YOLA DIA 2019 a nuanced and joyful festival of inclusion

I heard about new one-day fest YOLA DIA on Instagram via an ad picturing a VSCO-filtered black and white photo of an ethereal-looking woman with long hair, holding a mezcal drink and staring hauntingly off into the distance. Immediately, I was like, “Oh, I get why this ad was targeted to me.” The combination of an all-female lineup, featuring female-owned food and drink companies, and hosted by a mezcal company (possibly the sexiest of all the alcohols) taking place at LA State Historic Park acted as Silver Lake woman kryptonite. And then I saw Courtney Love on the lineup and said, “I have to be there.”

But the reality of YOLA DIA was more nuanced and joyful than I expected. While there was the normal amount of LA posturing and looking over each others’ shoulders for famous faces, the majority of attendees (who spanned the gender identity spectrum) seemed to genuinely be there to connect with one another in a safe space and enjoy the music on a sunny late-summer Sunday. 

YOLA Mezcal hails from Oaxaca, Mexico, and was founded by the drink’s namesake Yola Jimenez, along with business partners Gina Correll Aglietti, and the festival’s headliner, Lykke Li. Splashed across the festival’s signage and the surrounding jumbotrons were words of inclusion, rallying cries for LGBT rights, and messages calling for an end to family separation at the border. And it didn’t come off as lip service. According to the brand, Yola as a company is dedicated to “developing the economic autonomy of the women of Oaxaca by providing them with steady work and fair wages.” 

To be honest, when I arrive at the festival, I’m already in a bit of a state. I’ve just binged acclaimed HBO hit Euphoria and even though I’m 31, I get the sense that this festival might be the only appropriate opportunity for me to try one of the really out-there, avant garde makeup looks that the beautiful, freakishly confident youths on the show are famous for. It feels like this might be my moment, so at home I root around for some eyelash glue, and apply a row of extravagant falsies atop a smear of electric teal eyeliner finished with sharp wings.

It turns out the glue is expired. Really, really expired. By the time I get to the festival, my eyes are watering so much I look like the beauty queen on the cover of Hole’s Live Through This album. Except, like, not on purpose. I look crazy. 

After wiping the majority of the offending substance from my streaming eye holes, I knock back a mezcal drink dubbed “so sad, so sexy” after the Lykke Li album. It’s like mezcal Bloody Mary with pineapple in it. Time to head over to Kelsey Lu.

When I get to the main stage, Lu is throwing Lay’s potato chips from a Costco-sized bag into the crowd, who are rhythmically chanting “LAYS! LAYS! LAYS!” Is this some kind of super-niche integrated marketing campaign or did I miss an inside chip joke? Are Lay’s a Gen Z thing? I file a mental note to ask someone age-appropriate about this later. 

Kelsey Lu’s music is tough to categorize in that it’s a genre-bending mashup of R&B, jazz, classical that her vocals effortlessly meander around, leaving the listener with more questions than answers. On songs like “Blood,” Lu’s vocals dance a syncopated pas de deux with the instrumental backing. It’s tough to hear all the pieces of a complicated song like this in an outdoor festival setting, but it is easy to see that Lu’s incredibly talented. Charmingly, she shouts “I can see my ass on this screen. We’re out here!” between songs.

Lu carries the crowd’s energy easily on her shoulders. She croons the sultry, personal “Due West,” and then honest to God, strips down to her shorts and glitter nipple pasties, and pours what’s left of the enormous bag of Lay’s potato chips over herself while grinding on the stage. “I love Lay’s so fucking much,” she moans. I’m speechless.

Speaking of Euphoria, I may have missed the mark myself, but every other girl here is decked out in the of-the-moment look. I make friends with another photographer named Asha who has hot pink eyeliner with a perfectly centered graphic circle under each eye. Another girl with us, Jessica, has expertly copied a look from character Maddie: a red glitter cat eye encircled by red gemstones. Her eyes look like flames. I have to laugh when a few minutes later, I realize I’m actually standing next to the show’s breakout star, Hunter Schafer, who plays Jules. 

As for music, next I see SOPHIE, a record producer/DJ who is known for her pop-forward electronic music. People are really getting down to this, especially when she plays “1, 2, 3 dayz up,” the Kim Petras song she’s featured on. 

