Amy Horowitz of the Washington-based production company Roadwork has been booking, presenting, showcasing, pushing and promoting women's culture for so long that she can be excused for the emotional high she's getting from today's daylong, open-air festival at Takoma Park Junior High. Sisterfire brings together several of the vanguard performers in women's music--Cris Williamson, Holly Near, Washington's Sweet Honey in the Rock--as well as featuring jazz and Caribbean music and dance, crafts and issue-oriented workshops.
"It's the first such festival in an urban situation expressly open to all people," Horowitz says. "What makes it real different is that it's designed to invite women and men to come and celebrate women's culture for a day."
Sisterfire is both the culmination of several years of planning by Roadwork and a thank-you from the artists involved, all of whom have donated their services to the 4-year-old nonprofit company, which describes itself as a community-based, multiracial cultural organization dedicated to social change through the promotion and production of women in the arts.
Washington, in the early '70s, was the birthplace of Olivia Records and a breeding ground for such singer-songwriters as Williamson, Meg Christian and Willie Tyson. That energy shifted to the West Coast in the mid-'70s, partly because of the capital's inherent conservatism and partly, Horwitz feels, because people involved with political movements "do not have a respect for the culture."
And though women's social and political activism has been quite evident over the last 15 years, the parallel cultural expansion has been less noted. Many performers who directed their energies to women's issues and women's organizations were pigeonholed--and often dismissed in the general marketplace--as feminists, or lesbians. "The women's movement was a backbone for giving voice to this expression, but it's also much broader," Horowitz insists. "We embrace so many issues by virtue of the range of artists we represent and the range of their issues that we'll never neatly fit into any one movement. What we're embracing is the concept of coalition, in a very spiritual and political sense, the coalescing of people.
"Roadwork's view of women and culture does not place it necessarily within the women's movement," she adds. "We feel that women have always been the carriers of culture, that we come in a moment in a historical stream that's always been true but never acknowledged."
Horowitz, a Washington native, has proven to be an indefatigable worker for change in the status quo. She became politically active while still in high school (after getting initial training as an organizer as international president of B'Nai B'Rith Girls, the world's largest Jewish youth organization). At 20, she moved to Oregon, building a small cabin and running a women's health center in the small town of Ashland. That's where she started producing concerts, and though her cabin had neither electricity or plumbing, it did feature one incongruous bow to technology--a bright red phone ("the laugh of the town"). It was installed by friends at the local phone company, a lesson in who-you-knowism essential to grass-roots organizing and production.
While still in Oregon, Horowitz became a distributor for a small women's label, and eventually started booking some national tours, including one for Sweet Honey in the Rock. She came back to Washington to work on the group's second album and started Roadwork. This year, with representatives in California and Kentucky, Roadwork concerts (including some at Constitution Hall, the Bayou and Blues Alley) will attract 200,000 people.
Sisterfire capsulizes the Roadwork system and ethic, according to Horowitz. "It's grounded in the community," with 30 volunteers supporting the in-house crew. "It's our grandest, most extensive program of women's culture in its many forms--music, poetry, dancing, crafts. There will be different organizations represented at information tables--women's, antiracist, antinuclear; 10 to 15 different food booths from around the world; workshops throughout the day on a wide range of issues."
Horowitz ticks off the components carefully; everything seems in order (there's even a rain day, Sunday). All systems are go. She's off to check last-minute details, smoothing out the flow of acvitity. Sisterfire runs from noon to 7 p.m.; tickets are $13 for the day, with children under 12 admitted free.