Weekend 2 of Coachella just wrapped up to officially usher us into the seven-month grind of festival season. Of obvious note was Beyoncé’s headlining set, a star-studded showcase for women of color that featured appearances from both Solange and Destiny’s Child; one that hopefully sets a precedent for placing more diverse voices at the top of festival bills. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are a handful of east-coast festivals that seem to be approaching their booking as if it were a 2003 episode of MuchLOUD.
Whereas festivals across Canada such as Mutek, BreakOut West, and Canadian Music Week have committed, along with 43 other festivals around the world, to achieving gender parity in their programming by 2022, Nova Scotia’s Rock the Hub festival’s recently announced lineup has foregone the booking of any female artists in favour of gas station radio favorites such as Big Wreck, Matt Mays, and Finger Eleven, among a larger parade of also-dudes.
The trend further extends to Newfoundland’s Iceberg Alley festival, which features a single female act among its nine days of programming due to the “totally reasonable” fact that Iceberg Alley make their “talent decisions based on the music, not gender”.
100% private. We make talent decisions based on the music, not gender.
— Iceberg Alley Tent (@icebergalleyNL) March 22, 2018
These booking decisions point to a greater divide among arts programming in Canada, one where the promotion of diverse, fresh, and progressive voices is on the rise but still has to overcome an outdated idea of what it means to be a “musician” or “rockstar” in this country; an idea that appears to be focused around what you did fifteen, even twenty years ago as opposed to now – even though “now” is a very different (and far less white, and far less male-centric) time.
On the bright side, we can look to shining examples like Venus Fest in Toronto and Sled Island in Calgary?