On Being Halfway To …Not Seeing You In August (or the Loss of Michfest) by Marie Cartier

michfest2Normally—and I mean normally as in the past thirty-seven years of my life, this is the time of year when I start thinking about the upcoming Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the fact that I will be seeing friends of mine from around the world for our one ten-day excursion deep into “womyn’s land.” Where I will howl at the moon with thousands of women. Where I will stay up late around my favorite campfire –the DART fire pit—where the physically challenged folks camp and where I am unofficial DART support. One of my best friends at Fest is a fabulous moonshine maker from Appalachia. Every year we have a date in the back of night stage—where literally this past year 7,000 women were dancing and singing and listening to a world class concert/rock n’ roll show under the moonlight. Way in the back my friend H. and I toasted on our annual “date” with her latest brew…that she trucked in by wagon next to her chair and her service dog. “So raise a glass,” we toasted with red cups high in the air, singing along with the woman way down front on the stage, performing in synchronicity with our toast.

This post “raises a glass” to Michigan. I have no idea whether or not this post can bring to life what it is, unfortunately now was, like there for the legions of women who trucked themselves “to the land” for forty years—but here goes.

michfesst3For instance, my friend, H., gets to go to Fest because years ago women decided collectively Fest should be accessible to the physically challenged. I was a “rug ratter” one year as a result of this decision—laying down literally miles of carpet upside down, spiking them into the ground so women in chairs could get around “the land.” It was extremely dirty and hard work and I felt inordinately proud of my one year of rug ratting as women rolled over the carpets.

Michigan housed women over 40s, over 50s, over 60s and 70s and more…leather women, rowdy party women in “the Zone,” chemical free women, women of color, women on limited incomes, “land” women living on “womyn’s land” permanently, women with children, physically challenged women in chairs, women needing machines to help their breathing, deaf women, women with served animals, women who drank and smoked, as well as, sober women, women who wanted to be near drum circles, women who wanted to be far away from drum circles, quiet women, loud women, artist women, medical women, musician women, manager women, quilting women, Jewish women, women from every U.S. state and women from countries all over the globe…women came to the land, came to Michfest to be together and yet apart. Because once there they could choose their land within the land. You could camp in sober living, chem-free living, the twilight zone where leather and partying was 24/7 or quiet camping where things tamped down at ten p.m.

Where else will I ever be where five hundred women in an audience get a joke that I don’t get—because they are all deaf and I am not—and they get a joke the signer is signing just for them? Or where will I ever be again where a woman ejaculates into the air and through the air about ten feet in an arc into the audience “splash zone” in the “twilight” area of Michigan—a twenty-four-hour party zone? This “zone” existed peacefully across the main path from the RV zone where many elderly and physically challenged folks camped (some of whom also might be a part of the Zone on many a night)?

Next to that was just woods …I’ve walked back from a burlesque show at the Zone through the woods by myself under the moon at one a.m.—hearing the night sounds of Michigan—owls, coyotes, and… women having sex and… also snoring. Walking through the dark of the moon or the light of the moon to my camp fire home where no matter when I rolled in there would be a “sister” by the camp site and I would open “Marie’s marshmallow café” — an institution we started a few years ago where I’d make marshmallows to order—lightly brown all over, charred, soft center, double, etc. This was an especially useful service for folks who couldn’t get their chairs down into the actual pit to roast their own.

A few years ago, the opening ceremony of Fest was highlighted by a large Amazon Woman, F., coming to the stage in front of thousands of women at sunset and lighting an arrow on fire—she let it fly right and burst a target to the side of the audience into flames, to the left and burst a target into flames to the left of the audience, and then let fly a burning arrow that went over the heads of the entire audience and burst a target behind us, behind all of us, into flame.

Twenty-four hour drums. On-site child care at Gaia Girls and Brother Sun. The Red Head parade. The Belly Dance Parade. The Butch Strut. The Femme Parade. This year, a former military veteran parade. Plays in a wooded glen, the Acoustic Stage. I’ve seen high wire acts at Fest, a woman playing a violin high atop a sound tower. I’ve seen a woman highlighted against the dark forest and every time she exhaled, she exhaled a plume of fire… and she was dressed in a wedding dress with a long train that lit up with every exhale. I’ve seen a woman do a strip tease inside a hula hoop lit on fire; she went down from full business drag to pasties and a G-string.

I’ve also put stitches into the quilt made every year in the Over 40s tent…by quilters from all over the world.

I performed, I believe, the first legal wedding at Michigan.

