Iceberg Alley Gives Cold Shoulder to Women Artists

The lineup for the 2018 Iceberg Alley Performance Tent was announced on Wednesday, March 21, and many people are not pleased.

This disdainful attitude isn’t just coming from the misplaced notion that Billy Talent are a worthwhile headliner for a show in 2018 – the public is pissed because Billy Talent, like the vast majority of the festival’s lineup, are all male.

In having another conversation about gender disparity and lack of diversity in the music scene, I’m not just beating a dead horse – its bones have picked clean by fellow vultures who have already critiqued this ongoing issue.

I critique a lot of music in St. John’s. I review live events for The Telegram, write arts/entertainment features for multiple local media outlets, and have sat on the jury of the MusicNL Awards and The Overcast’s Borealis Prize.

This breadth of work got me invited to the lineup launch this morning at the Jag Hotel. Unable to attend, I heard the news a little later in the afternoon.

I took one read through the event roster, and immediately had to re-read the listings. My first thought: Where my girls at?

The nine day festival has 17 acts, and the only women listed by name is Ria Mae, an ECMA winning and Juno nominated singer from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Mae is sub-headlining for Shawn Hook – whoever the fuck that is.

I pored over the roster again, more intently. There are two more women involved – Steve Earle’s bandmate, Eleanor Whitmore, (though one can assume Earle was the performer booked, not Whitmore) and multi-instrumentalist Jennifer Trainor, of Celtic Connection. Neither of their names were listed anywhere on the festival website.

On social media, women have been quick to point out the lack of female representation.

Just hours after the lineup announcement, local musician, Co-Director of St. John’s Women In Music (SWIM) and Program Director at Girls Rock NL Joanna Barker announced on Facebook that she would discussing Iceberg Alley’s gender disparity and lack of diversity on live radio with the CBC Morning Show on March 22.

The comment thread responding to Barker’s initiative to raise awareness for this issue was filled with praise, and brought an onslaught of comments like “Absolutely friggin’ brutal,” “Enough is enough,” “So tired of this,” and “Didn’t this happen last year?”

In 2017, Iceberg Alley’s lineup was also comprised of mostly white men and that issue has clearly shown no signs of improving.

In June of 2015, CBC’s Andrew Sampson wrote basically this same article about about gender disparity in festival lineups – albeit more eloquently.

Sampson pointed out that all fourteen headliners for that year’s Salmon Festival, Confederation Hill Music Festival and George Street Festival were male.

These festivals could glean some insight from the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, who snagged a woman headliner for their 3-day festival in 2017, and featured a plethora of women musicians throughout the long weekend. I started counting, but gave up around 40.

Lawnya Vawnya also strives to showcase women musicians. Last year, woman fronted Dilly Dally headlined the fest, with Helena Deland, April Aliermo (one half of Phédre), Klarka Weinwurm, Charlotte Cornfield, and Chloë Doucet sub-headlining, among others.

If two of the province’s festivals have come to understand the need for gender equality in the music scene, why can’t some of the biggest music festivals wake up and follow suit?

This question has been asked again and again in media worldwide, and for some reason, it isn’t reaching the right ears – deafened by an overabundance of Billy Talent, I guess.

Or maybe these people just hear what they want to hear. When Sampson asked Salmon Festival promoter Darren Finn about the historic lack of women representation on-stage throughout the years, Finn is quoted as saying:

“I don’t feel like I have any obligation to think like that, I only have the obligation to look for artists that are available.”

One could only imagine what Finn – a white male, in case you haven’t guessed – might have said if someone asked him about the obvious lack of indigenous, people of colour, or transgender acts.

Those are questions I’d like to pose to Iceberg Alley Performance Tent, Salmon Festival, Folk Fest, and Lawnya Vawnya – but that’s another topic for another day.

At the moment, we’re clearly having enough trouble trying to get women – who literally constitute half of the global population – on a fucking stage in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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