Content Warning: discussion of sexual assault
While interviewing the organizers of Book Your Own Fest, we ended up discussing our shared love of indie punk band, Camp Cope. Organizers Tia and Tayler Krabbenhoft told me that last summer they got a chance to see Camp Cope live, and afterwards got in a word with drummer, Sarah Thompson. When they relayed their stories of speaking out against abusers in the music scene Thompson replied “you’re pissing off the right people.” Keep this sentiment in mind as you read.
Not many music festivals can say they were begat from a meme. Except for Book Your Own Fest, which just had its inaugural event this past March in Fargo, ND. You can thank Tayler Krabbenhoft, the main organizer of the festival, for the cool name. Or you can thank fellow Fargo music festival, The New Direction Fest (TND), for the conversation that spurred it. Back in January, Krabbenhoft posted a moderately innocuous meme on Facebook poking fun of TND Fest’s dude-heavy lineup, and a former TND volunteer took to commenting “if you don’t like it, book your own fest.” And so Krabbenhoft did exactly that.
“I wanted to prove that with less money, less resources, and less time we could get a lot of diverse acts— genre-wise and people-wise,” Tayler tells me during a break between sets. It’s the final day of Book Your Own Fest and I am sandwiched in Tayler’s tour van along with her sister and bandmate Tia Krabbenhoft, longtime friend and fellow organizer Cydney Berlinger, and a case of Hamms.
Performances at Book Your Own Fest ranged from ambient spoken word to fast punk sets and, poignantly, not a single act on the bill was all-male. But Book Your Own fest almost didn’t happen. The sisters recently received a particularly unsettling threat that made them hesitant to continue for safety reasons. But unfortunately, the sisters seem pretty used to handling this type of thing. Their band, Free Truman, earned a reputation last summer when they publicly called out a man who non-consensually kissed a woman at another local venue. After doing so they were met with outrage and online harassment from various men, and after Tayler’s meme caught wind, she endured another round of online barrages, eventually ending in someone leaking her address. It seems impossible to discuss Book Your Own Fest without also discussing sexism and rape culture. It’s all inextricably linked. “People who… aren’t so much with [Book Your Own Fest], would be like ‘oh they’re just causing drama, they’re just starting things’” continues Tayler. That word, ‘drama’, sparks palpable frustration in the van. Being accused of drama is one of the oldest ways in the book to diminish women’s feelings and write off the importance of their ideas. Is DIY an ethic or a middle school hallway? (P.S does anyone wanna book Drama Fest next? I’ll cover it.) Conflating “drama” with “talking openly about experiences with sexual assault” seems to be all too common of a confusion. Quieter, but still adamant, Tayler reminds us how often it happens (sexual assault that is, not drama) ”Things like this affect more people than you even know… it happens all the time in the music scene.” With all that said, I down a shot of tequila from one of several red plastic cups littering the floor of the van and go back inside, trying to reorient myself.
Book Your Own Fest is held at Red Raven Espresso Parlour. A cafe and venue that Cyndey is a barista at. But inside it’s easy to see why Red Raven would be the logical choice regardless; Adorned with pieces of kitsch decor and various anti-Trump memorabilia, I think it’s safe to assume this is where any DIY kid would scamper off to in a small town. And hey, they even had gender neutral bathrooms (which is honestly ahead of a lot of venues on that curve). Given the high visibility of it all, I assumed there would be more righteousness in the air. That it would feel radically different to see performers on a stage where they weren’t being evaluated as comparisons to men. But perhaps the chip on my shoulder is weightier than that of Tayler’s. I also couldn’t help wondering if some of the fun of Book Your Own Fest comes from a community showing that they could do everything the boys could and more. But there was an extra layer of safety. I felt better taken care of in Red Raven Espresso Parlor than I have in many a house show. I moved in the space, unafraid to take up room. I didn’t feel like that, at any moment, a late twenties man in a leather jacket would use me to start a mosh pit at an uncalled for period of time. And, although Fargo, ND is far from a queer oasis, my tired boyfriend who I bullied into driving me 3+ hours and I were able to curl up in a booth at the cafe with no side eyes. At one point a friend nicknamed ‘Coach’ announces to the Krabbenhofts that the baked potatoes were here. Which encompasses part of the feeling of being at Book Your Own Fest. Tayler and Tia had been cooking all week so that there would be homemade food at the fest. And, evidently, they ordered baked potatoes as well. There’s nothing quite like home-cooked food that says “I want you to be here”.” The warmth of the atmosphere suggests the fest has happened before and will happen again. Not to mention that the schedule ran on time (for the most part). At one point the vocalist of Lincoln, NE band Histrionic said “I suck. No I don’t suck” as they tuned between songs. “I know if I say that you’ll all be like ‘no you don’t!’ Whatever.” During Free Truman’s own set, Tia’s drumstick briefly went flying, which was only met with cheers. There was room for mistakes at Book Your Own Fest, and there was room for support.
Book Your Own Fest is special, it’s one of the first of its kind. But it also isn’t exactly hard to find non-men, and queer folks, and black and brown folks making music. So if this is who’s making music, shouldn’t festivals generally reflect that? However, I have a strong feeling that anyone condemning an ask for a more inclusive lineup are the same people who are on social media asking if anyone “knows any good female-fronted bands.” In case you were curious, TND Fest did eventually book more “diverse” acts. Seven to be precise. That would be seven acts that aren’t all male out of twenty one. A whopping one third. Take that, sexism! To clarify, Tayler did not just sit around making memes at the ready. She actually met with a TND organizer to have a conversation regarding the lack of… women. The organizer apparently had the audacity to ask her “is this not enough for you?” No. It isn’t. Book Your Own Fest is the result of years of tokenization. Of being a band comprised of two latinx women who are used as check mark in the diversity box. Don’t throw us a bone and expect us to treat it like a feast. Book Your Own Fest is the feast. It’s the lineup that made me drive over three hours to a city I barely knew existed. All because I wanted to bear witness to something that seems impossible for music scenes, whether they be DIY or industry giants, to understand: a lineup with many acts that aren’t cis white dudes. The whole night, something nags me. Where are you looking in which there are not any non-male bands? Where are you looking in which no POC bands exist? Or is your milktoast lineup the result of not looking at all because it’s far easier to pretend you’re not part of the problem and offer up flimsy excuses? Defending lazy lineups by way of sending threats to young women?…Perhaps the lady doth protest too much.
It is a potent time to be an artist with an opinion, particularly a non-male artist with an opinion. Book Your Own Fest feels like a call to action in this sense. Music doesn’t have to look like that. Book Your Own Fest exudes a you-can-do-it-too attitude. And it only takes one. That first time you see someone who looks like you doing something you love, it changes you. Free Truman themselves wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for seeing Cydney’s former band, Uncle Grandpa, play a show when they were younger. And now Free Truman is providing that same affirming mirror, both as a band and with Book Your Own Fest. Earlier Tayler told me, “It’s literally life changing to see someone who looks like you playing music.” I hope someone in the audience feels that same way.
The music industry is so often viewed as a boys game, and if you want to gain entry it’s advised that you play like a boy. But the Krabbenhofts developed their own strategy. Book Your Own Fest thrived without a single all-male act on the bill. It thrived with a differently natured community. Which begs the question, if three young women in a small town can put together an inclusive two day festival in under three months, why can all professional bookers and promoters scrounge up for us is an opener?