It’s no surprise that performers will be coming from far and wide for the Iowa Women’s Music Festival. But one of the organizers?
Lisa Schreihart, 41, who scouts, books and schedules the artists for the event, is coming all the way from her new Kentucky home to see the fruits of her labors onstage Sept. 27 and 28 in Iowa City.
“It’s our 20th anniversary, so how could I not participate in such a huge milestone event for us,” she says by phone en route to her job across the river in Ohio. “It’s hard to reach that.”
She loves that the grassroots festival, organized by a small committee, is getting back to its roots by returning to the Johnson County Fairgrounds, where the first festival was held in 1994. In recent years, it’s moved to City Park, but rain has occasionally driven the showcase indoors at The Mill. Space won’t be a problem at the fairgrounds, where an indoor facility is steps away from the outdoor grounds, should the storm clouds gather.
The storm clouds gathered in Schreihart’s own life in May of 2012, when she was laid off from her engineering job at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids. She took a shining to law while working on her MBA at the University of Iowa in 2007. Five years later, the timing was right to make that career leap, so she took her Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
“And the rest is history,” she says.
After 16 years in Cedar Rapids and a dozen years with the music festival, the Milwaukee native packed her bags in April and relocated to the Cincinnati area. She works by day for a communications and avionics company and by night, attends law school at Northern Kentucky University in Highlight Heights, where she now lives. Email and Skype keep her in the loop with music festival artists and organizers.
Juggling all those duties is “a challenge,” Schreihart says, “and I have to decide how I’m going to spend any free time that I’ve got. I don’t have much at all, so I actually have to invent free time. But, it was so important to me to continue” with the festival.
The event really hasn’t changed that much over the years, says founder Laurie Haag, 53, of Iowa City. It was designed to “fill a hole” in the local music scene, by giving female artists “a safe, supportive place to perform and to present those performers to the audience that wants to hear them.” Between 600 and 1,000 typically attend the Saturday afternoon free lineup, Haag says.
As the nonprofit festival has broadened to include regional and national performers, Schreihart has broadened her search for talent.
“That’s something I’ve brought to the table,” she says. “I go out to events in Illinois, Ohio and see artists. I get to hear them first then say to everybody in Iowa, we need to bring in this person.”
National artists have been presented in collaboration with other area arts organizations, which helps with costs and production details. Hancher brought Sweet Honey in the Rock to the festival in 1997, Joan Baez in 1998 and “The Vagina Monologues” play in 2001. Janis Ian and Natalia Zuckerman performed at The Englert in 2011 and folk singer Suzanne Vega of “Luka” fame will play there Sept. 28. Other stars who have graced the festival stages include Ruthie Foster in 2007, Michelle Shocked in 2009 and The Refugees in 2010.
Even in the tough years, like right after 9/11 and the Floods of 2008, the festival has gone on, offering artists and audiences a release.
“The arts are healing,” Schreihart says. “You need to live — you need to still have that option for people to go.”
What: Iowa Women’s Music Festival
When: Sept. 27 and 28
Where: Johnson County Fairgrounds, 4261 Oak Crest Hill Rd. SE, and the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., both in Iowa City
Sept. 27: Friday Fundraiser, 6 p.m., fairgrounds, $10 to $25 at the door; silent auction, raffle, fashion show, music at 7 p.m.
Sept. 28: Music noon to 6 p.m., fairgrounds, free, ASL interpreted, bring seating and picnics, food available; 20th anniversary concert, 8 p.m., Englert, $30 advance, $33 day of show, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org