Featured photo: Cashavelly Morrison performs at The Ramkat. (courtesy photo)

“What would Bryn do?” That’s the question Sarah Burns asked herself as she planned FemFest this year.

A lot has changed since Burns first helped organize FemFest about three years ago.

This year, like the last, will be prerecorded and virtual instead of live and in-person. This will also be the first FemFest since Bryn Hermansen, Burns’ mentor, passed away earlier this year from a stroke.

“Bryn did it mostly by herself the first five or so years, which must have been so much work,” Burns says. “We’ve been asking ourselves, What would Bryn do? just throughout this whole process. At least, I do. I think back to conversations or reread messages about what we were going to do this year. We’re just trying to channel her energy or her vision, just trying to keep her legacy alive.”

FemFest is designed to highlight women and femme artists who have traditionally been left out of the music industry. Hermansen started FemFest in Winston-Salem in 2013, inspired by similar events happening all over the world.

This year’s event will feature 10 artists and bands, all women or led by women. Some of the artists will have recorded their set at the Ramkat downtown. Like last year, FemFest will be online, though the recordings at the Ramkat will be open to organizers, sponsors and Hermansen’s friends and family. All of the performances will go live on the site on Nov. 13.

“We compiled a list of songs that Bryn loved from her family, her fiancé, her closest friends,” Burns explains. “We asked each band to cover one of those songs, so I’m excited to hear how they interpret it. It was our low-key way of honoring her. She never wanted FemFest to be about anything but Family Services and its message, but I think she’d be okay with this.”

The festival raises money for Family Services of Forsyth County, which has child-development and counseling programs as well as resources for survivors of family violence and sexual assault. In addition to the artists, FemFest also hosts a virtual raffle and art auction on their website.

Local businesses or artists donated goods for the action, which will be live through Nov. 27. The items include a pale green disc golf disc with a custom design or the Grim Reaper in pink, a navy-blue, cowl-neck sweatshirt with gold designs embroidered on the sleeves and numerous posters.

“There’s tons of amazing things and it’s always one of the most heartwarming parts of FemFest,” Burns says. “Last year I was so nervous to ask because I feel like everyone was in such a bad place with COVID, but they always say yes.”

Burns’ co-organizer, Billie Feather, had hoped some aspects of the live event might survive. After vaccines became widely available, she had hoped at least part of the event this year could be outside and socially distanced. But Burns and Feather decided to keep it all virtual when COVID numbers picked up again.

She is glad, however, that the bands will be able to perform for the organizers and sponsors at the Ramkat. Feather herself performed in several shows with her punk rock band, The P-90’s. They are performing again this year along with Americana artist Casey Noel and Alt-Country singer Cashavelly Morrison.

“It’s been so great for me as a performer, just having a large cheering crowd,” said Feather. “It really impacted me as I was coming out about being a survivor.”

Feather, like Burns, draws inspiration from Hermansen’s memory.

“Even though she’s not with us physically, we’re able to think back on her spirit and her energy,” said Feather. “It’s been hard. There have been so many moments I wanted to text Bryn. There’s been a couple of tearful moments. But everybody’s come back together to rally and help us out, and it feels like she’s still with us.”

The FemFest performances will go live on Nov. 13 while the auction will run through Nov. 27. Visit femfestnc.betterworld.org for updates.

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