Suddenly, we find out we’re getting a 5-minute CupcakKe show after SOPHIE’s set. Apparently, she was supposed to go on at 4pm but missed her flight out of Chicago and is now coming on for one song. After much fanfare, CupcakKe comes onstage, apologizes, and performs the most insane version of “Deepthroat” of all time. Some people are scream-singing, “Don’t need no drink to get naughty/Cause bitch I’m not Bill Cosby” and others are just standing there, mouth agape at the sheer audacity — the filthiness — of this song. I’m having a great time. So is CupcakKe. She looks disappointed when the song ends and I know if they were able to give her more time, she would have blown the roof off of this place.

But now it’s time to hightail it over to the main stage for Megan Thee Stallion of “Hot Girl Summer” fame. The crowd is jammed up against the rail and acting rowdy. Megan comes out wearing a black leotard adorned with neon crystal appliques, fishnets, and an insanely long ponytail that she whips around while winking and sticking her tongue out at us. She amps up the crowd by starting with “Realer,” moving into “Freak Nasty” off her 2018 album Tina Snow. People erupt in screams when they hear the intro to “Cash Shit” off her 2019 album Fever, a fan favorite. The set is super short — only six songs, but she really turned it on and left it all on the stage.

And now, finally, the moment has arrived. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s Courtney Love. Well, it’s actually an empty stage for awhile while we wait and classical music inexplicably plays over the chattering of the audience. And then it happens. Courtney walks out in black jeans, and what she will later explain to us is a “custom haute couture blazer designed by a close friend.” Halfway through the show, she’ll spend a solid 5 minutes trying to figure out how to get the blazer off, stripping down to a black tank top that makes her look much more like herself. The set is really something. She starts off with a pared-down version of “Doll Parts.” It’s raw and you can see it in the faces of the people who came here to see her here. Everyone has their phones out, recording. I wish people would try to live in the moment, but with Love, you just never know if you’ll ever see a performance like this again.

After “Doll Parts,” she sings classic Hole songs “Miss World,” “Asking For It,” and “Malibu” to the delight of her longtime fans in the crowd. Her voice isn’t doing what she needs it to do, and she knows it, saying “this sounded better in rehearsals… we’re been rehearsing all week.” In fact, she stops her band and makes them restart the part of the cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” when she can’t hit the high notes. But despite these hiccups, the set satisfies my nostalgia sweet tooth. Love has been sober for a year, she tells us, but that hasn’t dampened her fighting spirit. The one liners that come in between songs like “Fuck sober. I have done that. Fly economy sober. I have not done that,” and “Drink mezcal while you can and… take care of your teeth” prove it.

Cat Power was up next on the main stage, and I know this is going to be a sacrilegious take, but I don’t think it’s her best performance. While her voice sounds good, she radiates an anxious energy. It feels like she’s not entirely happy to be up there and after the big, raucous energy of Cupcakke, Megan Thee Stallion and Courtney Love, this set just feels a little flat. The best moment comes when she covers Nico’s classic “These Days,” which does sound exquisite in this arrangement, especially as the sun is setting in saturated oranges, pinks and purples over LA State Historic Park. 

Finally, we have the festival’s headliner, Lykke Li. YOLA Mezcal co-owners Gina and Yola come out and introduce Li and thank the crowd for being there. It’s awesome to think about this festival as a labor of love for these three women. You can feel the care and effort that went into making this an all-female endeavor. 

Lykke Li blasts out onto the stage in a blur of slicked back hair and red latex. She’s a spark and we’re the gasoline-soaked rope. She starts the set with “hard rain” off 2018’s “so sad so sexy” a sparse, mid-tempo song about longing and pain, and man… it is both sad and sexy. We’re on an invisible fishing wire, tugging towards her. Contorting her latex-clad body, Li writhes around, facial expressions dancing with the lights. You get the sense that she is completely in this moment, feeling and reflecting our feelings back to us. 

She belts out “No Rest For the Wicked” off her acclaimed 2014 album I Never Learn, which crescendos into an epic finish, following it with “Just Like a Dream,” “two nights,” “Little Bit,” “bad woman,” “deep end,” “sex money feelings die” and closing out the set with a cover of Mark Ronson’s “Late Night Feelings” and finally her biggest hit, “I Follow Rivers.”

During “I Follow Rivers,” Li invites people onto the stage to dance with her. It’s a beautiful sight to see women smiling, dancing with abandon late into the night. Hair and limbs in all directions. Feeling safe enough to be themselves. I suppose that’s what we’re all here for, after all. 

Words and photos by Stephanie Varela Rheingold