Monday, 29 July 2013

A Sea of Green - L Fest 2013

By now you've all heard Donna and myself on our internet radio show/podcast talking at length about "L Fest"- the amazing camping festival that goes on every July for the last 3 years, where almost 2,000 women gather in northern England for a weekend of comedy, arts, and music. We've discussed almost every band that would be playing on both stages, every event thats offered from day spas, to writing workshops, author readings, performances, lesbian movies at the cinemas, sports, activities, kid's zones, doggy daycare, the food vendors and the shopping stalls. We've gone on about the exceptional "L Crew" who are everywhere you look, for whatever you need, we've pointed out the official L Fest gear merchant: Pretty Pink Pearl, who do on the spot printing if you can't find what you like on the racks & racks of L Fest shirts, hats & hoodies. We've hailed Cindy Edwards, the festival creator, director and promoter as the most organised, innovative, all-inclusive, forward thinker we've ever worked with- and this year, ladies- bigger, new venue, more festival go'ers, more bands, more space- and it did NOT disappoint!

                                           photo credits: Zebi Risidi Photography

                                                  photo credit: Sarita Ramirez

We were traveling to Uttoxeter Racecourse, Staffordshire as a party of seven. Yes, you heard me, SEVEN. The group consisted of Donna, my co host from Florida and her girlfriend Deb, our intern for the radio show, Sara from New Jersey, our foxy friend Jill Bennett, an actress/producer/writer from Los Angeles, my housemate Hazel, who made most of this trip possible by renting and driving the 9 passenger Vauxhall van, my level-headed wife Jemma, and me, Denise, the Pringle eater. 

First off, I should say the weather was UNSEASONABLY hot, with not even a breeze for the week leading up to L Fest. This seemed to excite the UK lesbians, the thin girls, and the ones who managed to have air conditioning in their cars or campers. For us, unfortunately, the rental company falsely advertised the van as having a/c, but alas- as we headed towards Heathrow Airport to pick up Jill, we discovered it did NOT have a/c.  We were prepared for the rooms we were staying at to be exceptionally warm, because thankfully, our buddies Lucy & Mandy Burton, the music directors at L Fest, and band members of one of our favourite performing bands, Eeek,  phoned us up the night before and said "Pack fans because the hotel doesn't have air conditioning!"  We were NOT prepared for the van to be a hot box on wheels. As we stuffed our fat asses in, with all our merchandise, banners, bags, coolers, Costco food stock, FANS, and electronics, we headed down the motorway with the windows open (at least the two front ones, which were all that WOULD open) and like dogs, put our faces towards the air, and made our way to scoop Jill. Singing songs, telling stories LOUDLY over the rush of the wind blowing us to hell, we laughed and bopped away until we hit traffic where we roasted mercilessly in the sun, or as I call it "open flame"- like chestnuts at Christmas, at a standstill for nearly 40 minutes, as the energy drained from us. 

The sentiment seemed to be that no matter what the temperatures were rising to in the van or even outside, we were heading to L Fest, and nothing was going to bring us down. After gathering our precious cargo, Jill Bennett, who had a screening of her new web series "Second Shot" at the L Cinema on Saturday morning along with a Q & A, we were on our way! Heat be damned, we're armed with fans! (and thankfully, it got cooler over the coming days!) 

With only one pee break at the Services, we made pretty good time on our three hour journey, rambling through the tight village streets off the motorway and finally rolled up on the Uttoxeter Racecourse, where we were greeted with massive rainbow flags swaying, L Fest banners, and tents as far as your eyes could see. 

I can't explain the buzz you get when you're at the entrance way, collecting your wrist bands, getting your program, flipping through it, looking at the schedule of events happening for the next 2 days- the smiling faces, waving at you as you make your way through the park- it's electrifying to say the least.
I love seeing Cindy's Mom, Gil at the gate, always ready with a big hug! The Crew in place, all ready for us, signaling Lucy Burton that we've arrived. It's like you're bursting at the seams to see everyone! 

