Those who hold tickets to the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival are slogging through the final workweek before heading out for the second-annual long weekend of live music and washing it down with ice-cold beers in the South Florida heat.
Okeechobee is an undeniable boon to the creative arts and entertainment community in South Florida, but this year's lineup suffers from a problem that plagues festival rosters all over the world: a limited number of female performers.
Of more than 100 participating acts on this year's roster, an anemic 18 feature a female performer. One of the select women who did make the cut is Lebanese New York transplant and techno DJ Mayssam. She takes a diplomatic stance, suggesting that the lack of representation at the fest is merely a symptom of a greater issue in the music community.
"I do think that women are underrepresented on some lineups, whether it's a big festival or a small one,” she says. “I also do think it's relative to the small number of women who pursue DJing as a career. There are more men DJs than women. It's always been a male-dominated industry, but in today's world, I think it's changing, and superrapidly.”
Indie underground DJ Vandana, also an Okeechobee performer, agrees that a root issue is the comparatively small proportion of women who enter the DJ world. “I don't think that the festival seeks male-dominated acts. I think that there are more [men] out there doing it." Still, she says, “there's really no sugarcoating how rampant and repetitive this issue is.”
Laura Lee, bassist and guitarist for the band Khruangbin, also believes the issue begins with the number of women who enter the music world. “I don't believe the problem necessarily exists with the festivals themselves; I just think that it is a very male-dominated industry. On any particular tour, the vast majority of the people I interact with — promoters, agents, venue owners, tour managers, and other musicians — are men.
“I've become so used to being surrounded by men in music that I hardly notice if I'm the only woman,” Lee admits.
"The gender disparity is exacerbated by stereotypes about women's technical capability,” adds Vandana, who's often asked who produced her music though she does it all herself. “People just assume that a woman has fewer technical capabilities than a man does.”
Pekarek, who'll headline the festival with her band the Lumineers, echoes Vandana's sentiments. Last month, she participated in a seminar in Denver called FEMpowered that included transgender, queer, and nonbinary individuals. There were lessons on setting up one's own PA, which she says still intimidates her years after her band's breakthrough success.
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Attempts have been made to remedy the low visibility of women on festival lineups through all-female festivals, most famously Lilith Fair, and growing with efforts such as last year's the Other Festival in Tribeca. Okeechobee performer Lady Blacktronica recognizes the value in putting on these festivals, but she sees a troubling trend taking hold. “I’ll get booked for only all-women events. It seems like just a regular event, and then I notice that all the DJs are female! I'm only getting booked for these sort of ‘special’ lineups... Women shouldn't have to be relegated only to all-women events."
Though all of the women interviewed agreed that the problem is not as bad as it used to be, it's clear there's still a long road ahead.
Recently, Pekarek overheard a conversation between two women at a coffee shop. “They were young ladies, probably fresh out college. One was saying, ‘I really don't want to get in a van with a bunch of dudes and tour, so I'm just going to do something else. It just broke my heart.... I joined that band when I was 22 years old, and if I were to join a new band, I would definitely not be the only girl in it. It would be a much easier life to have another female around.”
Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival
Thursday, March 2, through Sunday, March 5, at Sunshine Grove, 12517 NE 91st Ave., Okeechobee; 305-673-3330; okeechobeefest.com. Tickets are sold out.