Published on September 19th, 2015 | by Alex Thiel0
Sarahfest in Oxford – Overview and Schedule: “Celebrating the Alternatives”
Looking at the lineup for the first-ever Sarahfest, a music and arts festival to be held by The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies this weekend, it’s clear that this ain’t your average departmental conference.
With a week-long slate of events that aims to “celebrate the contributions of women in the arts while promoting the work of the Center,” Sarahfest will bring films, photography, panel discussions, and—most prominently—world-renowned musical talent to Oxford in only its first year.
“The Sarah Isom Center is a hybrid,” explains Isom Center director Sue Grayzel. “We have always been interested in education and provoking thought through creative expression as well as intellectual contributions.”
Headlining the festival this year is Grammy-nominated recording artist Neko Case’s benefit show at The Lyric Sunday, Sept. 27. Opening the show will be Teardrop City, featuring Oxford’s own Laurie Stirratt.
“We are especially proud that a major recording artist like Neko Case is coming to perform a benefit for the Center,” says Isom Center Assistant Director Theresa Starkey. “Her generosity will really anchor the festival and give us a way to cap off the week in a strong way.”
The weekend prior, Sept. 18–20, will bring punk pioneer and visual artist Jon Langford of The Mekons, as well as Amy Ray, most notably of The Indigo Girls. Both will be playing a special pop-up edition of Thacker Mountain Radio on the lawn at Rowan Oak on Saturday evening, alongside Kelly Hogan, Minton Sparks, and Tenement Halls. The event will be catered by Oxford Canteen.
Later that night, the party shifts to a nightcap show at The Powerhouse, featuring the Thacker lineup alongside Jim Mize and Laurie Stirratt.
Many of the visiting artists are much more than your typical touring musicians. Langford and Ray, for example, have been active and outspoken on several social issues that highlight the kind of work that the Isom Center has been doing since its founding in 1981.
Langford, whose renowned artwork is currently on display at The Powerhouse alongside Alysia Burton Steele’s, will also be participating in a public interview at The Powerhouse on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 19, before the Thacker Mountain show.
Several other restaurants and venues will be featuring music throughout the weekend; Marcella & Her Lovers return to Oxford for a show at Lamar Lounge on Friday the 18th, which will also host “A Day of Local Music” the following Sunday (featuring Jimbo Mathus, The Blues Doctors, and The Slow Rollers). Effie Burt, an Oxford local who Starkey describes as “an amazing vocal talent,” will be performing at Snackbar on Sept. 23, and the UM Gospel Choir will round out the musical side of the festival with a performance at Paris-Yates Chapel on campus on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 27.
“Local businesses made Sarahfest a reality by providing space for musicians to perform and by coming on board as sponsors in a generous way,” says Starkey. “John Currence was enthusiastic about the idea and wanted to offer spaces for [Sarahfest] performances, because music has the ability to bring people together for a shared experience.”
Should your eardrums need a quick break from Sarahfest’s top-notch music schedule, there are a variety of other events throughout the week with a slightly different bent; screenings of documentaries She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry and Girls Rock: The Movie highlight women’s lib issues in art and culture, while a special Southern Studies Brown Bag lecture by Dr. Michael Bibler will highlight the “Silliness and Ecstasy of The B-52s” on Wednesday evening, Sept. 23.
Starkey assures that Sarahfest is no one-off event, and that she’d like to see the festival demonstrate staying power in the Oxford community.
“We would like to see it grow, to be a celebration. Something that is collaborative—where multiple ideas and voices are shared and feel welcome.”
Dates, times, and prices can be found in full online at sarahfest.rocks. Tickets for Neko Case and the Late Night at the Powerhouse are available there for pre-order.