Cindy, the very busy director and her L Crew are scattered throughout the park with radios, and ear pieces, and somehow, every year, as we make our way to the head quarters office, just to yell "We're HERE!" - Cindy makes a grand appearance to welcome us and give us a bit of a tour. This year, with an all new venue, we were anxious to see the park and what was where. From the HQ, she took us out on the balcony which overlooked it all, and pointed out where the campers were, the family campers, the solo's, where the cinemas (TWO) were, where the Main Stage was, where the L Fest Presents stage was, where the workshops were, where the food vendors were (fish finger sandwiches!), where the shopping stalls were, the t-shirt shop was, the bumper cars, the sports area, the Solo's bar, the fire pit, and Fan tent. It was quite a sight to take in- flags waving, girls everywhere, chicks on bicycles, with their puppies & dogs, families, kids on push scooters, happy faces rolling by in a wheelchair or two, rocker babes with guitars, girls on rollerblades, whizzing by, Strongbow's in hand. It's an incredible sight - looking over the whole park- and just taking it all in. 

It makes you process why it takes a year of planning, and promotion, the precision of organising something for everyone, making sure everything you could possibly want, need, and do is all right here with new friends, old friends, strangers soon to be come buddies, possible hook-ups (of course!), couples who plan holidays around this, fans who come to see their favourite bands & singers, friends who travel in from Scotland, Holland, Germany, America, just to name a few places- who mix, mingle, drink, dance, sing, and make lifelong connections. It's a weekend that becomes a part of you, that gets in your blood, creates memories in your heart & mind  and that stays with you. 

It's such a blast to see old friends, like Jan Walker ("Jan's Coming Out"), Georgey Payne from "GreyMatter" giving us a hi-five, Teresa & Helen taking a minute from the t-shirt printing to say hello, Sally Edwards rollin' on by with a shout & a hoot, the Drag Kings with a wink, those crazy chicks from HeadsHearts wrapping themselves all over us, seeing Cookie Meister's new hair do, Faye Bagely & her juice, VG Lee & Micra Mary making their way to the workshops, seeing the adorable girls from "Promise"- budding musicians, totally psyched to play their first REAL gig to a full house, Clare Templeton & Jacqueline Orr from France, supplying us with chilled wine, the Rasta guy at the cell charger tent with the bang up shades, the girls from Kinky Monkey, and Focx -and oh my God- the DONUT MAN and his donut truck! The dude actually gave me a sack of donuts for the ride home on Sunday evening! 

I've been hosting, emceeing (or compering, as they call it over here)- whatever you want to call it- on the Main Music Stage since the first year. I did it on my own for the first 2 years, and this year, my co host Donna from our internet talk radio show "The Lesbian Lounge" on flew in for the event, so it was a bit of a reunion, of sorts. In Florida, before I moved to England, we hosted  tons of events from Girls At Gay Days in Orlando, to WomenFest in Key West, to Pride Festivals all over the State of Florida- but it's been more than 2 years since we've been together on stage, live and in person at a major event, so needless to say, this was special. It was emotional. It was something that I had only described to Donna on the phone before and hope she would understand the magnitude of it. Now, she was here to see it with her own eyes- a year of planning, basically. I think I convinced her while at L Fest 2012- when I had headliner, musician, Horse personally Skype her and then video'd The L Project singing "It Does Get Better" with 1,000 lesbians singing along to every word. These are what I call "L Fest Moments"- and you have to see them & feel them in person because video & pictures are brilliant, but being in the midst of it is an indescribable experience. The sense of camaraderie, sisterhood, family, belonging, acceptance is almost spiritual in a non-religious or spiritual way. See? Indescribable! I can safely speak for her when I say she was in absolute awe of the event and being there in person this year. The welcome she received by everyone was more than we could have envisioned and she had moments where she welled up with tears (as did we all....Lucy Burton) just randomly and would say, "It's even MORE amazing than you could describe!"

