If Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend is truly successful, she may never have to do it again. Featuring a lineup of all women, including Carlile, Maren Morris, Indigo Girls, Margo Price, Patty Griffin, Lucius, KT Tunstall, Secret Sisters and Ruby Amanfu, the festival was created by the By the Way, I Forgive You singer to show that – despite what current festival bills may indicate (right now, women make up about 19 percent of lineups according to a Pitchfork report) – female artists are not only worthy of booking, but they are bankable, too.
Taking place January 30th through February 3rd at the Hard Rock Hotel in Mexico, Girls Just Wanna Weekend’s goal is to provide a fun, safe and inclusive environment that also acts as a model to festival bookers across the country, aiming to persuade them to change their definition of what – and who – sells tickets.
“What I really want,” Carlile tells Rolling Stone Country, “is for the festival to do so well that people will see it who are booking them, and understand that there is a demand for women. And I want other women to mirror the template at home, from a club level on. Get a group of women together, mirror the concept and do it for the next couple of years until it changes. I’m ready to get in the trenches and prove [those bookers] wrong.”
Rolling Stone Country spoke to Carlile about the genesis of Girls Just Wanna Weekend, toxic masculinity and the importance of a little tequila along the way.
At what point did you look at all of the imbalanced festival lineups and say, “Enough is enough. I’m going to take this problem into my own hands?”
When I first saw those posters with the men’s names removed [a Twitter feed called BookMoreWomen routinely posts festival lineups with the male artist’s names edited out, leaving only minimal women and a whole lot of blank space], they just looked so, so weird. I’m always traveling and familiar with all of these festivals, and I play them, so I’m definitely part of the problem. But there absolutely needs to be more women included, particularly at the top of those posters.
In all of the years you have been touring and playing festivals, have you seen the problem evolve, or even get worse? You’d be hard-pressed to find a woman headlining a festival this summer.
Weirdly, I do think it’s getting worse. And you wouldn’t expect that, especially after something like Lilith Fair that took place in the Nineties and was so wildly successful. I have seen it get a lot worse since then, and it surprises me, because it doesn’t seem congruent with the rest of the country.
What do you think is to blame?
I don’t want to speculate too much that there’s a concerted effort to exclude women from the top of the headlining spots, but when momentum starts to work, you just keep going. And since so many started out with male headliners, I think they are hesitant to break that mold. Festival buyers and people booking festivals are missing the truck because what I hope Girls Just Wanna Weekend will show is that there are women [fans] who are staying home, whose money spends the same as their male counterparts, because the top of that festival is all men and it’s not calling to them because they don’t feel represented musically. They’re worried about toxic masculinity, being hit on and surrounded by drunk guys. Look, [drinking] is part of festival life. But if there were two or three women in those spots, they would know they are represented.
Teen Vogue did a report recently showing how rampant sexual harassment and assault is at Coachella: every single woman who was interviewed experienced some harassment. When the festival circuit is so male-dominated, it even impacts the culture amongst the fans.
That’s absolutely true. Woman are looking at the top names at a festival and then making a decision like we all do when we get out of a car in a dark alley or walk to the grocery store. We have to make a decision, and many women are looking at those lineups and deciding it’s too masculine for their group of girlfriends or their toddlers. It’s not anything against the bands themselves, it’s about representation.
How have you reacted when you realized you were on a lineup as one of few women?
I’m a little bit of a workaholic and I often won’t know until I get there and see the poster hanging up on the wall while I’m getting dressed for the show, and I’ll go, “Oh holy shit, this is all dudes!” Or I will see a female headliner listed in smaller print than a male headliner whom she is way bigger than. There is just this increasing connotation between summer festivals, especially, and “bros,” yet I have seen my audience grow more and more diverse: we’re dads and we’re gay and we’re in touch with our feminine side and we’re dudes that like women’s music.
There are some people that will say, “What we want is for women just to be treated equally, not placed on gender-specific festivals.” But the reality is, for us to get to that point, the whole industry needs to be redirected. We need to prove that women sell.
Exactly. We first have to show the curators that women are a draw, and they don’t have to default to masculinity. Once they see that, the idea of “women’s music” or “female fronted acts” goes away. I know that female artists, across the board, don’t want to be called “female artists.” It’s time for women in music at all levels, headliner and beyond, to get together and make a conscious decision not to compete. It’s a hard thing for women when there are so few slots. I know these bookers and I have a lot of love for many of them, but right now they are sitting around with a list of headliners and going, “OK, we gotta pick one woman.” And when that one woman can be you, or three other people, it’s so hard. You have to make a conscious decision not to compete. Just refuse.
We shouldn’t have to choose between Margo Price and Maren Morris. Festivals can and should book both, and then some.
Right. And if we can show that we can get 3,000 women to go to Mexico, then what can you do at home? It all comes down to wanting to make a statement, to men and women. The most amazing thing would be to look out into that crowd, and see men.
It folds into a debate constantly afoot at country radio – that women are the tomatoes to men’s lettuce, and women don’t want to hear other women on the radio. The portion of songs by women in country making the airwaves is shockingly low.
And why is that? It’s so out of step. I’m happy to be a part of a genre [like Americana] that is a few steps ahead, but that doesn’t matter if there is one genre that isn’t. I can’t speak for Kacey [Musgraves] and Maren and Miranda [Lambert], or the Pistol Annies, who I love, but I know that there are headlining women in country music who are phenomenal and who are crushing shows. Or Margo. It’s a great time in country music in terms of what exists. And I simply don’t know any women who don’t want to hear women.
It’s all cyclical, too – if you don’t get booked, you can’t get played. If you can’t get played, you can’t get booked.
It’s absolutely true and for so many, the draw is a means to the end. The festival bookers can actually affect the landscape if and because they are taking risks. And I don’t want to confuse all this with saying there won’t be booze at Girls Just Wanna Weekend, and it won’t be a wild weekend: I fully intend for the festival in Mexico to be a total tequila experience. It’s just about representation and doing it in a way that feels liberated, and the fact that I feel the need to explain this distinction is why we are having this conversation.
There’s an initiative called Keychange that has challenged many festivals, mostly international, to agree to a 50/50 gender balance by 2022. Yet detractors to that kind of thinking try to argue for a merit-based system or say gender balance is simply an unrealistic expectation.
I’ve always thought this, since I was a little girl: inequality prevents merit-based success. Until equality exists, then the people who are getting excluded from the spots don’t get a chance to earn those merits.
Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend is a four-night, all-inclusive concert event that will take place January 30th through February 3rd, 2019, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Rivera Maya, Mexico. Public on sale begins August 1st, 2018, at 12:00pm ET.