Featured photo: Red Lipstick Society performs at FemFest 2022 (photo by Jerry Cooper)

Erika Kobayashi Libero, lead singer of Bangzz, addresses the crowd before the set.

“Fuck abusers, fuck predators, fuck domestic violence, fuck anyone who takes you away from yourself!” she shouts. 

The audience volume increases in approbation with each example. They wrap up the introduction as most of the crowd at FemFest toasts its founder.

“To Bryn!” the crowd echoes, glasses raised, followed by the requisite hoots and howls. The next set soars with a mix of equal parts rage and joy, a catharsis of emotion.

Bangzz is the midpoint of the 9th annual FemFest, which took place Saturday at the Ramkat in Winston-Salem. The yearly festival brings together a variety of female-led bands to raise money for the Family Services of Forsyth County and is unique in the realm of protecting abused and vulnerable women.

“This isn’t really seen anywhere else,” says Chloe Alexander James, of True Lilith, a Charlotte-based band who played earlier. “ It’s a great cause for women.”

True Lillith at FemFest 2022 (photo by Jerry Cooper)

The mission was the vision of Bryn Hermansen, the founder of FemFest. Hermansen died in 2021, after a short illness. Sarah Burns-Williams, who took up Hermansen’s mantle , continues the tradition of raising money for Family Services. Hermansen is no longer around, but everyone from the bands to the volunteers to the venue speak to her legacy. 

“I loved that there were people I’ve never seen before,” Burns-Williams says. “Friends of Bryn came from Charlotte and Massachusetts. This town has a share of people who only go see bands where they know someone in it, it’s also nice to see random people out here having a great time and supporting the cause.”

The bands, largely from the Southeast, represent a post-punk mentality that coalesces in shows where the music provides an escape. The 10 bands all exude a take-no-shit approach to injustice. The raw fury of Bangzz, the chainsaw energy of Reese McHenry’s guitar, and the chaos of bands like Thelma & the Sleaze are the result of pent-up anger. Their energy is exactly where they want it, where it’s needed, for those who need to hear it. A reassurance of, “We’ve got this.” 

Billie Feather at FemFest 2022 (photo by Jerry Cooper)

The show is reminiscent of a past Winston-Salem music scene, where the occasional wanderer could find a random set on a Friday night at the Garage or Test Pattern, venues that have long since closed. Faces in the crowd are a “who’s who” of the burgeoning Winston-Salem of years past, when it was still a powder-keg of creativity and cheap thrills (and real estate).  

As longtime Winston-Salem musician Billie Feather gets on stage with the P-90s, a punk band that has played past FemFest events, musicians unloading for later sets pass by those who have just finished. One is the Red Lipstick Society. Despite consisting of all iconic Winston-Salem musicians, Jill Byers, Alana Meltzer-Holderfield, Teresa Blackburn, Andy Mabe and Amanda Dunn-Moore haven’t played together in almost a decade. They open their set with some Wilco, and move onto a Wanda Jackson standard, “Funnel of Love.” The crowd of old friends and strangers listen and sway as they roll into Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” 

Red Lipstick Society at FemFest 2022 (photo by Jerry Cooper)

The song that wraps up the set, “Savage Daughter,” is a much-loved and much-covered standard, entirely apropos of the event.

“I am my mother’s savage daughter, I will not cut my hair, I will not lower my voice,” the chorus repeats as the audience sings along.

In between a set, a scene of Hermansen speaking at a past event plays across the screen. She sits on a small stage as a band sets up behind her and the crowd quiets down as she addresses them.

“We’re all really lucky because there’s a whole room of support here,” she says. “And those women don’t have that, and those children don’t. And they had to abandon ship.” 

Hermansen’s father stands in the crowd as her brother introduces him to many of her friends and acquaintances. He looks on in awe at the legacy of his daughter’s work.

“I’m starting to see her impact,” he says, wiping tears from his eyes. 

FemFest IX has raised approximately $10,000 this year in show attendance and sponsorships. A raffle runs until Dec. 11 , and more than 1,000 tickets have been sold so far, doubling the total take. All proceeds will be donated to Family Services of Forsyth County. Info is available at femfestnc.betterworld.org

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