Babefest 2016 brings music, comedy to politics

BY ELIZABETH SIEMATKOWSKI;

Friday August 26th at 8pm you best get yourself to the first inaugural launching of BabeFest at Babeville, (Asbury Hall, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo). Ani DiFranco will be returning, to headline this must-be-there event.

In what has become a critically important presidential election year, this festival of music, comedy and social activism spawned organically out of Ani’s current VOTE DAMMIT tour.

BabeFest will introduce us to talented VOTE DAMMIT tour opener, singer-songwriter, Chastity Brown, who will play a great part in this one-night dynamite affair. And just to keep us all mentally sharp Ani has also invited to Buffalo, Lizz Winstead, known as “The Queen of Calling Bullshit.” Winstead is Lady Parts Justice founder, The Daily Show co-creator, progressive radio station Air America founder and Huffington Post blogger, among other things. Lady Parts Justice keeps it’s eye on legislative attempts to block women’s reproductive freedoms. Though not as well known as the people she helped make famous, like Jon Stewart, she’s very well known in comedy circles. Example:

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“Do you really need to be so fucking smart? It’s irritating.”—Lewis Black.”

“Vote for Lizz Winstead! Oh fuck—I would if she ran for something.”-Sarah Silverman

“Lizz Winstead is a warrior.”—Sandra Bernhard.

The intelligent and funny overachiever Winstead, who uses comedy to fight for women’s rights, has a resume of activism stretching back over thirty years. Regarding BabeFest, Winstead, contends,

“You can’t have a sustaining revolution without music and laughter and since we are fighting harder than ever, we are gonna need a lot of both.  I am so excited to do some laughing and singing with Ani.”

Catching up to chat with Ani DiFranco and Chastity Brown this week and hearing more details of the show, I expect anyone who comes to feel seriously inspired by our city, our political climate and ourselves.

“I’m really freaking excited to connect with the community,” said Brown about Buffalo “it just seems like some really incredible, very resilient people live there.” Brown, who has a gifted American roots, songwriting style, is originally from a small rural community in Tennessee and is now based out of Minneapolis. She started touring with Ani last year and the two just clicked.  “To tour with someone who I admire so much, as a geek and as an artist that’s like, the fucking best thing in life.”   

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Brown, describes her music as ‘Americanah Soul,’ which is pretty accurate. People often describe her music as ‘genre blurring,’ and her response is “I am genre blurring. I am bi-racial.  My music is just stating the obvious, like this is my world.”

Chastity grew up listening and being drawn to music that she felt represented her.  Infusing the white Irish Anglo-folk music from her mom and the black R&B, and southern music from her dad. Brown mentioned growing up with artists like Dolly Parton, Muddy Waters, Beyoncé, Brandy and Nina Simone to name a few.   

After turning 35 this summer, Brown describes having some big life realizations. “Now more than ever, I have realized the personal is political.  Just by me being a queer woman of color I am already political. Just me living my life and taking care of myself and practicing radical self-love. That is political, especially right now.”

Brown is actively involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and in LGBTQ rights advocacy.  Her focus has always been the marginalized groups and trying to tell their stories, “whether it’s a sexy story or a heartbreaking story, but not a typical heartbreak; mental health and being queer.”

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I asked Chastity what she would say to individuals who are not in the black community and want to advocate for social justice and change, but feel apprehensive about getting involved with the Black Lives Matter movement for fear of being unintentionally offensive by asking thoughtless questions or saying well-meaning but thoughtless things, like “I don’t even think of you as a black person.”

Her response was you shouldn’t be afraid to be embarrassed, admitting she too has felt embarrassed at times because of her lack of knowledge about other minority groups. She invites all of us to get a little uncomfortable because that’s where change happens. That’s when we break into new levels of understanding and awareness, which in turn invite dialogue. From Brown’s perspective it is better to get involved with the best of intentions, knowing that you might get it wrong, than to sit back out of fear of stepping on toes.If you get it wrong, learn from that.

Brown also explained how for her, relating to others is influenced by radical self-love, which is self-help author Gala Darling’s premise that we shouldn’t just strive for “I’m an okay person” but think instead “I’m fucking awesome. I’m spectacular.”  Brown said that as a woman of color her saying, ‘I love myself’ does not mean that she is saying, you suck to white people. She is simply saying there is enough love to go around. And by choosing to love herself openly she is giving other individuals who have been historically oppressed a model for them to do the same.   

