Women’s Redrock Music Festival: Continuing Support For Independent Female Artists

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Utah musicians Mona Stevens and the Vinegar & Pearls Band performed at last year’s festival. Photo: Heather Franck

The sixth annual Women’s Redrock Music Festival will take place Aug. 10 –11, and attendees can be certain that the weekend will deliver a healthy dose of female inspiration. Located in the scenic town of Torrey, Utah, the festival brings in local and national talent, with the fantastic red rock scenery surrounding the area serving as a backdrop. Originally the brainchild of former Salt Lake City resident Carol Gnade, the festival sprouted from her love of community action, her new community in Torrey and music.

Along with Gnade, organizers Laurie Wood and Jeri Tafoya help with the event to host upward of 600 attendees. Tafoya was recruited after working with Carol in 2004 on the “Don’t Amend Alliance Campaign.” Gnade had recently moved with her partner to Torrey and wanted to start a music festival to boost the community, approaching Wood and Tafoya for help. “Before I knew what I was saying yes to, I was all over it. It didn’t take much,” says Tafoya.

What started as a small festival with a handful of gifted local musicians has since expanded to include 13 artists and musicians from all over the country. “I look back at that first year and I always have had such a soft spot for these girls who took a chance on us back then—Mary Tebbs, Leraine Horstmanshoff, Kathryn Warner—and just said yes,” says Tafoya. “That first year set the tone for the style that we’re known for today, which is independent artists who want to sing and perform, and performers who connect with the intimacy of the audience when they want to perform their hearts out, and the audience embraces them in return.” This year’s lineup includes Ohio folk singer and American Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox, California-based indie rock band Raining Jane, Nashville’s award-winning singer-songwriter Jen Foster and many more talented, female-fronted music acts. The lineup also contains many other artists and performers, including poet and activist Andrea Gibson, who will be taking the stage for her second year at the festival.

Although the name uses the title of a “women’s” festival, and a majority of the audience is made up of women—including LGBT community members—it isn’t to deter anyone from feeling welcome at the festival. “A large part of [the audience demographic] is because [of our operation from] under the umbrella of the Utah Pride Center … [but] we’re not exclusive to women—this really is a festival for anyone who wants to hear great music,” says Tafoya. “Adapting the ‘women’ to the Women’s Redrock Music Festival was just part of the inception. There was no motive to make it exclusive other than our desire to support independent female musicians. They have always inspired us, and I suppose this was our way to give back while doing what we love.”
Throughout the growth of the festival, in both attendance and performers, Tafoya remarks how the town of Torrey has warmed up to the event over the six years since the festival began. “As we’ve grown, we’ve seen more locals who come, and they’re always pleasantly surprised at how tame the audience is. It breaks down a few more stereotypes in some minds, and that type of growth is always a wonderful reaction that we get,” she says.

As the town evolves into a welcoming ally, the performers often return that warmth by asking to return. “As soon as it’s over, almost all of the artists will write or call and say that it’s one of the best festivals that they’ve been to, and they’d love to come back,” says Tafoya. “That’s how we make it better and build our reputation, so we can bring a great variety of talent.” Though many of the artists return after their initial experience, the organizers continue to research and include up-and-coming, independent female artists. With the aid of the Internet and through word of mouth, the festival has continued to incorporate local as well as national and international talent.

As a non-profit organization, the festival functions as a subsidiary entity of the Utah Pride Center, which supports the equality and dignity of the LGBT community. Along with paying a tithe to the Utah Pride Center, the festival uses its proceeds to award scholarships to students going to college to study music. “It is so humbling to have someone walk up to you and thank you for doing this. After all the labor-intensive hours it takes to pull it off, it is incredibly rewarding to know that you’re a part of something special, and that we were able to help a few people along the way,” says Tafoya.

She hopes that the audience will leave the festival with “a sense of appreciation for the beautiful surroundings. I hope they feel a magic in the place like we have, and that they take with them some lasting memories of a really great weekend.”

For more information on the festival, and to purchase tickets, visit their website at redrockwomensfest.com.