How a movement to illuminate women’s participation in festivals is spearheading a voice of change
Presently, all male acts make up 67% of major US music festival lineups, often with these artists occupying all the headlining spotlight. Book More Women is here to pioneer a change. Launched in early 2018, this grassroots effort is on a mission to provide a visual representation of the problem, start conversations, and work towards better representation on future lineups.
For the past two years, as each festival lineup is announced, Book More Women re-constructs the poster to highlight the women featured on the bill. Their methodology is simple: any band, group, or solo artist who is or features at least one woman or non-binary musician as a permanent member will remain on the poster. Official Facebook pages and press photos are used to determine who is and is not an official member of a group. Major market festivals like New York’s Governor’s Ball seem to be heading in the right direction with an increase in women both on the bill and playing in top slots (of the first 17 acts on the bill, 65 are/or feature women), while there still seems to be a struggle in the world country music – with their latest Country Fest announcement going from 38% women artists in 2019 to 28% this year.
I recently had the chance to connect with Book More Women who here, share how this admirable organization came to be, what are some 2020 trends and how you can get involved.
Coachella: 34% women in 2018, 35% in 2019, 36% in 2020
How Book More Women Started:
I was originally inspired when the Firefly lineup was released in early 2018. All it took was a glance for me to tell that there were hardly any women near the top of the lineup (there was 1 in the first 23 acts). I mentioned it under their twitter post and spent the rest of the day in long arguments about why it did or did not matter. I wasn’t able to get it out of my head so I started looking at other lineups and crossing out the male acts just to see how bad they looked. I had seen lineups edited in that way before, in particular there was a viral one of Reading/Leeds that went around in 2015. I certainly didn’t invent anything new, but I thought maybe it would convince some people of how bad the problem was if they could see them all together in one place. I think the first step to fixing something like this is to make people aware of it, so that was my primary goal. When Lollapalooza announced in March 2018, I started the Twitter account. I moved over to Instagram as well shortly after that.
When I started, I didn’t really have any goals or expectations, so this has all definitely surpassed anything I could have predicted. The most rewarding part, personally, has been being able to discuss these issues with musicians and others in the music industry. Hearing their direct comments, questions, and suggestions has helped me to continually evolve and improve Book More Women and the mission behind it. Eclipsing 6,500 instagram followers, launching a website last year, being mentioned in major online publications, have all been very unexpected and encouraging to me as well.
I specifically track the biggest multi-genre north American fests closely to see progress and the early season of announcements has been just a minor improvement. Together, Coachella, Shaky Knees, Hangout, Bottlerock, Gov Ball, and Bonnaroo have 33.2% of acts with a woman or nonbinary artist in 2020. 2019 was 32.7 and 2018 was 29.3. One thing that has improved for almost all of these fests is the number of women headlining. I looked at only the top 12 artists billed on each lineup for these fests, and in 2020, 36.1% are or include a woman or nonbinary artist. In 2019 that was 21.4% and in 2018 that was only 14.1%. So, women are getting higher billing this year which is awesome.
In terms of progress, there has certainly been some! While the major US festivals as a whole have shown only slight improvement over the last few years, there are a few festivals in particular that have changed for the better. Tortuga festival in Fort Lauderdale increased from 7% to 43% from 2018 to 2019. Governor’s Ball in NY increased from 28% to 36% from 2018 to 2019 and promised to work to improve even more for 2020, which they did! The Governor’s Ball lineup came out recently and I was very impressed. They increased the overall percentage from 35.7% in 2019 to 41.8% in 2020, including 7 of the top 12 billed artists. There was clearly a dedication to get big name women on the lineup and in my eyes, it is an incredible looking lineup.
I have had the great privilege of talking to many artists who I’ve long admired because of this. One that has been particularly vocal about this issue the last couple of years is Brandi Carlile. She first DMed me shortly after announcing her own all-female music festival and has been mentioning Book More Women in all kinds of interviews ever since. Having such a big voice be so vocal about this issue and working to fix it has meant so much to me. I’m looking forward to attending Girls Just Wanna Weekend for the second year in just a few weeks!
I also have had some great conversations with an organizer of Suwannee Hulaween about how much improving diversity of their lineup matters to them and how we can accomplish that.
2020 Festivals Overall:
My initial reaction to the 2020 lineups has unfortunately been disappointment. Of the five biggest to announce so far (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Hangout, Shaky Knees, and Bottlerock), three have decreased representation this year, with the other two improving only slightly. I’m hopeful for those to come, but it has been a weak start for the year.
In terms of joining the cause, we always need more voices in this conversation. I love to see people sharing their thoughts and engaging with others under my posts. The more people and perspectives we have discussing the causes and solutions, the better!
~Abbey/Book More Women, founder