December Carson, the artistic director of this weekend’s Siren Nation festival, founded the women’s music and art event in 2007 after noticing something: Not only was the proportion of women-fronted acts performing at big national festivals like Bonnaroo nowhere near half, but even in gender-conscious Portland, pretty much all the venue and festival bookers were men. “As a woman, I see working in music really differently than the way men see it, so my booking might be really different from a man,” she says. “I saw a little bit of an imbalance in Portland, and a bigger imbalance in the country as a whole.”
The longtime music-industry professional set out to correct that imbalance with a music, art, and film festival that would help keep women artists’ “flavor” from getting lost in male-dominated lineups. “Every year, I strive to book a festival that shows the quality of music and art that is being made by women in this country,” Carson says. “I think having four days of it really shows that.”
Six years in, Siren Nation has grown into a weekend-long, citywide showcase of female creativity boasting national talent such as MEN, La Sera, and Jolie Holland. In addition to music performances, the festival—which, Carson stresses, is open to everyone, regardless of gender—features an art exhibition, an arts-and-crafts sale, and a full slate of free workshops (and will be followed next weekend bya newly standalone film festival).
We’ve picked a few acts performing this weekend whose siren song we think you should heed.
Ezza Rose hails from the mountains outside San Diego, and the roots of the rustic chamber-folk she makes may well reach back to that agrestic upbringing. But here in rainy Portland, where the singer-songwriter relocated a few years back, the verdurous music community propagates folkies like weeds. With her latest album, 2011’s Jacob, Rose proves she’s more than a weed by another name, her ringing tremolo bolstered by a backing ensemble of acoustic guitar, banjo, and violin as she transitions naturally among the engagingly varied, consistently well-wrought, songs. Thu at 9. $10. The Secret Society, 116 NE Russell St.
When Alela Diane tours in Europe, her shows are standing-room-only. But in the States—and especially in Portland, where she lives now—she is criminally underappreciated. Diane was raised in the same town as Joanna Newsom, Nevada City, Calif., and there must be something in the water there: Like her fellow townswoman, Diane has grown up to be a gifted (albeit more folky) singer-songwriter. Her newest record, 2011’s Alela Diane & the Wild Devine, sees the previously solo artist fleshing out her lower-pitched, breathy vocals and narrative lyrics with a full band. Fri at 9. $12–15. Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St.
When Culturephile profiled Edna Vazquez last year, she was just beginning to draw Portland audiences’ notice—but she had already (if briefly) been a Spanish-language television star. The local mariachi singer-songwriter, who was born in Mexico and came to Portland as a teenager, got her 15 minutes of fame when she appeared on Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento, the Hispanophone America’s Got Talent, in 2011. Strangely enough, Vazquez’s performance on the foreign-language, Los Angeles-filmed program brought her career to another level locally when Luz Elena Mendoza, of Latin-accented Portland band Y La Bamba, saw a YouTube video of the moving Tengo Talento appearance and started hyping Vazquez around town. It would be surprising that a musician singing Mexican folk songs—in Spanish, no less—is making inroads into Portland’s lily-white, rock-ruled scene. But, considering Vazquez’s guitar artistry, full-throated voice, and emotive showmanship, there’s no surprise here. Sat at 9. $15. Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St.
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