D.I.Y. is alive and well in Fort Worth. In fact, it has been a long-standing robust movement for decades, with an attitude of, “If we want something done we do it ourselves.” That is just what Kimberly Briley thought when she opened up her house a couple of weeks ago to showcase women’s music, art, and photography, turning it into a makeshift venue for a “celebration of creative North Texas women” called The Quarter Moon FemFest.
The co-op style house nicknamed “Happi Haus” is next door to one of the longest running D.I.Y venues in town, 1919 Hemphill. The graffiti art on 1919’s wall set the backdrop for the small corner of the backyard where rugs and a P.A. system made up the outdoor stage. The house is dilapidated on the outside from years of slumlord disregard, but art and floral tapestries in the windows gave it a quaint, homely feel.
When I arrived in the afternoon, the venue looked empty. A small handmade sign in front of the ramshackle building reassured me that I was indeed at the right place for the festival. Searching for signs of life, I walked around back; and behind a table made of a pallet and milk crates an excited young volunteer asked for my cover charge/donation to Parents United, a neighborhood nonprofit supporting low-income family nutrition, literacy, and classes for parents learning English as a second language. All of the proceeds of FemFest went to the worthy charity.
The backyard had a distinctly festival-y vibe, with an art station for kids, people chatting with local artisans and zine makers, while eating homemade vegan tostadas and drinking copious amounts of cold brew donated by Avoca Coffee.
The event’s first act started performing on the venue’s makeshift indoor stage set in the living room. The audience for The High Moons was a handful of enthusiastic young people spread out across the floor with only a modest window air conditioner struggling to cool the room. Despite the fact that the P.A. only worked half of the time, the band of four women of varying ages did a number of ’90s covers and originals that energized the small crowd. Every member of the quartet, consisting of keys, guitar, congas, contributed to powerful vocal harmonies.
The day wasn’t just about music, though. The two-story house was also home to a woman-only art show. Paintings, photos, and other works of art covered the walls, and feminist coloring books (complete with crayons) and various modes of literature were strewn out on a coffee table.
Photographer Diana Urbina’s large-scale, narrative-style, black and white prints of women were both arresting and provocative. One print was suspended above the stairs and another was placed prominently behind the indoor stage. Both set an elegant atmosphere to compliment the empowering music.
The party didn’t really start in earnest until the sun went down and a significant amount of people started filing in. The 10 other music acts ranged from the endearingly wide-eyed cello pop of Julia Fulbright to the hauntingly captivating singer/songwriter Dollie Barnes. The latter, a high-lilting soprano, sang alone while playing pulsing electric guitar. If you sit around by yourself rocking out to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” you will love Dollie Barnes.
One of the highlights of the festival was the genderqueer performance artist Morgan Larson, whose dramatic monologue performance dealt with a broad range of issues, including abuse, institutional racism, and other taboo subjects. The brooding woman-fronted Bitch Bricks played inside to a huddled mass of 40 to 50 people, with another 40 to 50 outside spilling over from the venue next door. By the time the trio hit the stage, punk and hardcore music was blaring from both 1919 and Happi Haus. The neighboring venue was hosting a mostly straight-edge hardcore benefit show. Some music lovers went back and forth between the buildings, all types of people mingled freely
Femfest was a welcome showcase for talented women of many genres and mediums. It provided a new light to a long-standing social movement. While I may not be the expert on certain aspects of feminism, the festival was refreshingly informative and succeeded in continuing the deep Fort Worth D.I.Y. tradition.