Lykke Li didn’t always intend to host her own music festival. But when she partnered with her friend Yola Jimenez to form a mezcal company – based on a family recipe from Jimenez’s Oaxacan grandfather – the two began to promote it by hosting “informal music gatherings” at Li’s house.
“I met Yola maybe five, six years ago, and then it took us a couple years to get [the company] off the ground,” the Swedish singer/songwriter explains. In addition to her home, Li hosted Yola Mezcal events in what she calls “other interesting architectural spaces” around Los Angeles, combining food and drinks with music performed by their friends and political causes. “We’ve partnered before with ACLU and Planned Parenthood,” she says.
This year, Li and Jimenez took their gathering to a much larger scale. After the original June dates were delayed, the first ticketed Yola Dia Fest was held in downtown Los Angeles’ State Historic Park on August 18th. In addition to Li herself, the musical lineup included mainstays like Cat Power and Courtney Love – who performed stripped-down versions of Hole songs along with covers of Fleetwood Mac and Echo & the Bunnymen – alongside rising stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Sophie and Cupcakke. The food, drinks and art sold at the event were primarily created by women chefs, mixologists and artists, and speakers like labor activist Dolores Huerta took the stage between musical acts.
“I definitely want to emphasize that this is a festival where we highlight women, but it’s not a festival for only women,” says Li. “This is really a place to connect … I think so much in the world now is about technology and disconnection, so [this is] just a place to be present.”
Lorely Rodriguez, who performs as Empress Of, was drawn to performing at the festival because of its illustrious lineup and welcomeness to non-male artists. “In general, I think trying to be inclusive by isolating an underrepresented demographic isn’t always the best,” she says. “Just book these groups in your festivals!”
This year’s festival partnered with Arcade Fire’s concert nonprofit PLUS1 and donated a portion of ticket proceeds to the Downtown Women’s Center, a local organization focused on serving LA’s population of homeless women.
Of Yola Fest’s overall ethos, Li proclaims, “We always go with our heart, people who excite us and who we think are pushing the norm in some ways … Just come and get stoned and drink and talk and dance.”