Build-your-own Bloody Mary and mimosa bars, murals off Madison Avenue, and an initiative to get more female bands on bills?
Thank a Hoosier woman.
The inaugural WOO GRL Fest, Indianapolis’s first all-women music festival designed to highlight female and underrepresented musicians, presented 24 female-fronted acts across two all-ages stages at Fountain Square venues Pioneer and Square Cat Vinyl last April. (This year’s event is June 20, so mark your calendars now.) Founders Ariana Beedie, Kristin Newborn, and Nicole O’Neal tapped into the pent-up demand for a fest featuring local ladies, booking heavyweights like DJ Gabby Love alongside lesser-known names.
It was a milestone event for local women in music.
“I think it’s a really strong and impactful concept with a lot of power behind it,” said Ashley Brooks, a Milktooth co-founder and local culinary consultant who organized her own brunch festival, Baby Got Brunch, in 2017. “These are the kinds of festivals that I will continue to support.”
WOO GRL Fest was the first in a string of successful female-founded and co-founded festivals that debuted in 2019. Jane Mills, an Indianapolis illustrator and self-publisher, founded INDPLS Zine Fest, a celebration of D.I.Y. culture focused on self-published booklets known as zines (pronounced “zeens”), which garnered more than 100 attendees for a free one-day event at the Liter House in Broad Ripple in August.
“There are so many creative self-publishers in this city,” Mills says. “And I wanted to create a space for them and other talented people from around the states.”
Jordan Lee Thomas, a local art community advocate, co-founded Indy Mural Fest in October, a free three-day event designed to connect local artists and businesses. She enlisted more than 35 local artists to paint more than 50 murals on walls around the city (she’s no longer involved with the 2020 event, which she left in the hands of local artist co-founders Nick Smith and Levi Jamison).
They were following in the footsteps of vets Katelin Rupp, the co-founder of four-year-old Indy VegFest, a free event celebrating plant-based lifestyles that debuted at the Pavilion at Pan Am in April 2017, and Brooks, whose 21-and-older August brunch bonanza Baby Got Brunch continues to pack the Pavilion every year (it’s attracted nearly 1,200 attendees per year since its 2017 debut). Baby Got Brunch features samples from the best brunch menus at Indianapolis restaurants (guests get to vote on the winning dish), bottomless mimosas, and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.
“There had never been a large brunch benefit of this kind in Indy, so we knew it would be successful,” Brooks says. “The brunch lifestyle has seemed to take off in Indy over the last five to seven years.”
Indy VegFest attracted nearly 5,000 attendees in its 2017 debut. Rupp says the goal for the 2020 event, when the fest moves from the Pavilion to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 29, is to double that figure.
“We’ve wanted to advertise Indy VegFest on a greater scale, but prior to 2020, we haven’t had the venue capacity to support any growth,” Rupp says.
Yet none of these lady leaders are motivated by money — proceeds from the 2019 WOO GRL Fest benefited Girls Rock! Indianapolis, a nonprofit that aims to inspire future female rock stars through music education and mentoring. Baby Got Brunch donates a portion of its proceeds each year to The Patachou Foundation, a nonprofit that works to combat food insecurity in Indianapolis. And Indy Mural Fest puts its donations toward paying participating artists for their work.
The festivals may last only a day or a weekend, but they impact the city year-round. Rupp says Indy VegFest exit surveys from the past three years have shown that a majority of attendees intend to reduce the amount of animal products they consume. She’s also noticed an uptick in patronage of vegan-friendly businesses around Indianapolis.
Mills says the networking relationships formed between Indianapolis self-publishers and zine aficionados from around the country at the first INDPLS Zine Fest have continued online, just as artists and businesses who connected through Indy Mural Fest have collaborated on new local pieces.
Brooks says the success of Baby Got Brunch shows that Indianapolis can satisfy an appetite for diverse events and festivals — and that Hoosiers are willing to put their money toward events that are meaningful for the community.
And all the women agree that there are slots for female-founded festivals still to be filled in Indy—so get brainstorming, ladies.
Sarah Bahr is a regular Indy Maven contributor.