Local Nonprofit Hosts Second All-Female Music Festival – UPDATED

WASHINGTON –  With guitars in hand, ProjectHERA fought against gender disparity in the music industry by hosting their second all female-fronted music festival this past Sunday.

ProjectHERA is a non-profit organization that supports women in music in the DMV area. Cathy DiToro, a veteran D.C. musician, founded the group as a means to create music festivals and events that showcase female musicians.

“The ultimate goal is to connect other female musicians, empower them and be a resource for the next generation,” DiToro said. “We’re trying to shift the scene from it being such a male-dominated industry.”

The event on Sunday, named Clare Fest, featured six female musical groups from the DMV area at Clare and Don’s Beach Shack. Local vendors also attended the event to showcase their art, sell jewelry and partake in giveaways. All donations from the event went back to ProjectHERA in their mission to empower female musicians.


Clare and Don’s aquatic-themed Beach Shake Shack


DiToro began ProjectHERA after two years of hosting her own “Lady’s Nights” at a local bar. After realizing she had several resources for women in the music industry, DiToro set out to connect all her female colleagues in a way that showcased their music to other local musicians as well as listeners. DiToro thought the best way to connect these women was through a female-fronted festival. In order to take donations and fundraise money, DiToro created the nonprofit soon thereafter.

“Besides festivals, [ProjectHERA] works toward putting on workshops for younger girls on anything from performing, starting your first band or being a woman in a male industry,” DiToro said. “We also have an instrument donation program where people will donate music lessons, so if we come across underprivileged girls who want to play music but don’t have access to instruments, we can help them out too.”

The nonprofit hosts monthly events where women in music can get together and talk about their experiences, knowledge and support. These events also double as networking events for new women musicians in the scene.

“It’s just really empowering to share stories and tips and to connect with the other women and realize that we’re not alone,” DiToro said. “There are things we can do to help each other, whether it’s setting up shows together, going to each-others shows or just venting to each other. It’s just really encouraging to have that type of support group.”

The nonprofit hosted their first festival, the HERA Music Festival, last July. The event was the DMV area’s first ever female-fronted festival and showcased 13 local bands. The event allowed women in bands to perform on proper stages with legitimate lighting, stage managers and sound designers.

One of the July festival performers, Sara Curtin, believes the event is a great start to ending the disparity. Curtin is a successful singer-songwriter from the DMV area.

“It’s great, [the HERA Festival] is the dream. There have been so few all-women or women identifying festivals in and around D.C. so it’s just nice that there is more happening,” Curtin said. “It’s pretty exciting and as far as the culture and the vibe in D.C., I think it’s really encouraging to be an artist here because people make an effort to support each other and help each other.”

Nevertheless, the support from other women is not always enough. The biggest issue woman face in the industry, Curtain says,  is combating small acts of sexism that often get ignored.

“As a woman in music you get a lot of off-handed comments and sexist remarks, even small ones. For example, I’ll tell people I’m in a band and they say ‘oh, you’re the singer, right?’” Curtin said. “Not to discourage singers, I am a singer and proud to say so, but I also record and write music and play guitar. To think I’m just the singer is complete ignorance about the role women play in music.”

Curtin also works to empower women in the music industry through her new record label, Local Woman Records. Curtin created the label almost a year ago when her female colleague, an upcoming musician, wanted to record an album but did not have the resources to do so.

“I wanted to be there in support in getting the music out, so it seemed like a good time to start a label and work on behalf of artists that I really admire and really respect,” Curtin said. “I started this label not with a clear vision for the future, but with conversations with artists about what they might need and help that I can give to them for their specific releases.”

As for the future, Ditoro says there are several ways people in the industry can help lessen the disparity. For instance, encouraging women to pursue music, supporting women in music and attending local shows are all things people in the community can do to help.

“It’s a mindset, I think it starts with a couple people and hopefully the ripple effect takes over and it spreads from there,” said DiToro. “Just being a supportive community member, coming to events, spreading the word and trying to change the norm as issues arise – that’s really the best thing a community member can do.”

Though the disparity is still evident in the music industry today, Curtin is hopeful as she looks towards the future.

“I love festivals that put women in the front, but also I wish that there were just more effort being put into showcasing an even representation of people on stage without having to call it a ‘woman’s night,’” Curtin said. “But that’s okay, we’re getting there one step at a time.”




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