Atlantic music festivals face criticism for male-dominated lineups

Some music festivals on the East Coast including P.E.I. are facing criticism for not being diverse enough.

'It's so yesterday, it has to stop'

In-Flight Safety, shown at the 2015 East Coast Music Awards, has pulled out of Rock the Hub music festival in Truro because of the lack of women performers in the lineup. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Some music festivals on the East Coast including P.E.I. are facing criticism for not being diverse enough. 

Musicians, writers and concert-goers in the region have shared their concerns online after Truro's Rock the Hub announced an all-male lineup — at least two bands have pulled out of that event including In Flight Safety.

"It's so yesterday, it has to stop," said Irish Mythen, a P.E.I.-based singer-songwriter of the lack of women on festival bills. "It's so stupid in this day and age." 

Rock the Hub festival organizers have since added female musician Christine Campbell of P.E.I. to the lineup. In an earlier statement responding to criticism of the male-dominated lineup, the organizers told CBC they "appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the feedback, which will inform our current and future decision making."

Mythen urges performers to insist on inserting an inclusion rider in their contracts that festivals include women, people of colour and Indigenous acts. 

Acts that pull out of festivals do risk backlash from fans, Mythen said, but she believes it's worth it to create a discussion about the problem. 

There are many quality female acts festivals can book, she said. 

'I'm tired of walking on workshops and songwriter stages and I'm the only woman,' says Irish Mythen. (Rhythm Section )

"I'm tired of walking on workshops and songwriter stages and I'm the only woman," Mythen said. "The change needs to happen." She believes more fans will support festivals that are more diverse. 

'I've been yelling about it for so long'

Tara Thorne is the interim arts editor at The Coast in Halifax and she wrote a column about the need for more diversity in music festivals. 

Few Maritime festivals have as many female acts as male ones, Thorne said, and several have less than 25 per cent women. Tyne Valley's Rock the Boat festival has six acts booked — one band includes one woman. Iceberg Alley, a new nine-night festival in Newfoundland, has one female artist booked.

If you believe this is not in line with your values, don't give them your money.— Tara Thorne

"I've been yelling about it for so, so, so long," Thorne said. "And getting a lot of push back. But now that we're changing culturally — we've just sort of woken up."

CBC reached out to organizers of P.E.I.'s Rock the Boat festival, but has not received a response. 

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."

Thorne believes the root of the problem may be that many bookers and agents, the "gatekeepers of the industry," are men who've been in the business a long time. 

External factors make parity difficult, says one director

"No one is ever going 'I am trying to keep women down,' but they also don't think about including them either," Thorne said. 

Jonas Colter, the executive director of the Beersville Evolve Festival in New Brunswick, said there are external factors that make gender parity difficult.

Colter said the festival is always looking to expand the number of female performers, but it has hit roadblocks.

"We've kicked the can, we've tried to identify some female headliners for our festival and we haven't been lucky," Colter  said.

"They haven't been available or maybe they wanted too much money and time is ticking and we do need a lineup."

'It's on the men'

Thorne applauds bands like In-Flight Safety who've pulled out of festivals.

"It's on the men to take action, not just to say behind the scenes to me 'I wish it was different,'" Thorne said.

She also encourages ticket-buyers to support festival lineups they agree with. 

"If you believe this is not in line with your values, don't give them your money," Thorne said.

'I don't know a promoter who wouldn't want to do that'

David Carver, a promoter who has brought concerts to P.E.I. in the past, said concert organizers have to consider bands that are available and the type of music and audience they're going after.

"If it's a classic rock artist, generally speaking, I think it's safe to say most of those classic rock artists are male artists with the exception of some great ones like Heart or Pat Benatar," he said.

Ultimately, he said, promoters want the biggest audience they can get — but that doesn't mean they have to exclude female artists.

"I guess there's two issues, one is promoting female artists and the other is promoting artists that females like to go see. I think promoters try to accommodate both of those," he said.

"Attracting a female audience to your shows, you can certainly do that by having female artists on your shows so I don't know a promoter that wouldn't want to do that."

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With files from Cody MacKay and Stephanie Kelly