Props to Lawnya Vawnya, Girls Rock NL, and everyone else rolling up their sleeves, and getting on with creating a vibrant, inclusive music scene.

Like many in the music community, my initial reaction to the Iceberg Alley Festival lineup was disappointment; not just at another missed opportunity for more balanced and inclusive festival programming in our province, but disappointment at the dismissive attitudes towards women in the music community daring to take umbrage with their exclusion.

As a female musician, music fan, and music critic, I’ve chosen to call one of the richest, most vibrant musical communities in the country my home exactly because of this richness. But Dear St. John’s: Why must we continue to have to have this conversation about the importance of diversifying festival lineups, like it’s groundhog day?

Why are we as a province inclined to see inclusivity as pandering, and progressiveness as risk, where others see value and opportunity?

It’s counter-intuitive to write this, but resident provocateur/former Mayor Andy Wells’ foray into the debate via Twitter struck a chord with me when he opined: “If u don’t like the line-up don’t attend. Promoter has right to choose, performers have right to decline, public can refuse to buy tickets. It’s called economic freedom and it is gender blind.”

On this last point, I can only  sigh. The idea that economic freedom is gender-blind is just plain lazy… a red herring meant to give carte blanche to the presupposition of individual rights. But, it’s not wrong that I have the right to refuse to buy tickets or attend a festival, to decline as a performer, or even that a promoter has the right to book screaming goats if they so choose.

By the same token, we also have the right to choose whether we spend our limited energy engaging disinterested relics, or rallying behind forward-thinking, community building initiatives. For the sake of my sanity, I choose the latter.

Girls Rock NL, for example, is an outstanding program that connects self-identified girls and gender non-conforming youth to professional women in the arts. It offers workshops for their success, and provides the opportunity to learn instruments, write songs, and rock out on stage.

Their mandate is anything but divisive: foster confidence, leadership, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration through music and performance; empower self-identified girls, gender non-conforming youth, and women, while encouraging a more diverse and inclusive city. Can I get an amen!

Moving along; music and art festival Lawnya Vawnya returns for its 8th year this May (23-26) with what is easily its most impressive lineup to date. Similar to Girls Rock NL, Lawnya Vawnya Executive Director Chrissy Lee sees broadening the festival’s programming not as a gamble, but as key to its continued growth and success:

“We don’t want to appeal to just one group of our diversifying population. Taking an inclusive approach broadens the scope of our audience since festival goers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. When festivals goers can watch an artist on stage that they themselves can identify with, it makes the show all the more memorable for both the audience and the performers.” Double amen!

Rather than capitulate to this idea of Newfoundland as impossibly stuck in the mud, let’s instead recognize and support forward-facing community initiatives such as these.

Let’s grow them until they’re undeniable forces to even the bro-down promoters and dinosaurs among us. Volunteer where you can, donate if you can, go to shows, buy that wristband! (And for the love of god, bypass that vapid, carnivorous comment section altogether). Amen.