BOLDfest: The New Michigan? (Part one)

Pat Hogan
Pat Hogan

Not your grandma’s lesbian festival

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is no more, but it inspired lesbians worldwide to start their own gatherings. BOLDfest, an annual late-summer event in Vancouver, Canada, offers long-lived lesbians a chance to revel, relax, and re-invigorate their long lesbian lives.

After turning 55 this year, I attended my first older-lesbians gathering, and found it full of friendly energy and sexy spirit. Here’s an interview with founder Pat Hogan.

What is BOLDfest?

It’s a conference and a gathering of older lesbians who come from across Canada, the US, and even further — every year, a woman comes from Australia. It’s a long weekend that is filled with workshops, entertainment, a lot of socials, and a way to be with like-minded others and to meet up with new friends, to open their minds to new things maybe things they hadn’t thought about, to get information about things going on in their lives. Our workshops address a variety of things, a lot of issues, such as health, finances, arts and creativity, movement, sexuality. Each year is a new experience; we try to make it alive and entertaining.

How did BOLDfest get its name?

The first year it was not called BOLDfest; it was called the West Coast Women’s something something something, it went on and on and on [West Coast Gathering and Conference of Lesbians 50 Years+], but when co-organizer Claire Robson joined me, she’s a wordsmith and she came up with BOLD, for Bold Old(er) Lesbians and Dykes, and it just caught on. The best part of it was that other people started calling it a festival – we called it a conference/gathering, but other people called it a festival and “BOLDfest” sounded good.

Who is BOLDfest for?

It’s aimed at older lesbians. At one time we said fifty-plus, but we’re wide open. We have intergenerational workshops now, and we like the idea that younger women, younger lesbians come, too. It’s open for all ages, but definitely a lot is focused on women who are older, say from their mid-forties up to eighties and nineties. The oldest woman ever to attend was probably in her eighties, maybe older.

What are the numbers like?

This year, including people who came for part but not all of the event, people from inside and outside Vancouver, there were about 150-160 women. Sometimes we’ve had more, but it changes from year to year.

It’ll be interesting in 2016 because BOLDfest will be Labor Day weekend. I did a big polling to see if people would come on that weekend, and for the most part everyone said yes, that will be fine.

What motivated you to start this conference?

The conference started in 2005, almost 12 years ago. What motivated me was, first of all, I have a production company, Sounds & Furies, and I’ve been putting on concerts and other events for years, so it’s in my blood. And then I’d been going to events similar to what BOLD would become. I’d gone to Golden Threads in P’town, and a conference in New York City with SAGE, an advocacy group for older lesbians and gays. After both of those, I wanted to try something in Vancouver – we needed it! It was that inspiration and my wanting to put on an event, especially one that would mean something to me.

What was it that you got out of Golden Threads and SAGE that you wanted for Vancouver?

It was good to be around people about the same age who spoke the same language. Just like in being around lesbians or in the queer community, we have our own language. That’s what I felt there: a lot of issues were relevant to me, our age group. It was good to be there, be older, and not having to feel invisible, which can happen in society at large. It was also a lot of fun!

Yes, and it’s been an issue at Michigan, too.

I saw some very talented women, too. For instance Lisa Davis, a writer who lives in New York, who wrote Under the Mink, a book about life in Greenwich Village before Stonewall. It’s fascinating stuff that any of us might not have known about. She presented at Golden Threads, and I invited her to the first year of BOLD, and we’ve been friends ever since.

It’s important to me that the conference informs as well as entertains. We need to keep our minds open to what’s happening today, which is why I feel having younger women present at BOLD is very important. It makes a world of difference.

This last year, a lot of people said they really liked hearing from [Activist/Vancouver Pride Youth Legacy Award Recipient] Caroline Doerksen; how amazing she was. We were grateful that there was someone there of her age.

And what a great experience for her, too, as a young woman to present to BOLDfest!