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A local campaign calls on music festival organizers to Book More Women

A local grassroots effort to promote gender equality in festival lineups looked deeper into Boston Calling's artist history. While they believed that this year's makeup was a significant improvement, Book More Women tracked imbalances in years' past. Pictured: Lorde at Boston Calling in 2014.Marissa McClain for Boston.com

When Boston Calling returns to the Harvard Athletic Complex this weekend, festival-goers can expect a shift across the stages. This year, musical acts with at least one woman or nonbinary permanent member will make up 57 percent of the total lineup, according to Book More Women, a local grassroots campaign to hold festival organizers accountable for disparities in representation.

The Instagram account (@bookmorewomen) — which has almost 14,000 followers, including the likes of Brandi Carlile, Margo Price, and Lucius — uses statistics with visual aids as an effort to promote gender balance at music festivals. Founder Abbey Carbonneau said she created the account and website after feeling disappointed by Firefly Music Festival’s lineup announcement in 2018. (Two of the festival’s 95 acts were fronted by women.)

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Carbonneau said she had crossed out the male artists from the event’s poster to emphasize the disproportion to a friend — and then created an Instagram account, posted her edited graphic, and tagged Firefly.

“I think it’s caught on because so many of us are visual thinkers,” Carbonneau, who is a chemistry lab technician by trade, wrote in an e-mail interview. “The festival poster provides an easy way to illustrate what is happening in the music industry as a whole.”

In the five years since, the Greater Boston native has “redacted” all-male acts from over 400 music festival lineup posters and graphics while tagging the festivals and participating musicians.

“They tagged us in an Instagram post a few years ago,” said Carly Kraft, lead singer of the Boston-based band Coral Moons. “I clicked on it and started seeing all of their festival data and forwarded it to all of my female friends in the music scene.”

In January, Book More Women posted its edited version of Boston Calling’s May lineup, writing: “From the headliners through to the EXCEPTIONAL local representation, this is huge.” The post received over 1,500 likes and 89 comments, including the Lumineers’ violinist Lauren Jacobson and Coral Moons, who both play the festival Saturday.

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“Music is a way that songwriters tell stories and speak to their lived experiences, and people of the world are diverse in many ways,” explained Kristina Latino, the founder of Cambridge-based Cornerscape Artist Management, who said her current musician roster is more than half women. “We should have music on big stages that speaks to the lived experiences of all kinds of people.”

By Carbonneau’s count, there’s still work to be done. In a progress report, she posted that 27.1 percent of musical acts booked for eight major US music festivals — including Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza — featured at least one woman or nonbinary permanent member in 2018. In 2022, that number became 39.8 percent. When she only looked at topbilled and headlining artists, she found the numbers hovered even lower.

Peter Boyd, Boston Calling’s director of marketing and talent, said organizing a festival lineup has many tiers of complexity. Organizers have to consider factors such as timing, artist popularity, and whether or not they have a recent album or are touring.

“Booking a festival is kind of like having a Venn diagram,” he explained. “There are all these different factors, and each [artist] has its own circle, and you’re trying to get them into the middle, which is the festival.” Regardless of the challenges, he added, “We want to support more diverse artists. I think everyone should be across the board.”

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While Book More Women’s Jan. 24 Instagram post commended the three-day festival, Carbonneau included her breakdowns of previous years, including the 35 percent gender diversity in 2022 and 29 percent of the planned acts in 2020. (Boston Calling was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.)

“We appreciate what Book More Women has done as far as industry visibility and accountability,” said Boyd. “When that [post] came out, we saw it that day, and it was an honor to be applauded by them for our efforts.”

Carbonneau said that Boston Calling’s 57 percent is significant because it surpasses the “50/50 by 2022″ pledge launched in 2017 by Keychange, an EU-funded movement that encourages gender balance in the music industry. She pointed out that 57 percent, by her count, doesn’t mean that 57 percent of the musicians standing on stage across the weekend are women or nonbinary. An act needs only one woman or nonbinary member to qualify for her calculations, so the audience may still be watching a woman bassist surrounded by five male bandmates.

Still, Carbonneau sees this as a win: “I am so happy that my local festival is leading the way.”

Lauren Surbey is a Boston-based writer who just finished her bachelor’s degree in publishing at Emerson College.

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