The work of an emcee is basically to keep the crowd interested enough not to leave the stage before the next band comes on. So, Donna and I do some witty banter, we remind everyone of the vendors, and the schedule, and we interact with the audience and keep them engaged, laughing, happy and interested in give-aways like magnets, pens, and t-shirts while the stage managers are helping the next band or performer set up. Sounds easy enough, but it always starts off slow, and after people have had a few drinks, they loosen up a bit and play along. I'll admit, it was MUCH easier this year, having my bud up there on stage with me rather than ramble endlessly by myself. We had our wives, our intern, Sara, and our buddies from Planet London helping us with games, like "The Muffin Munch" and "Confessions". The stellar crowd joined in- faces I remembered from the past 2 years and some new, willing, brave participants ready to join in. I noticed this year, maybe just from our constant presence on the internet air waves & podcasts, or from the past 2 years hosting, that this time women were way more comfortable seeking us out in between sets, on our way for a bite, or while we were waiting to go onstage. So many ladies approached us and thanked us for making them laugh throughout the day, some even asked for autographs, and pictures, and commented on how funny we were. Even dashing off to a pee break, we would get stopped for high-fives, shout outs, smacks on the back and tons of praise for what we do. It was so appreciated, and so humbling, I can't even put into words. We're having as much fun entertaining the attendees, as they are watching & listening to us, that we sometimes forget that its work! 

We are fortunate enough to work with some amazing people, like Lucy & Mandy Burton, who along with performing with their band "Eeek", also put together a carefully selected line up of music for the weekend, and work with getting the local faves & international bands & artists there at the festival, like "Betty", "HeadsHearts" "Red 'n' Pink"and Rachael Sage, while introducing us to up & coming new sensations like the talented teens "Promise" and Cat Chinn.  They put together a stage crew that works tirelessly with the sound engineers, the roadies, and with silly ol' us to make sure things go smoothly all day at the Main Stage and later at the smaller L Fest Presents stage. They coordinate all the women lending their voices for a performance of "It Does Get Better" by the L Project and all the guests who join in-which always touches the crowd and creates a major "L Fest Moment".  This year, I was touched by something new- the VIP School Bus- with it's neon lights, flat screen TV's, AIR CON, endless Pimm's & champagne, and ...perhaps the heart felt speech Lucy made in honour of Cindy, her family and the L Crew. 

Women like Sal and Sue, of SpringOut Arts & Film Organisation find the best in lesbian film & content for the cinemas, and get writers, directors and actors to the event to meet fans and do readings, Q & A's, screenings, and all the groups like and Diva Destinations who ran the Solo's events, the "Grease" Party, Hazel O' Keefe, and the funny girls of "Laughing Cows" Comedy, bring you the best in stand-up comedy, the opening ceremony dance, the closing party tears-  honestly- everyone involved in every aspect of the weekend do their job and give their all to make L Fest unforgettable year after year. 

We'll have videos and tons more pictures to share as the days go by and we all unpack, do laundry, get back into our daily routines, accept new friend requests, follow the hashtag #Lfest, answer emails, read blogs & posts and get tagged relentlessly! It's a great way to keep the momentum going! It'll hold us over until the 2014 pop up parties start, L-Festive gets underway, and we barrel towards the next L Fest!

The entire crowd helped me surprise my cousin Gina & her new wife Amber, up in NY on her wedding day, Saturday, with a great, big Facebook favour! This was an awesome L Fest Moment! 
We even raised money for Cindy's big bike ride from Guilford to Paris in September to help an orphanage in Peru by making Cindy strip down to her latex bike gear and riding around the crowd as they filled her bucket with coins & notes!

I mean, seriously- yes, there is the Dinah, and I've never been and have no desire to go, but for the life of me, I can't imagine moments like this happening because everyone there is clamouring to see Dani Campbell down a tequila shot off some loser from "The Real L Word"'s flat tan stomach at the congested, oily, pool party. No thanks. I'll take L Fest any day over that scene.

What Cindy Edwards & her crew have created is an annual event festival worthy of your holiday, worthy of your friends flying in from another country, worthy of international appeal, worthy of headlining bands, worthy of the awards it's been given and each year, as it grows and goes to the next level, the word of L Fest reaches farther & farther and the moments get bigger, and deeper. You'll laugh, you'll party, you may even shed some tears driving away when it's all over, but you'll also have some memories, some new Facebook & Twitter friends, and you'll be looking forward to the next L Fest. So, start planning for next July because 2014 will be here before you know it, and you'll kick yourself in the ass if you miss it.  See you there!

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