There’s something about Shred Fest, She Shreds magazine’s annual festival celebrating female musicians, that seemed perfectly at home inside Pilsen’s ChiTown Futbol. On most days, it’s an ordinary indoor soccer facility, but on a Saturday in October, deafening guitar and drums reverberated against its walls painted with Mexican mural motifs. Anyone ascending the curving, colorfully painted ramp to the inner doors could have felt that he or she was entering the loudly beating heart of the venue, with the music cranking up the volume to fill the cavernous space. At the same time, though, it seemed natural that the next room was full of families watching soccer and wandering over to peek at the bands.
Shred Fest started in October 2011 in Portland, Oregon, as a fundraiser for She Shreds. Founded by current editor-in-chief Fabi Reyna, the magazine focuses on bringing attention to female guitarists and bassists; Reyna herself has been playing guitar since she was nine.
“I knew so many women, specifically guitarists, that were amazing but not represented at all,” she explained over the strains of Milwaukee all-woman punk band The Olives.
“When I did see women in magazines like Guitarist or Guitar World, I just didn’t relate to the way women were presented. So my goal with She Shreds is to introduce a new aesthetic for women musicians, especially guitarists, that’s sleek, classy, confident, and a badass approach.” This year’s Fest marked the two-year anniversary of the magazine’s creation and the release of its sixth issue.
Since its beginnings in the Northwest, Shred Fest has traveled to Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., before coming to Chicago, where Reyna organized it with Chicagoans Miss Alex White and Kelly Nothing. White forms half of White Mystery, which describes itself as a “brother-sister rock ‘n’ roll duo” and proved one of the biggest attractions of the night, while Nothing managed Animal Kingdom, a recently-closed DIY show space. She also organizes other shows and plays in the Lemons, another band featured at Shred Fest.
For Reyna, partnerships like these are part of what makes the effort of a traveling festival worthwhile.
“I like to work with women who are really front and center in that community, and I say to them, ‘You know your scene better than I do.’ ” She continued, “these are women who are really making a difference, who are really badass and influential. I ask, ‘Who would you want to showcase at a Shred Fest in your city?’ ”
Their answers led to a thirteen-hour event with performances from fifteen bands and talks by several speakers. Jessica Hopper, music editor at Rookie Magazine, senior editor at the Pitchfork Review, and author of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking, read from her new book and discussed her experiences as a woman in music journalism. The festival moved from headliner Cassie Ramone (formerly of Vivian Girls) to a panel discussion on taking risks and pursuing success in music and then to local bands including The Funs, Lil Tits, and Swimsuit Addition.
There was a sense of solidarity in the audience, of a collective investment in Shred Fest as something more than a concert. The handful of dancers at the front urged others to join them, and they did; bands milled around talking, many clearly familiar with each other and staying long after their own sets to see friends perform. Audience members offered spontaneous help with equipment, bolstering the ranks of volunteers.
For example, Sam Larson told me she had hoped to perform in the show, but on hearing that all the slots were filled, immediately asked to volunteer. “There are not a lot of festivals focused A, on DIY bands, or B, on female musicians, and I think that’s something the music industry is overlooking right now,” she said. “There’s a great community blossoming of garage rock in Chicago where everybody goes to each other’s shows and supports each other, no questions asked.” White, too, emphasized the way people had come together in support of the show. She and Reyna met and hit it off when White Mystery was playing in Portland, and She Shreds eventually interviewed White and put her on the cover.
“When I was younger,” White said, “the only lady guitar I knew was like Lilith Fair [music festival], a very soft acoustic sound.” As a result, she “was excited to meet someone who also really loved high-energy rock ‘n’ roll.”
White has been involved in putting on shows before, one of many facets of White Mystery’s packed schedule. In addition to touring internationally, they also represent the #equipped advertising campaign for Levi’s. Francis Scott Key White discussed how he and his sister Alex, born and raised in Chicago, started playing music at a young age and began going to all-ages DIY shows, “taking our parents’ taste and running with it.” With such a long-term investment in this scene, it was no wonder that Alex was inspired to work with She Shreds when they wanted to take Shred Fest to Chicago.
Shred Fest is just one part of White’s and Reyna’s endeavors. It’s only one of several things Reyna hopes to do with the platform, other visions including a documentary or even eventually a school. But the Fest is also an exciting realization of the magazine’s efforts to inspire and provide a voice for women guitarists. She Shreds magazine is having a visible influence on the way women are represented in the music industry.
“When big companies advertise with us,” Reyna said, “they’re forced to include women in their advertisements, and then they use them in other places.” Shreds Fest is, as she put it, “like a physical version of the magazine in action, in full form. People are so obviously inspired by it…the magazine is turning into a movement. It’s not what I planned, but it’s awesome that it’s happening that way.”