Women of Wakarusa

Concert festival dominated by females behind the scenes

Media coordinator Heather Lofflin is securing passes for a reporter from Japan.

Finance manager Christina Meir is auditing ticket sales.

Vendor coordinator Madina Salaty is debating whether to let a retailer set up a booth to hawk a product that enables women to use the bathroom standing up.

Artist relations director Amanda Haase is diving through a Dumpster.

“We have an artists lounge with games, a pool table, pinball, hammocks, a massage booth,” Haase explains. “I’m getting ready to go crawl through a Dumpster behind Bud Jennings to dig out carpet pieces for the artists lounge. That will be fun.”

The organizers and staff of the four-day Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival are handling details – both mundane and colorful – prior to Thursday’s opening. While the jobs are often dissimilar from one another, one common trait is shared among the personnel: a majority of them are female.

“Women are the brains; men are the brawn,” Haase jokes about the Wakarusa crew.

Only recently did the festival’s gender dominion become a topic of conversation. Lofflin took notice prior to a meeting with Wakarusa founder/co-organizer Brett Mosiman.

“We all ended up in Brett’s office at the same time, waiting for each of us to ask him a question,” Lofflin recalls. “I sat there and looked around the room and thought, ‘Boy, he’s outnumbered!'”

Mosiman, owner of The Bottleneck and Pipeline Productions, didn’t take note of the numbers until his wife, Brianna (who’s also working as a finance manager at Wakarusa), mentioned she was going to take part in the photo session for this article. Many of these women are longtime employees of his music-related businesses.

Women who work behind the scenes at the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival include, from left, Nicki Geist, Heather Lofflin, Dana Wingerd, Amanda Haase, Liz Padilla, Christina Meir, Madina Salaty, Brianna Mosiman and Julie Ibach.

“I’ve never thought that I was biased one way or another,” Mosiman says. “But it’s true. We have an enormous amount of ladies in management positions. I started reeling off the names, and there are probably 20 or 30 gals who are managers out there.”

New demands

Now in its third year, Wakarusa has expanded from four stages to seven, and up from 70 acts to a titanic 150. The event is prepared to handle 15,000 patrons each day.

With exponentially higher stakes, so too are the pressures on the staff.

Mosiman says, “There are a lot of demanding jobs out there over a four-day time. Box office is one of the worst. The vendor one is a tough job, because you’re managing like 100 businesses at once.”

Vendors coordinator Salaty notes, “I think being patient with people is a definite plus, and women tend to be more patient.”

Still, it’s a matter of debate whether being a woman is an advantage in a traditionally male-controlled industry.

(By comparison, look at the tiny percentage of female artists who are performing at Wakarusa, without even factoring in the gender of their managers, crew and record labels. Only the publicity wing of the music world appears to be estrogen-abundant.)

When media coordinator Lofflin took over the job at the 2005 Wakarusa, she assumed her sex might provide her with an advantage … or at least a defense.

“My first thought was, ‘Maybe it will keep people from yelling at me.’ That’s not the case. Last year I had plenty of people yell at me – the press and people like that. I don’t think we’re getting any special treatment by being women,” Lofflin says.

However, she believes the interpersonal relationship of the staff does have its benefits.

She says, “I’ve always worked in environments that were pretty evenly male and female until this experience. I don’t know if I can put my finger on what it is exactly, but it’s almost easier to work with so many women around. I suppose you could say that we speak the same language. We think on many levels at the same time, and when it comes to dealing with the outside world, we’re diplomatic, but can still stand our ground. And, honestly, being a mom helps me personally. I’m practiced at saying ‘no’ and meaning it, with a smile.”

Persistent and aggressive

Lofflin also seen the industry from the other side of the fence. She began playing bass in the early ’90s band Suckle. She went on to perform with the Lawrence groups Black Calvin, City Fathers and Honeybaby. Currently, she sings and plays guitar in Whiskey Boots, a “loud, distorted, angry and lovely” duo that includes drummer Amy Farrand.

“I’ve been a part of the music industry as a musician for quite some time, and one thing that can’t be denied is that it is a male-dominated game,” Lofflin says. “As women, we have to be twice as good in this business to be considered equal. We’ve had to learn how to be persistent and aggressive to be able to sit with the dogs on the porch.

“That being said, if you look around, Lawrence is a place where there are a lot of women already running the show, either as musicians or promoters. So it’s really not that hard to swallow that so many women would end up running this festival. In the end, we’re all just people who can get things done – that includes the men, as well.”