“Music has led me to the most beautiful human beings,” said Brown,  “I took the phrase radical self-love from a dear friend of mine from a conversation we were having a couple of years ago.  And she was just like ‘shit girl I’m just going to practice radical self-love.’ She said it in such a baller way that I was just like–that’s what’s up.  That’s that.  I had hated myself for so long, that I just couldn’t do that anymore.  And that’s why it’s such a political act.  Because systems of oppression are built on the oppressed hating themselves.  So if you hate yourself, you’re either just going to destroy yourself or destroy what’s around you.  And that’s a really great way to keep a group of people oppressed.  And that’s why it’s such a powerful thing.  And I’ve struggled with it my whole life. I’ve struggled with my own mental health and depression. So it truly, truly is for someone like me who grew up hating herself a truly radical act to love myself so fiercely.”

Brown said she is excited to have Ani’s band jump in on her set and play a few songs together and to share some music, laughs and empowerment with the crowd.  She said  she is continually blown away by Ani’s musicality and her ability to be fully swept up in the performance but still cognizant of the all the minutia that is happening in the moment.     

It’s been a while since Ani has been back to Buffalo.  She said she always loves coming back to her hometown and seeing the Babeville staff, “I mean it’s awesome to come back to the Mothership,” said Ani, “everyday Babeville becomes a stronger more dynamic place. I haven’t been in Buffalo in while so yeah it’s going to be really fun.”  Ani describes BabeFest as a celebration of music and our individual right to vote.  She’s hoping it will turn into yearly festival event spanning a few days.

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Her VOTE DAMMIT tour is a revival from her 2000 and 2004 tours where she dedicated a part of her show to a video she made about voting history in America.  “It was incredibly powerful to watch how people fought and died for the right to vote.  For many American citizens, whether you’re a person of color or a female the right to vote was not handed to us it was fought for, and to squander it is a crying shame.”  Ani describes a big part of her tour is to encourage people to vote not just in this presidential election but in every type of political election; local, federal, state.

Joining her band for BabeFest in addition to jazz and rock bassist, Todd Sickafoose, is New Orleans drummer, Terrence Higgins and New Orleanian, Ivan Neville, playing all things keys and as Ani puts it, “one of the keepers of the flame for the Neville family and their funk music movement.”

In our interview DiFranco spoke about the path to happiness for people being one of unity, solidarity, equality and community.  Making a collective shift from being a consumer to a citizen is how change can happen.

“If you’re only voting for yourself you’re doing the wrong thing. The point of voting is that you’re a part of a society, you’re a part of something, you’re accountable to each other.”

Ani was pragmatic when asked her thoughts about young voters who vigorously campaigned for Bernie Sanders and are now disillusioned and left with the sentiment “I don’t like either party so I am not going to vote.”

“I understand, believe me,” said Ani.  “I can’t remember the last time I was able to pull a lever for somebody as liberal as myself.  How often does that happen?  But the point is you gotta suck it up and you gotta vote for the lesser of two evils.  With the understanding that it’s life or death for somebody else.  And the more you suck it up the better it gets because if everybody in this country voted that could we would have a different political system and we would have a different society.  So I look at the example of Bernie Sanders and instead of feeling pessimistic, like oh fuck it now that he’s out of the running for the oval office I’m just going to sit down again.  Why wouldn’t you look at that and go, ‘oh that is incredibly inspiring, in fact not only am I going to vote, but I am going to vote for THE FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT, HELLO?’ That’s why I’m on this VOTE DAMMIT tour because if we don’t participate we don’t have democracy. We have to start and we have to believe before it becomes real.”

DiFranco feels that by electing a woman to the presidency we are giving an opportunity to future generations of females in America. We are making it a possibility and that alone is a game changer.

DiFranco, who lives in New Orleans, grew up in North Buffalo and attributes much of her strength and early activism efforts to her parents and their commitment to the city.  When I asked her if she still feels rooted in/connected to the city, she said, “I mean my personal life and journey led me to New Orleans, my husband is from here so I live here with my family and I really enjoy being a part of that community, but a part of me will always be in Buffalo.”

People from HeadCount will be at BabeFest so you can register to vote at the event. Also there will be people from Amnesty International, a worldwide campaign for human rights. Roots of Music will be represented, an organization DiFranco is involved with, whose aim is to keep the post-Katrina brass and marching band tradition alive among youth in New Orleans.  Don’t miss this incredible evening. See you all at BabeFest let’s go make some history.