“We don’t have a mandate to be gender balanced.” – Seamus O’Keefe, event manager of the Iceberg Alley music festival.
Festival goers are preparing for their second year of dancing the night away in the 25,000-square foot tent at the Iceberg Alley festival in St. John’s Sept. 12-22.
Amid the excitement, however, one aspect of the festival is taking social media by storm – the vast majority of the acts announced are male.
So far, only one female act has been booked for the festival. Halifax singer-songwriter Ria Mae will open for Shawn Hook on Sept. 14.
In addition to Hook, the headliners include Steve Earle, the Mavericks, Billy Talent, Big Wreck, Dallas Smith, Matt Mays, the Trews, Coleman Hell, SonReal and Newfoundland’s own Alan Doyle.
Joanna Barker is a local singer-songwriter, program director of Girls Rock NL and co-director of St. John’s Women in Music. She says male-dominated music festivals are something she has seen many times before.
“I kind of laughed when I saw the lineup,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Why are we having this conversation again?’”
Barker says Girls Rock NL, a program aimed to help more girls and women get involved in music, was formed in 2015 as a response to a very similar situation, when many major festivals and concerts across the province showcased almost exclusively male artists.
“We decided to put more bass guitars, drum sticks and electric guitars in girls’ hands so that we could see more women on stage locally in the long term,” she said.
Seamus O’Keefe, event manager for the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent, says he realizes the lack of female representation is evident.
“We do not buy talent based on gender,” said O’Keefe. “We don’t have a mandate to be gender balanced. We go out and buy what the people want to hear, and whatever the number- one selling record is on the radio.
“We did make significant offers to a number of female headliners,” he said. “For various reasons, they weren’t able to make it.”
O’Keefe was unable to name these female artists, citing privacy reasons, but he says the acts were ‘significant’ and ‘very much headliners.’
The Iceberg Alley festival is not publicly funded, O’Keefe emphasized.
“For events like the East Coast Music Awards or the Folk Festival who receive public funding, I agree that they should honour their commitments to gender balance,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we have significant investments in this property and we need to see a return.”
The struggle of representation of women is not unique to the music business, says Barker. It’s evident in every industry.
“Lots of men I know ask me, ‘What can I do to help?’” she said. “I tell them to have an inclusion rider. Say you’re not going to play unless there are women on the bill.”
However, there is still a possibility of greater female representation at the festival
There is still one headlining act left to be announced for the Sept. 12, show and many supporting acts for various nights, said O’Keefe.
“Whether they’re going to be female or male, I can’t tell you; it’s going to be based on the music,” he said. “Our decision won’t be based on gender.”
Barker says she would never encourage anybody to boycott the local event.
“But I would encourage everybody behind Iceberg Alley to listen to what the community is saying and to try to fill the available spaces with some women.”