This past weekend marked Girl School 2018 — the third-annual female-driven music festival that returned to the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.
I’ve attended at least parts of all three years, and it’s been amazing to see how the festival has grown and cultivated and focused its message. This festival doesn’t just book female artists — it’s run by women. The sound is controlled by women. The stage help are women. It isn’t until you see them doing literally every job that comes with working an event of this magnitude that it’s quite clear we don’t see enough women in these roles outside of shows like this.
Girl School 2018 packed a ton of surprises into this year’s three-day lineup, and it started Friday night during Kristin Kontrol‘s headline set with the children’s choir The Kids.
The former Dum Dum Girls lead singer had teased special guests in the weeks leading up to the festival, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for what happened. After running through a couple of covers (which these kids nailed), Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno joined them for to do their classic tune “When I’m With You” — changing one of the lines from “I hate sleeping alone” to the adorable “I hate playing alone”. The pure bliss on the faces of these kids, their parents in the crowd, and Cosentino were magnetic.
Things only got wilder as Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O came out for their song “Date With The Night”. “It’s pint night with The Kids,” Karen O laughed before jumping into the song, making friends with them while doing so. This moment really encapsulates what Girl School is all about — not only making the music space a more inclusive space for the women currently navigating it, but opening the eyes of the younger generation that this is something they can pursue. I only wish my eight-year-old niece lived in LA and I could’ve taken her, she would’ve loved it.
The highlight of Girl School 2018’s second night was Shirley Manson and The Girl School Choir’s fantastic set. The choir set up in the crowd, featuring many of the festival’s performers. Manson — the frontwoman of rock juggernaut Garbage — was also backed by a mini orchestra. Hearing songs like “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” and “What Girls Are Made Of” arranged that way was something extremely special, but that was only the beginning.
As we posted late Saturday night, Manson brought out iconic singer-songwriter Fiona Apple for a cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”. Apple was wearing a white T-shirt with “KNEEL, PORTNOW” written in ink across it, undoubtedly a response to GRAMMY head Neil Portnow’s bizarre and ridiculous statement that women need to “step up” to earn more GRAMMY consideration. The crowd went wild and it was a perfect way to wrap up the festival’s second night.
There were numerous other standout performances over the course of the weekend. Former Dirty Projectors singer Amber Coffman brought her heartwarming solo tunes with her on Saturday night just prior to Manson’s headline set. I’ve been listening to her record from last year City of No Reply nonstop since this show — she reminded me of Wet lead singer Kelly Zutrau quite a bit.
People also forget, more than a year-and-a-half before Harvey Weinstein was exposed, Coffman’s voice raised awareness of a major sexual assault scandal in the music industry around publicist Heathcliff Berru. Sexual impropriety in the music industry hasn’t been as loud as it has in other industries, and without Coffman being willing to shed light on what she experienced, who knows what would’ve been kept in the dark.
Girl School 2018 didn’t discriminate based on genre. Italian electronic trip-hop act Drum & Lace brought some chill vibes and made full use of the festival’s upscaled production and video screens on the main stage Friday night. Alabama R&B singer Mereba reminded me a bit of Lauryn Hill with her set that same night. Sex-positive LA rapper Boyfriend closed the night out with a high-energy and incredibly visual set full of songs that would make even Big Freedia blush.
Fresh off a residency that was so big it had to move from The Echo to the Echoplex, Lauren Ruth Ward electrified Saturday night with a ferocity that proved rock and roll will never die. Low Leaf mesmerized Girl School with an experimental set combining electronic beats with the pluck of a grand pedal harp. One day after opening for Phoebe Bridgers in Santa Ana, Nashville singer Soccer Mommy delivered a standout set Sunday night. Chelsea Jade was joined by The Naked and Famous’ Alisa Xayalith on backup vocals for her riveting set that evening. Talented singer-songwriter Jay Som closed out Sunday night with a chilling set of songs.
Girl School 2018 proved this is a festival with plenty of firepower. Also in its favor is a never-ending supply of strong, talented female musicians to draw from for future incarnations. They strive to be inclusive — this isn’t “white woman feminism” in the slightest, with a diverse lineup complete with women of all walks of life. My only wish was that something like Girl School existed in every major city — because young people could only benefit from this being available to them.
Photos and some words by Frank Mojica
Photos of Kristin Kontrol and Drum & Lace sets by Silver DeStouet
FULL GALLERY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE!
SHIRLEY MANSON & THE GIRL SCHOOL CHOIR:
BETHANY COSENTINO OF BEST COAST & THE KIDS:
KAREN O & THE KIDS:
KRISTIN KONTROL & THE KIDS:
LAUREN RUTH WARD: