Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1976… Maxine Feldman awoke suddenly at 4:30 a.m. to release the “Amazon” song moving in her spirit. Under the same sky in the woods of northwestern Michigan, sisters Lisa and Kristie Vogel and friend Mary Kindig produced the first Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Feldman, the Vogel sisters, and Kindig were part of the wave of cultural workers instrumental in developing the genre “Womyn’s Music.” These womyn wove networks of musicians, producers, technicians, and audiences, establishing performance spaces, record labels, distribution companies, radio programs, and newspapers, creating an infrastructure essentially rooted in lesbian feminist ethos—a symbiotic relationship between art and culture and its dissemination. Still, this movement of liberation had to struggle with its own homogeneity.
Feldman sang about lesbians, “Amazons weaving rainbows in the sky.” In Michigan, “Amazon” became part of the fabric of the festival’s Opening Celebration, a multi-disciplinary production that brings “festi-goers” together to kick off the six-day outdoor event. Each year the festival takes advantage of the variety of artists present—some returning, some new—to set an energetic tone, open up the space for womyn to connect to each other, and preview what is to come in the days ahead. The sounds and bodies on stage signal who is in the community. As the faces, voices, and artistic genres changed on the festival stage, “Amazon” changed, bringing the song into the present day. In a 2002 radio interview, Maxine talked about the song-festival relationship. “I played it at Michigan every year, … [and] when I'm not there it's sung … so, whether I'm there or not, I'm there…in spirit.” Maxine took special pride in “Amazon” because she witnessed it become “its own. … I'm sure the people who go now don't even know who the hell I am… it has nothing to do with me. ‘Amazon’ was embraced by the womyn themselves, which really thrills me.”1
Brooklyn, New York, 2010… Twenty womyn came together, generously and enthusiastically donating their time and creativity, to record and document the evolution of “Amazon” and in turn the festival. Representing a range, from womyn who performed at the first festival in 1976 to those who have only recently discovered it, they did it for love of womyn, art, culture, change, community, and the festival. And Maxine was right, some knew her, some didn’t. Some did not know of Max, but knew the song from the festival. The “Womyn’s Music” infrastructure no longer exists as a cohesive network, but this song line still exists because the festival space holds the line. While the numbers of womyn attending have decreased, it matters that people pick up and travel to the festival each year. Because of those pilgrimages we have this lived/living artifact — documenting the shifts in a movement and its
Like the community of womyn attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival over the past thirty-five years, “Amazon” pushes into new spaces and ways of knowing herself. It’s not been easy. Embedded in these tracks are work, perseverance, and faith of those who have accepted the responsibility of expanding the 1970s terrain into one that holds womyn in 2010. Amazon: Thirty-Five is an aural testament and tribute to the original womyn and myriad womyn, who come together and raise voices under the Amazon sky. May they continue to come and make us re-learn ourselves again and again.
— Judith Casselberry and J. Bob Alotta
1 JD Doyle Queer Music Heritage - http://www.queermusicheritage.us/apr2002.html