Rae Davis had a good day. A couple of them, actually.
When you look at a person's life, objectively checklist all of the things that helped shape them into the person they are in this given moment, there are usually three or four events in each of our worlds that we can all unequivocally say shaped us the most. It could be a move, or a traumatic event, or a coming to religion or a change in politics. But we can all think of pinpoints in our lives where we can say "without that, I'm not me." And in that regard, there are few people who can point to one particular event that shaped them as clearly as Davis can with the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.
Colloquially referred to as "Michfest," the event ran for 40 years on a plot of land just outside Hart Township, MI. Completely built, staffed and run by women, Michfest stood as a place of safety, companionship and compassion. A cursory Googling of the festival will turn up testimonial after testimonial about how Michfest helped someone deal with their anxiety over personal body issues, or gave them a place to connect with women and life experiences they would never have had in their own home towns. It was also a place of safety. It can be easy for the male half of the population to forget or dismiss just how threatened and frustrated a large portion of the female population feels on a day to day basis. Not only is it a pretty rotten way to have to face each day, but it can be creatively, spiritually and intellectually stifling. Michfest, for a number of women, provided some relief from that. In her book "Hotter than Hell: More Sermons for a Lesbian Tent Revival," Carolyn Gage described the event thusly:
"At Michfest, she can experience a degree of safety that is not available to any woman any time anywhere except at the festival. And what does that mean? It means she achieves a level of relaxation, physical, psychic, cellular, that she had never experienced before. She is free, sisters. She is free. Often for the first time in her life."
For many women, Michfest is the vehicle through which they come out. It could be a place for exploring internal questions of gender fluidity, identity and sexuality. Davis did not come out at Michfest, but she does credit the festival and its attendees for helping her put words and a voice to her own inner feminism. In the 15 years that Davis attended Michfest, she grew into the woman she is today. And in those 15 years, she developed some of the strongest, most important friendships of her life. A significant number of whom call East Bay home.
For the past two days, Davis has wandered the streets of Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville. She has relaxed in the warm California sun, and shared time with these people for whom "friend" is often too casual a term.
And what people they are. Amazing human beings like Utah, who works with disadvantaged children; Kofy Brown, the wide-eyed, endlessly upbeat, bean pole thin drummer for local funk rock act Skip the Needle; Chaos, the blonde amazon who makes alternative medicines from cannabis oil and has what can only be described as an unhealthy affinity for Chartreuse; Jessie, our home host, who teaches rowing and spends her early mornings Skype-ing with her long-distance love in Hawaii.
Each of these wonderful, vibrant people has touched and shaped Davis' life, just as surely as she has changed theirs. So for Davis, the chance to come to the Bay and spend these four days around these friends has been more than just a simple visit. It has been a reunion of family.
Tonight, we went to the Starline Social Club in Oakland to watch Skip the Needle play. They kick off the night backing vocalist Shelley Nicole, whose incredible vocals highlight her politically and intellectually charged songwriting.
This space is as close to Home as Davis has gotten on this trip. Where Routh found her emotional center in Los Angeles, Davis has found her spiritual balance in East Bay. Michfest closed its doors for good last summer. After 40 years of operation, The Land will be empty this August. But for the people who made it live and breathe each summer, the experience carries on.
There will be something, almost assuredly, that will rise up to help fill Michfest's shoes. This world is far too deeply in need of a place where women can teach and learn and grow without judgment or condescension, for the void to remain empty for long. But for those who were there, for those whose internal fortitude was forged in the Festival's fires, there will always be that bond. And whenever they are together--whether it is in pairs or small groups or on the grounds of another festival--they are home.
Rae Davis had a good day.