Long-Lived Lesbian Festival: The Last MichFest (Part 2)


For LLLs, Michigan is the ultimate community celebration.


The last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, held annually for the past 40 summers, was held August 4-9th 2015. In part 1, I spoke about my history with the fest in part one, and here I’ll talk about why it’s significant for so many older lesbians.


MichFest was the first large-scale lesbian festival in the country. With 40 years of annual Brigadoon-like existence, it has outlived many of the festivals that started after it. Especially for us long-lived lesbians, Michigan has been the essential summer party and the ultimate community celebration.


It has become such an institution in our long-lived-lesbian lives that it has evoked strong feelings in just about every one of us, even in people who have never attended a festival. Every lesbian I’ve met — including those in Australia and the UK — has heard of the festival, and usually mentioned her desire to attend or return to it. One of my favorite festival moments is the first minutes of sound from the main stage, when women from all over the world are welcomed in their own languages, from Swiss-German to Swahili to Mandarin Chinese. We are glad to gather there from around the world.


In the early days of gay.com, when I and a few dozen other women chatted daily in a lesbian hangout misnamed “Intellectuals,” we got into an unusually fractious discussion about Michigan. One woman I’ll call “Daisy” who lived outside Vancouver asserted that she hated the festival and it was all B.S. When asked, she admitted that no, she’d never been to it — but, she added, she “knew about that kind of thing.” Ugh! I wrote back that she had no business criticizing something she’d never taken part in, and someone else wrote telling me I had no business telling Daisy she should go. Well, I hoped she would NOT go, and I said so, but I wonder if in the intervening years she’s ever managed to get herself to a women’s festival and experience it for herself.


When I first met my Australian partner of 14 years, she was willing to join me at the festival even though she said she thought it’d be “a bunch of  dykes doing woo-woo spiral dancing.” When I told her I didn’t know what “spiral dancing” was, she seemed skeptical. But once we’d arrived and pitched our tents and started going to films and workshops and concerts, she admitted that the vibe was perfectly cool and progressive, not stuck in some watercolor, patchouli-scented dream of the 1960s.


Of course, people who have been to the festival also have strong opinions. I’ve never met anyone who went and said it was just okay. Though I’ve never personally met anyone who hated it, I’ve seen a great example in Alison Bechdel’s (fictional, very funny) character, whose cartoon “My Own Private Michigan Hell” dramatizes the noise, bonhomie, and general obnoxiousness of happy campers as seen through the eyes of an introverted and exhausted craftswoman. It’s true that there are sometimes craftswomen and massage therapists working at Michigan who get burnt out, but I imagine that people who go there in a professional capacity are not expecting a vacation.


For the rest of us, at least for myself and the people I know who have been there as festival workers and as “festies” (i.e., paying participants), the festival has meant many beautiful things…a safe haven, a place to feel free, a place to be “out” even if one is closeted at home, a place to relax, an adult summer camp, and a place to fall in love or fall more deeply in love or heal from falling out of it. There are weeklong singing, acting, personal growth and movement workshops. Every day for a week, there are films and discussions and parties and sleepovers and quilting and consciousness-raising and vegetarian food and whatever you like to drink and dancing in the sun and making love under the stars. Oh yeah, and there’s the music, too.


I’m hoping to get there this year, and I’m looking forward to whatever form the festival might take in the future. I’ve heard and seen that as people were leaving the land this year, they called out to each other, as we have for decades, “See you in August!”