Women’s music festival grows in its second year

Comedian Cameron Esposito will perform this weekend at the Northern California Women’s Music Festival in Modesto.
Comedian Cameron Esposito will perform this weekend at the Northern California Women’s Music Festival in Modesto. RedEye

Go big so nobody wants to stay home – that seems to be the motto of this year’s Northern California Women’s Music Festival.

In its sophomore outing, the event has nearly doubled in size and brought in national headliners. It’s a big step up from last year’s festival, which ran one evening and featured largely local performers.

“I learned last year that there was a good draw in the community for a women-focused festival; people seemed interested in being a part of it – even people outside of the area,” said festival founder and director Victoria Boyington. “I knew in the second year I’d have to get a bigger headliner; I knew that was key to getting it bigger than the year before. If I only stayed with local and regional performers, it wasn’t stepping it up.”

So Boyington secured the likes of metal heavyweight Lita Ford, alt-rocker Tracy Bonham and rising comic star Cameron Esposito to headline. Other performers include the pop-punk band The DollyRots and Go Betty Go, country music trio Lucy Angel, blues and jazz singer Barbra Dane, and Tracy native and singer-songwriter Megan Slankard.

In all, close to 40 acts are slated to play, mixing local talent with regional performers and touring musicians. The festival will stretch over two days now, opening the night of Friday, Oct. 23, and running throughout the day Saturday, Oct. 24 – culminating with a night of headlining musical acts.

“So far everyone is really excited. I think I did a good job of getting a variety of types of musicians – blues and jazz, country, pop punk, rock, acoustic stuff,” Boyington said. “And with Lita Ford, well, she is a rock icon. I’ve always been a fan. I can remember being in sixth grade and seeing her on MTV. Plus she was revolutionary in that she helped to start the Runaways. So we wanted that in our festival.”

To accommodate the bigger names, the festival has also expanded to multiple and larger venues. Last year the event was all at the Prospect Theater Project. This year the evening headliners will perform at downtown Modesto’s Fat Cat Music House & Lounge. All-ages shows throughout the day Saturday will be held at the Barkin’ Dog Grill, Tresetti’s World Caffe and Fat Cat. Bonham will also lead two music workshops for children and families at the Peer Recovery Art Project Gallery space Saturday afternoon.

The nonprofit event, which is run entirely by volunteers, will also continue to raise money for area women’s causes. Last year organizers gave 30 percent of their profits to the Haven Women’s Center and plan to match or exceed that this year. Proceeds will also be used to fund three grants for women in the community. Two enrichment grants will be given for arts education – one for girls under 18 and one for women over 18 – and a seed grant is planned for a woman-run business.

“It is an exciting time. Women’s issues are a big deal right now, and should be. This is our chance to give back to those girls and help build leaders we can look up to,” Boyington said.

And she has even bigger things planned. The nonprofit has received permission to change its name to the California Women’s Music Festival next year to encompass the entire state.

“It gives us an opportunity to be more global, and it makes it more flexible. How cool is that that it’s happening here in the valley? It’s neat to be able to grab the whole state,” Boyington said. “We want Modesto to own that because this is where it started.”

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

Northern California Women’s Music Festival

When: Opening night 7-11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23; all-ages shows 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. and headliners 5-11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24

Where: Opening night and headliners at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge, 930 11th St, Modesto; all-ages shows at the Barkin’ Dog Grill, 940 11th St.; Tresetti’s, 927 11th St.; and Fat Cat in Modesto

Tickets: Opening night pass $25, all-ages shows pass $15 ($10 students), headliners pass $25, two-day pass $55, VIP silver pass $70, VIP gold pass $275 (includes meet-and-greet with Lita Ford), workshops $50-$100

Online: www.northerncaliforniawomensmusicfestival.com

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