Four years ago, after playing a music venue in Arlington, Cathy DiToro was caught off guard by a male audience member.
“He stopped me to say that I shouldn’t act so masculine onstage with my movements,” she says. “I remembered replying, ‘What does that even mean?’ ”
That wasn’t the first time that DiToro, who performs solo and with local bands The Legwarmers, So Fetch and Party Like It’s…, had dealt with sexist remarks. In response to discrimination she’s faced, DiToro last year launched projectHERA, a support network for female musicians in the D.C. area.
Along with co-founder Brittny Mayo, DiToro curates a wide variety of events — including concerts, open mics and workshops — with the biggest effort being the HERA Music Festival. Think of it as a hyper-local version of Lilith Fair, with an emphasis on diversity.
“I want [the festival] to be accessible for everyone,” DiToro says. “Music can break down barriers and cross age, gender and racial lines.”
Sunday’s second annual HERA Music Festival will feature over a dozen local acts and a mix of genres, including the alt rock of Sheila, the violin-based folk of Bellwether Bayou and the upbeat pop of Throwing Plates.
“What sets HERA apart [from other festivals] is that we really try to stay as nonpolitical, all-inclusive and as family-friendly as possible,” DiToro says.
This year, it will be free to the public, although guests can donate at the door or through projectHERA’s GoFundMe.
DiToro says projectHERA has become quite labor-intensive, but the payoff makes it all worth it.
“The importance of empowering women in a male-dominated industry is what makes project-HERA so rewarding,” she says. “Music doesn’t have to be a hobby. It can also be a fulfilling career.”
Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, 130 N. Washington St., Falls Church; Sun., noon-9 p.m., free.
Meet the local acts performing at Hera
Lead organizer and projectHERA co-founder Cathy DiToro highlights four of the 15 acts performing at the second annual HERA Music Festival on Sunday.
Sheila: The stadium-sized sound of Sheila weaves progressive rock, R&B and pop punk, and the band’s visuals are just as impressive. “They incorporate multimedia into their set with an LED-lit drum kit and original clips they’ve created,” DiToro says.
Elizabeth II: Beth Cannon, lead singer of Elizabeth II, is a guitar virtuoso who DiToro says could give Jimi Hendrix a run for his money. “She’s totally a classic-rock shredder,” she notes. “I’m totally in awe of her. She’s so young and has a crazy bright future ahead of her.”
Bellwether Bayou: Multi-instrumentalist Laura Schwartz’s project Bellwether Bayou delivers distinctive, soulful folk music. “You don’t often see a solo female lead play violin and use the loop pedal,” DiToro says. “It creates a very different vibe.”
School of Rock Vienna: Some of the youngest performers to play the festival are a part of School of Rock, a program that offers music lessons for youths and adults. “School of Rock is special since it’s middle school-aged girls performing at the festival,” DiToro says. “They allow children to form bands and learn at a young age how to work in a team capacity. Like sports, but with music.”