Interview: Chicago’s New Festival H.O.O.F. Features the Best of Women, Femmes, and Thems from the Chicago Punk Scene

Chicago isn’t new to music festivals, but there’s a brand new one that’s trying to make a difference in the local music scene. Hands Off Our Fest, or H.O.O.F., is happening tomorrow at 3 PM at Blue Island Beer Company and it features the best bands in Chicago to be fronted by “women, femmes, and thems.” Started by and featuring local Chicago punk band Sweetie, the fest will also feature Won’t Stay Dead, Heet Deth, Hi Ho, Sex Dream, Sleeping Villains, Shannon Candy, and a special appearance by their one out-of-town act, Detroit’s Hayley and the Crushers. In addition to the great music, there will be drag performers, a tattoo booth, recruitment booths for local women’s rugby teams, and a whole lot more.

New Noise sat down with Birdy Vee and Ryan G. of Sweetie to talk a little bit about the festival, what to expect, and why it’s important to have a femme and queer punk festival in Chicago.

How did the idea for the Hands Off Our Fest (H.O.O.F.) come about?

Birdy Vee: So I’m not quite new-ish to the Chicago punk scene (anymore), but I wasn’t really used to it when I first came in. I played rugby for a very long time and even worked in the auto field, and I was really used to working in these areas where I felt comfortable. And coming into the punk scene was kind of a shock for me because the amount of misogyny that I had to deal with, small and large scale, was upsetting to say the least. And so, for the last year or two, I’ve been thinking I wanted to make a festival to celebrate the women, femmes, and thems of the Chicago punk scene. And another part of this is that a lot of these female-fronted fests are always organized by men. And I just got to the point where it’s like we’re not going to do that anymore. Let’s bring it back over to our end.

And so most of your performers are local from Chicago, but you’re also bringing in Hayley in the Crushers from Detroit, who I’ve interviewed before. They’re great. But what made you want to get them involved as well?

BV: Hayley from Hayley and the Crushers has been such an amazing ally for me and has such big-sister energy. For us as a younger band—and we’re not quite young, we’ve been around for about four years—the wealth of knowledge that she has, and is always willing to share, has been so incredibly helpful. And she’s such a fun person to talk to and a fun person to work with. It just felt natural to invite her to be a part of this, especially because it was Do you want to drive six hours to come to this fest? And she was like, Absolutely! She’s just been such a such a helpful ally for me in the scene, so it was a natural thing to invite her to be a part of this. And even though she’s not from Chicago, I’ve been telling people it’s my festival and I can do whatever I want. So I invited Hayley and the Crushers.

So you have Hayley and the Crushers, several local Chicago bands, and a number of drag performers. What else do you have planned for this event?

BV: We’ve invited several groups to collaborate with us. I played rugby for 10 years. And in the women’s rugby scene it’s very difficult to recruit and get numbers for women to come out, especially if you’re recruiting women that have not played a contact sport before or ever heard of rugby. So I wanted to give back to that community and I’ve never felt as safe when I’m surrounded by a women’s rugby team because they’re your sisters there. They’ve got Amazon vibes and no one’s going to mess with you. And I was like, What a perfect marriage of groups! Let’s have all of the local women’s rugby teams come and set up recruitment tables, because who better to join your rugby team than a girl who’s ready to go in a mosh pit? I’ve always I’ve always known punk girls are like two baby steps away from tackling someone on the field and putting on cleats. So we have a lot of women’s rugby teams coming; I’ve collaborated with them. So that’s going to be a presence.

Also, there’s Girls Rock Chicago, who’s going to come and hand out information for their organization because they have a summer camp for girls to learn instruments and form bands and cut their teeth in that area. And the girls from Won’t Stay Dead, who are on the lineup, that’s actually how they met at that summer camp when they were like 13. And they’ve been musicians ever since. So over 10 years later and they’re on the lineup. It’s such a sweet moment to have this organization who gives so much to the community and (have) that whole circle full circle thing. And especially since it’s an all-ages group, I want to I want to connect the younger girls and kiddos with this organization that I think does so much good.

And then do I have anyone else coming? Oh, yeah, my pal Teddi, who I played rugby with for 10 years. And they quit rugby, because they started tattooing and they couldn’t break their fingers. I quit rugby because I was playing in a band and I couldn’t break my fingers. But they arguably are one of the most talented tattoo artists in the Midwest. And I was telling them about this festival and they were like, I’ll come set up a tattoo booth if you want. I was like, Oh, absolutely. It was a perfect thing. So they’re going to come do flash tattoos and it’s going to be really fun. We’re all going to get tattoos. I think it’s going to be a bonding experience. I’m really excited about it. It’s got the same energy as a slumber party, so I’m really excited for it to happen this Saturday.

You made it an all-ages event. Was that an important part of planning this event, making sure that it was open to everyone?

