D.C.’s First All Female-Fronted Music Festival Wants to Break Down Barriers

Humble Fire

Pictured: Humble Fire is one of several bands performing at Saturday’s HERA Music Festival. Credit Mark Hoelscher for DCMD

If you’ve studied Greek mythology, you know that Hera is the goddess of women. It should be no surprise, then, that the HERA Music Festival, scheduled for this Saturday, July 1, at the State Theatre in Falls Church, is all about supporting and empowering the women of the D.C. music community.

Cathy DiToro came to the idea of an all-female-fronted music festival after spending almost a year and a half hosting Ladies’ Night on Stage at Tortoise & Hare.

“I’ve been a musician in D.C. for about 10 years now, and I felt there was a need to bring women together more,” said DiToro. “We all know of each other, but we don’t get to collaborate as often as would be important to help build the female scene.”

But an annual festival was just the start. She then formed ProjectHERA earlier this year, a corresponding non-profit, to help keep her purpose visible year-round.

“[We want to] be a support for women and girls of all ages in the local music scene; to connect adult female musicians; to be a resource and inspiration for the next generation; to provide workshops and gig opportunities for girls of all ages,” she said.

This year’s HERA Music Festival features mostly bands (including DiToro’s group, Party Like It’s); only one performer is a solo acoustic act. All different kinds of music will be represented—from folk to R&B and pop. Given the short timeline – the date was finalized in April – there wasn’t enough time for an application process; as such, all of the performers were invited because DiToro had seen them previously or heard of them through her network and knew that they would support the HERA concept. As the festival expands, she intends to implement an application process to accommodate the needs of a larger production.

“We want to grow the festival next year to a farm in northern Virginia,” DiToro explained, “and have multiple stages where we have a singer-songwriter stage, a high-school/middle-school stage, an upcoming stage, and a main stage.”

More AM Than FM, an all-female rock trio, is one of the bands playing this year’s festival, and the ladies in the band are very excited to be a part of it.

“It’s great to see something like this evolve in the area,” said guitarist Selena Benally. “People had talked about it for a few years, kind of like another Lilith Fair. It’s good to see it being organized by musicians who have been here for so long.”

For Benally, this type of festival is an opportunity to help break some of the stereotypes that exist in music.

“People devaluing our abilities based on our gender.” Benally said, “[The challenge] we’ve mostly faced involves showing up at a show and having a guy in another band saying, ‘Hey, cool! Chick roadies!’ It’s people not realizing that we’re not somebody’s girlfriend.”

DiToro noted that many people in the community were open to the idea of an all-female festival and were willing to lend a hand to help promote the event. And for the year’s worth of work that has been crammed into a handful of months, DiToro is excited and anxious to see the result, but also to be able to relax once it’s done.

“We’re going to take a couple of weeks off to settle our minds,” DiToro said with a laugh, despite knowing the break won’t last long. “At the end of July, we’ll get started on planning next year.”

HERA Music Festival will take place on Saturday, July 1 at The State Theatre. Tickets $20 advance/$25 DOS. Show 3:30 p.m.

Listen to tunes from some of the featured performers below: