Cover Story: Not Mama's Lillith Fair

Chicks RockFest founder Jen Schmidt says it's all about a good time

Dale M. Johnson


Jen Schmidt started the Chicks RockFest on a lark, but her fourth annual gathering promises to be one of the year's most noteworthy music events.



CityBeat: What's the history of Chicks RockFest (CRF)?

Jen Schmidt: It's a festival that I put together kind of as a joke at first in 2000 — the "First Annual Chicks RockFest." I just wanted to have female-fronted bands get together. So I put together a show that had some kind of a theme that would draw people out to see it. It was my (then) band Tornado Green, Ruby Vileos and The Fairmount Girls.

CB: What do you get from them?

JS: Style. Technique. Stage presence. The more that you watch and listen to those bands, the more successful you are at imitating things you like about them which you then can make your own. I just enjoy the sound of it (female vocals) as well.

That was my main focus.

CB: Where was the first CRF held?

JS: At the Mad Frog. I didn't know a lot about local bands yet. I haven't always lived in Cincinnati. I had heard of The Fairmount Girls, Ruby Vileos was pretty new (at the time) but I'd heard of them as well. And I got 'em all together and said, "Hey, you guys want to put on a show?" And Chris Schmidt, who is now my husband, was working at the Mad Frog, so it seemed like a natural place to have a show. It was a typical Rock show in Cincinnati — three bands together, play some songs. It went over quite well, actually. I knew The Fairmount Girls had a very good reputation; we kind of mooched off that (laughs). Tornado Green didn't have a lot going at the time. We needed to find a band that had a good reputation, someone who's able to get a crowd.

CB: And the second CRF?

JS: The second year rolled around, and I said, "Let's just do it again." I like it, I had fun, I like the concept. It was something that eventually somewhere down the road I'd like to take "somewhere." The second year it was us (Tornado Green) and Fetish and Vibro Honey from Dayton. I wanted to get an out-of-town band in on it. It was also my last show with Tornado Green. It was at Top Cat's.

CB: And last year's?

JS: I wasn't in a band, and I said, "Why don't I do something bigger and better? Why do I have to be in a band to put together a show?" And I like being in a band, but I wanted to go to a show that I was able to watch the bands I want to watch. I basically said, "This is what I wanted to hear when I go out." So I got together with "Sir" Jeffrey Conner (of Spiff), and he helped me out with the publicity and things. The last month before the festival, we had bands canceling and stuff and we went through panic mode. So I said that next year let's not do the panic thing. We had 11 bands on two floors at the Southgate House, and it went over a lot better than I had ever thought it would. It was very successful. I was just running around screaming — in a good way. I just couldn't believe the support people showed.

CB: What made you decide to make it this big this year?

JS: The bands really made it this big this year. I wanted to make it twice as big, so I said, "OK, 20 bands. That sounds like a lot. That'll be cool" (laughs). So I just started taking submissions and started randomly posting on gogirlsmusic.com and womenwhorock.com. You know, I thought maybe I'll get a couple of bands from out of town to come play, and it turned into 132 submissions!

CB: Why do you think people responded in such a large way this year?

JS: I firmly believe this, and I've stated it many times, but it's a "theme show." People want to come and see something. Until your band is notable, you have to do something to get people to see you in the first place. "Oh, my band's name is Poo Poo Mamas, and we're going to be playing" — that's not going to get people out. Chicks RockFest is saying, "This is what the show is: The show is about females that are involved with the bands." It's not a novelty. It's not even something that hasn't been done before, like Lillith Fair. Well, this ain't your mama's Lillith Fair (laughs). You're going to get a lot of my taste in what is performed, and if you don't like my taste, I guess you won't like the show. What's better than putting a hot chick up there who says, "Hey, come watch me. I sing. I play guitar." There's something very appealing about that that can't always be explained. Ultimately, it's all about havin' a good time.



THE CHICKS ROCKFEST features 30 local and national acts Friday and Saturday at BarrelHouse and The Cavern in Over-the-Rhine. Admission is $8 for one night, $15 for both nights. More information, including the band lineup, can be found at chicksrockfest.com. See What R U Listening 2?, for what Schmidt is currently rocking out to.