I did a “How to Have an Orgasm Workshop” at 9 a.m. and joked with the seventy women who showed up—you are here at a “how to have an orgasm workshop at 9 a.m.—ok! This is needed!”

michigan 1I also have looked at the planets through a telescope someone trucked all the way to Michigan, watched shooting stars all night long, had my first real conversations about healing from sexual abuse, made a paper house with secrets inside with a renowned paper artist…been a vendor, sold T-shirts, sold coffee, and ice cream, cut onions-carrots-potatoes-celery for 5,000 for hours, guarded the front gate by a fire pit in the middle of the night and heard stories about Death Row inmates from a Death Row lawyer.

The women who showed up at Fest were employed, unemployed, travelling women, home owners, business owners, minimum wage workers, millionaires, artists, witches, shamans, magic makers, ect. And musicians. Lots and lots of musicians.

And also cops, lawyers, teachers, nurses, doctors, women who lived on womyn’s land year round where men never entered, and women who lived in in the heart of New York and Los Angeles…womyn who lived scent free, and high femmes trailing clouds of perfume, walking impossibly through the land (or the “fucking woods” as it was affectionately called) in stilettos next to gypsy travelling women wearing the only clothes they owned.

Some women were women who argued passionately about the Fest policies and some women who loved the way everything was run…women who argued and women who laughed and women who cried and women who meditated and walked a labyrinth and spoke to hardly anyone.

Normally at this time of year I would be a few months past the “halfway mark,” or known to “festies” as “halfway to Fest” which is usually marked by parties– in LA, San Fran, Portland, Chicago, New York…hence the title to this blog.

Now, however, I am halfway past the halfway mark of ‘’not seeing you in August”. One of the ways we identified Fest sisters during the year might be by bumper stickers (usually plastered amidst a garden of other bumper stickers) that said, “C U in August.”

And I realize now I am halfway to not seeing you in August.

The last day of the 40th Fest, and its last year, women started howling across the acreage of Michigan—acres and acres of women howling as they left—wolf howls starting across the land as women left for the very last time. And other women starting howling. Women getting out of their tents early in the a.m. and later in the day and listening to women howling and howled back—that went on all day until the last bus of women were tractor-ed out…maybe by a bearded woman wearing a tutu and fishnets. Or a woman in coveralls, combat boots and a clown wig. This is/was Michigan where you could spend a week making story high puppets, singing in a Gospel choir, playing drums in a Drum Song Orchestra, learning astrology, practicing archery, taking care of children, cooking, vending wares as varied as “pee-stylers” (that make it so a woman can pee standing up) to the traditional gourmet artisan coffee, candles, books, herbs and tinctures and T-shirts with saying like “I am Woman. I can bleed for days and not die.”

Michigan is where a young self- defined baby dyke (me) made her way to “the old land” in Hesperia in 1979, before they bought land in Hart…and where I stood with 300 women howling at the moon and when I went to leave the circle a large Hawaiian woman said slowly as I passed “Strong dreams.”

And I did have strong dreams.

I had dreams I would never imagine a woman could have. I dreamed dreams of walking alone in the night. I dreamed of owning the night long before I ever had to “take it back.”

I owned the night– I wasn’t afraid for one week as an abuse survivor. I spent ten days a year “on the land.” It was enough to recharge my batteries, and for many women over decades…one week, or ten days…no cell service until very recently.

Vegetarian food. The womb (the health center), Oasis (the therapy recovery center), the Main Kitchen, Easy Street—which campers decorated with light up “O’s” by the hundreds which dangled in Fellini artistry every night…

Michigan. I know the issues that surrounded it very well… I also know that as a small business, like all small businesses, it had trouble surviving.

Was it my religion? It was sacred to me…time to be unafraid. Time to be alone and with others. As I write this, halfway to not seeing you in August, I long for us to be true to what we said every year on leaving “See you in August.”

I kissed the land every year on arriving – “Welcome home.”

This year instead of “see you in August,” we started saying “I see August in you.” Halfway to not seeing you in August—yes, I see August in you.

I grew up with you, Michigan/Michfest, “the land”, from twenty-two to fifty-nine …you were part of my life, my tribe, my sisters, my bloodline.

I grew up in you and through you and with you, Michigan.

I will forever see August in you.


Marie CartierDr. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.  She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013).  She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine. She is also a published poet and playwright, accomplished performance artist, scholar, and social change activist. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) and an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting), both from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University.  She is co-chair of the Lesbian-Feminisms and Religion session of the national American Academy of Religion and co-chair at the regional level of the Queer Studies in Religion session, founder of the western region Queer Caucus, and a perma-blogger for Feminism and Religion. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style, and a 500 hour Yoga Alliance certified Hatha Yoga teacher.