BV: It was. I wanted it to be all ages because most of these shows that I’ve been playing where we collaborate with drag performers—and I try to do a lot of female and femme fronted bands—they’re always at 21 and up venues. And I wanted to have something that didn’t really exist when I was an all-ager. I want that to exist for the younger generation. I feel like that would have been helpful for me to see all of these women and nonbinary folks fronting and being on stage and just taking up space and having a presence, because it took me a very long time to feel like I could take up space in the scene. I think if I had seen something like that when I was a little younger, it might have kicked off my musical ambition a little bit earlier. But another part of that is I was hesitant (because)—since we are collaborating with drag (performers) and since this is a queer-leaning event—there have been situations recently, and especially with some of my friends who are drag performers, where they’ve been doxxed, or threatened, or they’ve had drag shows canceled because of hate from either random people online or even groups like the Proud Boys. So I was even hesitant to widely advertise that it’s all ages because, technically, if you’re under 17, you have to have an adult with you. But that was a real thing we had to consider going into this: If people do try to dox the performers, what are we going to do? And so we actually have a plan ahead of time for that. And it’s something that’s been on my mind the whole time. But I think the group of people we have and the venue that we booked it at (are) very queer friendly. And so I really want to make sure that everyone feels as safe as possible, which I think they will.

That was something else I wanted to get into is the drag performers at a time when drag is under attack a lot in this country. Did you consider ever not including drag performances or did that the fact that it’s under attack make you want to include it more?

BV: Oh, well, at this point in Sweetie’s career, like 50% of the shows, we work with drag performers. One of my friends brought up Sweetie’s making a scene, locally, where every time you go to a Sweetie show, there’s going to be drag, there’s going to be a little extra, really cool femme vibe. So, just the fact that it was Sweetie, our band, putting this event on, of course there’s going to be drag, because it’s expected at this point. So it wasn’t even like, Oh, should we do it to help the drag performers? Or should we not do it? It’s just like, No, of course we’re doing it because we always do.

Ryan G: And, aside from pushing back against hate, we just find it’s something that goes really well with our music. I think it’s a really nice blending of performing art genres. It’s something we’ve been trying to cultivate. And it’s been working really well.

BV: Absolutely. And I found that I like to collaborate with drag performers a lot just because I’ve found that the energy and the vibe that I get from the punk space in Chicago is very male-dominated and can be off-putting or even aggressive sometimes, whereas, when I started performing in these queer spaces—we had a residency at a drag show for a while, we are the house band for one of the Rocky Horror Picture Show casts nearby, (and) we play drag shows constantly–I feel safe. I’m actually having the most fun ever and I’m setting boundaries; I want to play shows where I’m having fun. I think I just enjoy them the most. Also, it’s all of my friends. Three of (the people) on the lineup I do Rocky Horror Picture Show with so I’m very close with them. They’re good friends, and their drag is beautiful. It pushes performance art and I have so much respect for what they do. It’s always so unique and fun. And then the fourth performer, Spencer Money, I wanted to have at least one or two drag kings because I feel like drag kings don’t get enough love ever and they totally need it. So two of the performers are drag kings, and maybe in the future I would love to do more drag kings on our lineup just to give them a space as well.

I noticed in the promotional materials you sent me, you took aim at Riot Fest a few times, which I just got back from covering in Chicago. Why single them out?

BV: Oh, no, I’m not really gunning for them. How can I put this? Because we totally want to play Riot Fest, and we’re not hating on them. But I think most of the local festivals could absolutely push to have more female and queer representation on their lineups. Honestly, the only local festival that I can think of besides H.O.O.F. that does a really good job at booking—not just a lot, but a majority of female fronted-acts—is Motobblot, which we played two years ago. And when we got invited to play that they released a lineup and I actually sent them a message being like, Hey, I noticed that these are mostly women, and I just want to say thank you, And they weren’t even advertising it as that; it just was. And I was like, That’s awesome. So I think I think women and queer people are doing a really amazing job in the punk scene lately, and they’re not really getting as much of a spotlight as they should be. I’ve noticed that a lot of these bands that are fronted by women and nonbinary folks and queer people have to work a little bit harder to break through these different surfaces. And so by the time they get a little bit of momentum going, they’ve had to get through a lot. They’ve had to prove themselves and they’re usually very, very good. So I think Riot Fest is a great festival, I just wish that they’d have more women and queer-focused acts under the spotlight.

That’s fair. And this is your first year doing this? Do you have any plans for the future and how you want to grow this?

BV: I would love to do this once a year, just because I was doing this for selfish reasons. I was doing this for me because I decided I really wanted a space where I could feel this healing joyful energy with a bunch of other women and queer folks. And once I started seeing the reactions of the people on the lineup, and the people who were planning on attending, and how much of a want and need there was for something like this, (it’s been) bringing me so much joy and validation. And I absolutely want to keep this going because I feel like there’s definitely a need for it. And it’s creating a community for ourselves; it’s creating space for ourselves. It’s not knocking on the door and saying like, Hey, can we come in? It’s creating our own spotlight in a way and supporting each other instead of trying to break through these barriers that are set up in the scene for us. We don’t need to break them down. We’ll be over here and we’ll be all in pink and having a ton of fun. So ideally, I would love to do this at least once a year just from how happy it makes people. I’d like to continue it for sure.

Tickets and information for H.O.O.F. are available from Blue Island Beer Co. RSVP to their Facebook invite to let them know you’re coming and keep up with the event on Instagram.

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