Iceberg Alley draws fire for mostly male lineup

Of the 17 headline acts announced, just one is fronted by a woman.

Founder of Girls Rock NL says it's 'frustrating and disheartening'

A big crowd inside the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent in St. John's last fall. (Karla Green)

The Iceberg Alley music festival announced a star-studded lineup Wednesday — with emphasis on the studs.

Of the 17 headline acts announced, just one is fronted by a woman — Halifax singer and songwriter Ria Mae.

"It was so frustrating and disheartening to see such a huge oversight here in our city when we've been doing a lot of work on the ground to work against things like this happening," says Girls Rock NL co-founder Joanna Barker.

She said Girls Rock NL, a non-profit aiming to encourage more girls to play music and join bands, was launched in response to a lack of women in the province's music festival lineups in 2015.

"In a couple years from now, it'll be harder to say there's less women to book," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

Of the 17 headline acts announced, just one is fronted by a woman: Halifax singer and songwriter Ria Mae. (Cathy Irving/CBC)

And though Barker said she can understand that it may be more difficult to find female-fronted acts for a festival focusing on traditional rock music — "There are fewer women who play music of this nature," she said — she thinks the Iceberg Alley promoters could have tried harder.

"It's something that you have to make an effort to do, but you just keep asking more until you have women on your bill," she said, referencing her own experience on the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival's programming committee.

Gender parity not a consideration

John Steele, president of Brigus Productions Limited, the company behind Iceberg Alley, said he and his team did reach out to four female-fronted acts, but that the bands' travel schedules or fee requests just didn't work with the festival.

"If it was 10 female headliners and it was going to be profitable, I would do it."

Seamus O'Keefe, event manager for Iceberg Alley, said the festival needs to appeal to as many people as possible, so they try to get a wide range of acts. (CBC)

Ultimately, he said it all boils down to who is available and who can fit the price, and the Iceberg Alley team wasn't thinking about trying to include an equal number of women in the roster.

"I can't sit here and say that I did have a quota or whatever term you want to use," he said.

'It is time now'

Barker thinks they should give it a shot, pointing to the recently-launched Keychange initiative, which encourages music festivals to drive for gender parity in its lineups.

Major Canadian festivals like MUTEK and Canadian Music Week have signed on, pledging to have gender parity in their artists by 2022.

"I think if Canadian Music Week is having that conversation and it's important to them, then all of the festivals across the province … should be following suit," she said.

"It is time now that when you're booking an event of that size, gender parity is imperative."