awful the whole way. Even as recent as last year, I had a guy lean over to me during a show while I was dancing and having a good time and inform me that the man beside him was watching me and telling him what he was going to do me when he got a chance. If I cover a show for New England Sounds alone, I never drink anything except coffee, and I take transportation directly to and from the venue.
I mention this as the preface to our coverage of BALRfest because I think a lot of women and femme folks can identify with being in these spaces at some point, and BALRfest, well…BALRfest may have been the first experience where I felt represented. The first show I felt safe. The first in a long time I felt authentic in. And the music was phenomenal to boot, with performances from The Skirts, blindspot, The Dirty Dottys, and Analog Heart.
BARLfest was not only a celebration of lady-centric and fronted music, but an active defiance of the toxicity that we often endure in these settings, often getting little to no space to be seen, heard, and truthfully, to be safe. It was radical and loud visibility for femme folks and fans.
Austin Arroco of The Dirty Dottys spent time orchestrating BALRfest in a manner that should be the standard for what true ally-ship means for those of us in the lady-centric music scene.
From Austin:“BALRFest is a summertime party and one-night nano festival celebrating the lady musicians in the Boston music scene. I wanted to bring together as many lady musicians, some as performers and some as attendees, and their supporters as possible under one roof so that folks could discover a new peer, colleague or idol that they’ve never heard or met before!”
Far too often, I hear stories that these lady musicians aren’t treated with respect in our scene, and I wanted to bring together the folks that DO support and respect lady musicians. I love organizing gigs, and I thought that one of the best things that I could do is to put together a gig and party! I hope to put together even bigger events in the future.
Austin used his skills and resources to, quite literally, hand the mic over to us. All of us. And damn if we weren’t heard.
I say “we” because each of the four bands spoke for every single unheard woman and femme person at Thunder Road by showing up on that stage. If music isn’t meant for elevation, for joy, for community, and for power, what is it for?
I think I can speak for all of us at New England Sounds when I say we certainly hope to cover more BALRfests in the future, sooner rather than later.
Photos: The Skirts. blindspot, The Dirty Dottys, Analog Heart at BALRFest 2019 in Somerville, MA 06.29.19: