Well, I’m sitting here trying to stay warm. Apparently autumn didn’t feel the need to quietly shift into winter! I am thrilled to have interviewed Linda Wilson for this month’s column. Wilson has been the program host for WomanSong on KKFI-FM (90.1) for 26 years. She has a passion for sharing women’s music, and since 1985, she has brought female musicians and comedians to Kansas City through her work with Willow Productions. She works as a techie and stage manager at local festivals and at women’s festivals across the country, such as National Women’s Music Festival, Michigan Womyn’s Festival and WimFest. Wilson’s win-the-lottery fantasy is to equip a huge tractor-trailer with a foldout stage, hire a crew of women, and hit the road to small towns all over the country, reaching those who don’t know the power and magic of women making music for women. She lives north of the river with Barbara, her wife of 18 years, and Lily and Nancy, twin Australian terriers. What a dynamic woman!
1. I understand that you were involved with KC Pride in the early years. How did you become involved?
I was asked by the producer at the time, Bill Todd, to produce the stage, provide and run sound for the stage. This was in the late 1980s. Bill asked for my help because he knew that I produced women’s concerts and co-owned a women’s bookstore (Phoenix Books) in Kansas City.
2. Does one particular year of KC Pride stand out more than others? What happened to make it so memorable?
The most memorable was 1991, the first year of Emanuel Cleaver’s term as the mayor of Kansas City, Mo. The mayor was always invited to the Jewel Ball at the Nelson Art Museum, an annual high-society event – but not the first year that Emanuel Cleaver was mayor. Although the Jewel Ball committee stated it was an oversight, most people thought it was because he was African American. That year Kansas City Pride was held the same weekend as the Jewel Ball and was across the street from the museum at Southmoreland Park. We invited Mayor Cleaver to be a speaker at our Pride. He accepted and spoke about diversity.
3. What direction would you like Pride festivals to go, compared to where they are now?
I would like to see the Pride Festival be more inclusive of the lesbian and trans communities, and the entertainment include performers that these two groups feel best represents them.
4. What suggestions might you have for lesbians to meet other women in the community, since Kansas City no longer has a strictly lesbian bar?
Assuming that you mean for friendship, there are many places for women to meet women. LIKEME Lighthouse Community Center, welcoming churches, pride events, LGBT fundraisers (because there is always an LGBT fundraiser going on), choruses and athletic groups are all places where women can meet women.
5. You also own Willow Productions, which is a women-operated music production company in Kansas City. What led you to create this company?
I don’t own Willow Productions; it is a council of CrossCurrents Culture Unlimited, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. In the early ’80s, Lois Reborne, Tamara Severns, Joyce Downing and I decided start a new women’s music production company. They went on to other work on other things. I continued to produce women-centered (mostly lesbian) events. Up until three years ago, Willow produced 10-12 events a year. All the work for Willow events is done by women, including sound and lights (with the exception of Grant Andersen, a good friend to Willow).
I became interested in women’s music when I saw a concert by Jasmine, a duo from St Louis, and Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie at Harling’s Upstairs on Main Street. I then went to the Southern Women’s Music and Comedy Festival outside of Atlanta, Ga. It was amazing to be in a women-only space working alongside other women. I was learning from other women how to set up and run sound, among other things. I came back with a passion to be involved with women’s music. I honed my new skills for several years working with a woman who was producing women’s music in Kansas City. I got together with Lois, Tamara and Joyce to create a new women’s music production company, Willow Productions. Our first concert was with Jasmine. We also produced Ani DiFranco, Holly Near, Cris Williamson, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Kate Clinton, Nedra Johnson and many more nationally known women artists. Local artists that we produced included Rosy’s Bar and Grill, Neon Girls, Beth Scalet, Kristie Stremel and more.
6. How has music affected your life?
After my family, almost everything in my life centers on women’s music. I have worked at many women’s festivals. The festival that I hold near and dear to my heart is the National Women’s Music Festival. I have worked at this festival for over 25 years. I started out as sound crew on the day stage, followed by stage manager of the day stage, then to the night stage. Now I am the main producer of the stages and also the stage manager of the main stage. I am also the president of the Women in the Arts Board, which produces the National Women’s Music Festival. Every Saturday for 26 years, I have been lucky enough to be able to play two hours of women’s music on WomanSong, KKFI-FM (90.1) Community Radio. Traveling women musicians love to stop by the station to play live on WomanSong and I love to have them on the show.
Women’s music speaks to me with stories of women like myself and my family of friends. I have actually had women tell me the music I play on WomanSong has changed their lives or saved their life.
7. What are some of the upcoming events for Willow Productions?
With my increasing work load with the National Festival, I haven’t been as active in producing music in Kansas City. Elizabeth Andersen, Carol Branson and I recently met and talked about producing more events in Kansas City. Watch Camp Magazine and Facebook for an announcement of some spring 2015 events.
8. What advice would you give to women who are just starting out in the local music scene?
Don’t let anyone talk you out of playing music that tells the story of your life, be true to yourself, and don’t be scared to take chances. Women just starting out should make a trip to the National Women’s Music Festival or Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. There is always a music jam happening somewhere at the festival that you can join. Play at the open mics. The performers at these festivals make themselves very accessible, so take advantage of that. Talk to them and make connections.
9. You also host WomanSong on KKFI-FM (90.1), Kansas City, Mo., on Saturdays from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (streamed online at KKFI). Does the show only highlight local artists or women throughout the world? Is this just recent music by women, or does it cover a wider timeline?
I feature the music of international, national and local women and include all genres of music. I like to mix music from early days of women’s music to the current music. I think that it is helpful for young women to hear the experiences of older women and vice versa. They have a lot more in common than they might think.
I understand that you and your wife Barbara have been together for quite a few years. What is your favorite quality about her?
Barbara has given me a family. She is a kind, loving and creative person that I can always count on. We have been together for 18 years and legally married in Iowa on Aug. 12, 2013. I cherish our wedding vows.