When you hear the words “women’s music,” what springs to mind? For many music consumers, the term conjures a slew of stereotypes: Lesbian. Folk. Coffeeshop, background, sentimental, singer/songwriter. Time to take stock of your preconceptions, and let the fifth annual Siren Nation Festival dash them on the rocks.
“Audiences think they know what kind of music women are making, and often they don’t,” says Siren founder December Carson. “Our shows this year feature women who are innovators, who are beyond the constraints of any genre—and they’ll definitely challenge the perception of what ’women’s music’ is.”
Long known for booking local favorites, Siren Nation continues that trend with a few notables like Y La Bamba, Laura Gibson, and Kelli Schaefer. “It’ll be the first time Laura Gibson and Y La Bamba have shared a stage,” notes Carson, “even though they’re both from this town.” And thanks to a recent expansion of mission and means, the festival has also reached out to nationally-renowned east-coast talents. Kimya Dawson (of Juno soundtrack fame and recent NPR acclaim) will share a bill with recent graduates from Portland’s Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. And on Sunday, dazzling prog balladeer Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond, will grace the Mississippi Studios stage. “I became aware of Shara from her collaboration with the Decemberists, and her friendship with Jenny Conlee. A lot of Portland people know her, and really love her work. All the Siren Nation board members are gonna go to that show; it’s kind of our closing night party.”
Despite its strides, Carson notes that the twelve-member Siren board is still swimming against a male-dominated industry tide. “Right now there are no woman talent buyers [at major venues] in Portland,” she says. “I don’t really know why that happened, but as a woman who works in the industry it’s really weird when the only voices on the other end are men. I’d like to see that come back and get more balanced.”
Looking forward to all the festivities, including a filmfest, an art show, a Kennedy School-hosted craft fair, and an all-ages afternooner, Carson just hopes that the fest will unite what genre glibness and music-industry sexism have sundered. “It’s not ‘me against you,’ or ‘man against woman,’” she insists. "We are just here to create a vehicle for women to showcase the work women are doing in the arts. To pay them. To support them in this one small little way. I think the caliber of artists we have this year is just stellar. It’s a really good snapshot of where Siren Nation is headed. We’re 5 years old! We just got nonprofit status! I’m really proud of it. "