Sept. 7, 2015
All eyes were on Santa Ana this weekend as the Observatory hosted Burger-A-Go-Go, the internationally acclaimed festival dedicated to showcasing female talent, curated by Orange County's Burger Records.
After a long day teaching drums and with only two hours of sleep, I hastily pulled into the parking lot hoping to catch every minute of the action. I headed inside the venue in desperate need of the restroom only to find a clusterfuck of long lines that became a hallmark of the event.
Once in the line for the bathroom, I couldn't help remembering the thrill of being a teen girl at a punk show in the same space a decade prior. The energy, the chatter, the drunk girl slumped in the corner while her friends laughed and fed her cold fries out of a dirty purse; all of it present as ever and nostalgia inducing. But this wasn't a typical women's bathroom hang like those I spent in front of the same mirror applying an embarrassing amount of eyeliner as a teenage punk in Orange County. Dozens of girls were rushing out, beaming with excitement, talking about the bands they saw and the ones they had yet to see, all of the acts women.
From the get-go there was a fun and infectious community vibe; female music fans came out in mobs to witness the power that was the Burger a-Go-Go line up. Those who arrived early clued me in to the amazing sets I missed from artists like Riverside's Summer Twins, San Pedro's BombÃ³n and the legendary Kimya Dawson.
Word was that there wasn't a dry eye in the house for Dawson's set, which included old and new hits including “At the Seams,” a new #BlackLivesMatter protest song in which Dawson honors victims of racist police brutality. Dawson pleads and dreams in a voice that only she can muster: “We'll keep on planting flowers and fight until the day we don't have to pick them to put on graves.” Young girls and grown women reminisced about how artists like Dawson and Bikini Kill impacted them.
By the time I grabbed a $9 tall can and headed to the main stage, Bleached were making their way through their last song as the crowd stared on, some singing along. Next up was Kate Nash, an artist I've heard about but never explored. A woman gushed about how life changing Nash's music was, so I gave the set my full attention.
Catchy and fun, with punk and pop sensibilities, Nash and her band members kept the energy high for the duration of their set and fed off the crowd's energy. The set had some surprises, including covers of Bikini Kill's “Rebel Girl,” The Moldy Peaches “Anyone Else But You” accompanied by Kimya Dawson, and Meredith Brooks' “Bitch,” which turned into an epic sing-along. She concluded her set by reminding the crowd how important it is for women to support each other, and stage dived full force into the crowd in all her glittery glory.
After a lengthy break between bands, Glitterbust took the stage. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon captivated and destroyed a 25-ish minute experimental noise set along with Tomorrow's Tulips' Alex Knost. Pacific Northwest feminist and grunge vibes were strong, complete with large art projections, and minimal vocals. After getting through a few epic songs, Knost ended the set by gracefully falling to his knees and smashing a guitar without looking like a total douchebag, a difficult feat to pull off. In my opinion, Glitterbust was the most under-appreciated act of the night.
I had to make my way down to the pit for The Julie Ruin; I owed it to my teenage self to see Kathleen Hanna from the same pit I grew up in, often resisting meat-heads in punk pits as one of the only girls. On stage, Hanna greeted the crowd, asking if there were any Rock Camp for Girls family at the show, and then got right into the music.
The crowd's excitement built up before the curtain opened, and by the time The Julie Ruin got into their first song, some questionable behavior broke out, which was checked by Hanna herself. After security hauled off troublemakers, everyone on the floor had a great time singing and dancing to classics like “Radical or Pro-Parental,” “Apt. #5” and “Friendship Station,” and material from their 2013 release Run Fast, ironically including “South Coast Plaza” in which keyboard player and vocalist Kenny Mellman screams that he will “never fucking go back to Orange County.”
By the time Cat Power took the stage we were well into the witching hour, and folks were getting sleepy. Diehard fans who understood what a rarity the performance was stood vigilant, watching intently and silently, as she ripped through material on guitar and piano alone on a dark stage. I caught the first half of her set, which was broody and enchanting, but after the energy of The Julie Ruin, it was hard to get into Power's beautiful and stripped-down mood. As I was leaving I caught The Rosalyns' last songs in the Constellation Room, which gave me a well-needed burst of energy on my way out the door.
Every fest has opportunities to grow. Considering that Burger knows their local scene, I was really hoping to see local ladies highlighted more than they were. Outside of The Aquadolls, OC-based bands were only booked for the pre-party. There has also been a misconception in media preceding the fest that Burger a-Go-Go is the first of its kind. Less publicized grassroots fests like Ladyfest, Homo A Go Go, and local fests like C.L.I.T. Fest and Santa Ana-based Grrl Fair have been occurring since the 1990s, usually run by women and featuring all-female or non-binary bands, performers, speakers and artists.
With that said, the event didn't have to be the first of its kind to be bad-ass and powerful; it meant a lot to many people, myself included. Burger a-Go-Go brought folks from all over the world together, created a space for young Burger fans to witness legendary female artists, and got a lot of people genuinely excited to support women playing music.
Between Burger a-Go-Go and Ladies Rock Camp Orange County, I spent the weekend surrounded by music made completely by women, engaged in conversations about gender and music, and even saw musicians who inspired me since I was a kid. All in all, the fest was a great success, and I'm stoked to see what the folks at Burger have up their sleeve for next year.