After Venus Fest founder Aerin Fogel told me that she’d only come up with the idea for a festival that exclusively books women and nonbinary performers this past April, walking into the Daniels Spectrum community hub for the inaugural event felt like a major victory. “My own personal desire to step forward in this role only started a few months ago,” she said. “But I think the need or desire for something like this has not just been mine, I’ve heard an expressed need for this from the community for a really long time.” Pulling it all together so quickly was really a testament to the idea itself — and the strength of the community Fogel had behind her.
To translate the all-day event into reality took a great deal of thought and work but when I showed up, it quickly became clear they’d thought of everything. Located in the redeveloped Regent Park neighborhood in Toronto’s east end, Daniels Spectrum’s is in a bit of a food desert, with not a lot of choices nearby, so various food vendors were brought in for the day. The building itself was chosen for its accessibility, and inside there were non-gendered bathrooms, a team of volunteers trained with naloxone kits, a “community card engagement” station where people could write down their info if they want to make fest friends, and so on. The whole thing seemed exhaustive, going above and beyond the usual of organization other large festivals undertake.
When I complimented her on how all-encompassing the festival was, Fogel laughed and said that was the goal. The entire experience ran smoothly from a spectator’s perspective, which is remarkable since it’s the first festival Fogel has ever thrown, but it also had to. As a living critique of the way most festivals have a structured gender imbalance in their lineups, there was a tremendous amount of pressure for Venus Fest’s argument to be airtight.
If something went wrong, if there weren’t enough attendees, if the sound wasn’t good or the lineup lagging, all of those issues become fodder for the majority of concert promoters who are disinterested in correcting the way that concert and festival lineups regularly skew male. Instead, throughout the day Venus Fest shone as a beacon of what could be.