Femfest takes over McCarthy Quad with femme power

Crowd watches performance.
Femfest, an annual music festival hosted by SAGE, celebrated woman-identifying and LGBTQIA+ musicians on Saturday at McCarthy Quad (Marissa Ding | USC FemFest)

The warm oranges of this past Saturday afternoon shifted to a deep, inviting purple, as students streamed into McCarthy Quad for an evening of food, festivities and feminist celebration for the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment’s annual Femfest.

Femfest is a counter-patriarchal music festival that highlights woman-identifying and nonbinary musicians. This year it was organized by SAGE Femfest co-executive directors and seniors majoring in music industry Fenner Osmond-Friedman and Grace Szafara.

The Femfest directors’ team tripled in size from last year with the creation of subcommittees, making this spring’s production the biggest yet. Planning for the festival began over the summer and the team officially started production in August. In the leadup to the spring’s festival, the Femfest team also hosts a number of fundraising events, such as its Halloween party, Hexxfest, and a drag bingo fundraiser at Hamburger Mary’s.

Through music, art and dance, Femfest not only celebrates woman-identifying and queer artists, but also works to provide a community and place of visibility for students and campus organizations.

 “We want to use the festival as a place for these member orgs to be seen,” Osmand-Friedman said. “We seek out member orgs that align with our mission and give them a space to … talk about their organization to the attendees of Femfest.”

The festival featured booths run by the Environmental Student Assembly, which handed out free compost bins to students, and the Queer and Ally Student Assembly, which offered a free T-shirt painting station. She is the Music, a nonprofit organization and global network of women in the music industry, also sponsored the event and operated an information booth for students.

The festival kicked off with a DJ set by Glamtech. Offstage, Glamtech is known as Dani Espinoza, a senior majoring in music industry. Espinoza said she wanted to embrace the feminine energy and empowerment of the night. 

“I want the girls to shout from the rooftops,” she said. 

Outside of DJing, Espinoza also produces her own music and wants to support fellow artists in the industry. 

“It means a lot to me to be able to showcase and share the empowered feelings that I’ve been having,” Espinoza said.

G Luné opened with a solo set of original indie pop tracks including her 2021 hit singles “BLOCKED” and “MICHELLE.” Students crowded toward the stage to dance and cheer along as the live music reverberated across the center of campus.

The act that followed, Jenevieve, a Miami-raised artist whose single “Baby Powder” became a streaming hit in 2021, performed an R&B-pop fusion set with music from her debut album “Division.” Accompanied by her talented keyboardist, Jenevieve led the audience into a new, mellow energy. 

The headliner, Chappell Roan, a Missouri-born artist and TikTok sensation, took over the stage with her band in matching silver outfits for her first festival performance. The band amped up the intensity with electronic pop punk riffs and dark ballads. The buzz of anticipation kept audience members dancing and singing along at the stagefront.

“I know most of [Roan’s] music and I’ve never seen her perform, so I’m excited. It’s gotten me through a lot,” said Talis Kroehler, a sophomore majoring in film and television production.

Chappell performed several of her recently released hit singles such as “Pink Pony Club” and “Casual,” as well as some new tracks from an upcoming album projected to release in September. Interspersed between songs, Chappell spoke about her queer feminine identity and guided the audience into an original cheer dance to back up the tracks.

“[‘Casual’] got me through some tough moments,” said Dulce Mejia, a sophomore majoring in film and television production. “I want to support female-identifying artists on and off campus — it’s a night for the girls.”

Students in the audience shared their appreciation for Femfest and their desires to see it expand in the future, including extended advertising for the event on campus. 

“There should be more marketing,” Mejia said. “They deserve more hype. They’re putting in a lot of work and we’ve got great artists … I just want their hard work to be appreciated to its fullest ability.”

Many audience members were excited to participate at the artistic booths and vendors and wanted to see the visual arts at FemFest expand to include more student art vendors and individual creative booths, like a poetry stand.

“A lot of people need more incentive to come and support female artists,” said Isha Ceesay, a sophomore majoring in political science and 3D animation.

As the festival continues to grow, the executive directors want to see Femfest become a campus-wide name.

“In general, the events industry is very cis het white dominated,” Osmond-Friedman said. “For the future of Femfest to be a part of that change, but in bigger and more impactful ways year by year, would be really great to see … My hope for the future is that it gains as much traction as it can on the USC campus and becomes a name that you recognize in conversation.”

The hard work of the team paid off as the festival closed to cheers across McCarthy Quad.

“It’s truly a team effort,” Szafara said. “We couldn’t have gotten it done without every single person on our committee …We were a great team, and I think that the nature, scale, and quality of the event was a complete reflection of our team on every level.”