Categories: Community, Feminism, Friendship, General, Herstory, Sacred Space

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57 replies

  1. Thanks for this. It hit hard, just as I’m beginning to grasp the reality of never again in august. We were fierce in our diversity.


    • yes, we were, my sister….<3


      • not diverse enough: the fest destroyed itself. or: if it could only have been under the conditions that it had required, then it is sad, but necessary, that it come to an end. Everything you loved is, of course, as rich as it feels. You’re entitled to that. No one is taking it away. But it was predicated on a kind of exclusion that isn’t acceptable anymore.


      • Obviously we disagree. And you are entitled to your opinion. However, this blog was not about why the festival ended… That would be a different blog. This blog is about the grief that it ended at all. And missing it.


  2. Love the photo — THIS IS NOT THE PATRIARCHY’S FEMININITY — absolutely priceless.


  3. Beautiful…powerful…a testament to the magic, healing and expansion that was, and continues to be **Fest**. 💖💫


  4. What happened to Mich-fest? It sounds like it would be a place of healing and bonding for many womyn. I like the way womyn of all different varieties, likes and dislikes, etc., got together. We need more of that in our world.


  5. Reblogged this on Adventures and Musings of an Arch Druidess and commented:
    I miss West Coast Music fest for the same reasons


  6. My daughter-in-law attended the festival last year and came home with stories about it. How sad it is that this amazing event has shut itself down. Thanks for sharing your memories.


  7. Thank you giving us such a strong vision of your tribe, your land, and the eternal August within you!


  8. thank you… I cry over the lose often…


  9. This, and every other piece I’ve read this past month about Michfest has left me crying…I’ve never gotten to experience such a gathering, a ‘womyn-only’ space, and I mourn the loss of Michfest as much for those who did, as well as for those of us who never will…


  10. Marie, What a great evocation of an important part of our movement! It’s so sad that it’s gone!


  11. Reblogged this on ArtYourEatOut and commented:
    My heart aches… what a wonderful experience this was. Nowhere else have I ever felt as energized, at peace, and SAFE!


  12. We had only 2 times we were able to go. Each time we were changed, refreshed, broken-down and rebuilt, even physically.


  13. I first went to Michfest when I was a teenager and it was a life-changing event. I so remember my amazement at walking in the woods by myself at night and not being afraid, and realizing that I always HAD been afraid, but was so accustomed to it that I didn’t even realize it. My experiences there were my first vision of what a world without patriarchy could be, which I am still exploring. Thank you for this wonderful tribute and evocation!


  14. If MIchfest was so successful, why is it not going on? Surely there are others who would step up to promoting a much loved, established event?


  15. Thank you for your post. I’ve spent the last half hour feeling Michfest, and all that it meant, all that I received. You will indeed be thought of in August. Nameste.


  16. When I get back to school in the fall, I want to meet you and hug you and thank you.


  17. I never got the chance to attend fest. I didn’t even know about it until last year. Hearing about it now, it just breaks my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I think I will forever mourn the fact that I was never able to go to this. Thank you for this post.


  19. Reblogged this on FeistyAmazon and commented:


  20. Sounds like Heaven. Wish I knew of it sooner.


  21. Aussie 70 yo here. Wanted to go from when I first knew about it, 30? years ago, but besides being in US 3 or 4 times, never got the timing right. Wonderful description. Have attended ConFests here (Conference/Festival) but mixed genders and sexualities, though there was always a Women’s village which I loved. Just would love to have the experience. I do think the article needed an explanation of the way it wound up and the recent years controversies over transwomen. Not blaming….just to give the full picture


    • This blog was not about giving the full picture… Not sure I could do that in any case… What was the full picture? So many different theories Etc. This blog is really in some ways a memorial and a place for me to put feelings of grief around it in. I am not making an attempt here to explain why it ended. Just grieving the fact that it did.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Dear Marie — thank you so much for this. I have just found it this morning. I wonder if you would permit me to share it on my Facebook page or otherwise with family and friends. It gives such a true, vivid picture of Michigan — takes me right back. Again, thank you for writing it. Joan


  23. Wow – sounds wonderful! Wish I had known and gone


  24. Thanks for such a heartfelt tribute to FEST. Been there since 82. We still go back end of June every year and ride our horses across land.
    Our recent ride revealed peaceful grass waving in wind. No signs of human disturbance, just pure nature. The many memories and wisdom shared by our sisters continues to inspire. We said blessings for the M A N Y womyn we met from all over the world.
    We left hoof prints on night stage, Dart, Acoustic stage…. soon to be erased by the rain and wind.


  25. Thank you so much for this. Deep pain, tears of profound sadness as you take me there without being able to go there, tears of joy that you have documented what we were able to create and experience there together.



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