By: Julia Wejchert
This year’s Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival brings bands spanning genres from psych folk to foot-stomping bluegrass to the Anacostia River’s Kingman Island in northeast Washington, D.C. The festival, which is in its seventh year, draws a mostly local, slightly baby-heavy crowd to watch the main stage from a big hill, or to meander around the island to other stages.
When reviewing their 2016 lineup, one thing stood out: it could use more women. This year’s lineup features many bands with just one woman, or none at all. With so many women doing great things in folk and bluegrass, this is a shame.
Even though the festival missed their chance to buck the male-dominated festival trend, there are still a few great women-driven acts at this year’s Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival that I’m excited to see perform on April 30.
Letitia VanSant, 1:10-1:55 on Bluegrass Stage
Letitia VanSant is a singer-songwriter from Baltimore with a standout voice and socially-conscious lyrics. She first released an album in 2012, which received a lot of local attention in Charm City. VanSant released another album last year with a band under the name Letitia VanSant and the Bonifides. That 2015 album called Parts & Labor has a labor theme, with songs that aim to humanize workers and discuss privilege.
Sounds like: Folk/americana with a progressive social message.
Listen to: Rising Tide
Listen here and check them out at 1:10 on the Bluegrass Stage.
VeVe & Tha Rebels, 1:25-2:10 on the Fraser Stage
VeVe & Tha Rebels is a band led by Violet Marley that calls its music folk hip hop, or sometimes afro-folk. The band does have just one woman to three men, but Marley’s leadership as singer and songwriter is noteworthy. She decided to form the band when she was a student at Howard, and found her band members from her fellow students. The band’s lyrics, penned by Marley, discuss the black experience.
Sounds like: Mellow, bluesy folk with lyrics often discussing social themes.
Listen to: Black August
Listen here and check them out at 1:25 on the Fraser Stage. Unfortunately their set time overlaps with Letitia VanSant, so you’ll have some hard choices for that hour, but you’re sure to hear great music either way.
Dori Freeman, 3:00 – 3:45 on Bluegrass Stage
Dori Freeman is a singer-songwriter from Appalachian Virginia who performs as a solo artist. She released her self-titled debut album in February, and has already attracted acclaim and attention for her charming country-folk. She’s trekking up north to play in DC this week as one of the event’s headliners.
Sounds like: Delightfully simple americana melodies and sharp lyrics, often about love.
Listen to: You Say
Listen here and check her out at 3:00 on the Bluegrass Stage.
Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray, 3:45-4:25 on the Americana Stage
Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Way is a band with Erin Frisby aka Miss Shevaughn and Chris Stelloh aka Yuma Wray at its core. The couple started with a honeymoon tour and then expanded to include other musicians. All of them share songwriting, but Frisby’s powerful voice anchors the group their impressive energy. Their hippie vibes, strong female vocalist & rock elements remind me of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
Sounds like: Psych rock meets folk with country, blues & americana elements and strong vocals.
Listen to: Drifter’s Compass
Listen here and check them out at 3:45 on the Americana Stage.
Forlorn Strangers, 5:45-6:30 on the Bluegrass Stage
Forlorn Strangers is a quintet that shares songwriting and lead singing amongst two women and three men. The two women are sisters Hannah Leigh Dempsey Lusk and Abigail Dempsey. Hannah was one of the three founding members and Abigail joined the band in 2013. Their lively, americana sound and varied vocalists set them apart as a band to watch, and the shared power in the band lends itself to a positive setting for women musicians to thrive.
Sounds like: Americana harmonies and foot stompin’ beats with some more introspective lyrics mixed in.
Listen to: While The Grass Grows
Listen here and check them out at 5:45 on the Bluegrass Stage.
Author: Julia Wejchert
Julia is the co-founder of femchord. She wrote about music for her college newspaper before getting a master’s in gender policy and then returning to writing about music (and gender).