It’s hard to trace how X*Fest got its name.
“It’s just funny because when I was organizing this, I didn’t have an idea for a festival in mind. I was just thinking about a weekend of shows that would be fun. Then I started making the event pages [on Facebook], and I realized, I can’t just call it nothing. I can’t just host it under my name and call it nothing. I can’t just take the full credit for it, even though I organized it all,” Calla DM says with a smile. The festival took place this past September in downtown Peterborough.
DM is a Trent University Cultural Studies and Philosophy undergraduate student. She performs with the band Perkolator, as well as her own personal projects. Having been in Peterborough for five years, she joins the growing number of music festivals in the area by organizing X*Fest. She started organizing in May 2017.
“It takes a lot of organization and planning, and lots of talking and following up with bands and sponsors,” she says with a knowing laugh. “But it was also fun.”
The statement lining each Facebook event page reads, “The goal of X*Fest is to promote creativity, diversity, representation, accessibility, and inspiration to the broader community of Peterborough.” Inclusive fun is the theme of the festival, and for DM, safety and fun go hand in hand.
“Just being a woman in the scene, the main thing is just constantly being aware of the fact that something bad could happen at any moment. Maybe you feel really uncomfortable with a certain person who’s there, and no one’s doing anything about it,” she notes. “I think there’s more of an awareness by allies to fix that, especially at the Spill.”
The Spill is an independent coffee bar – yes, that means coffee, tea, and alcohol – at 414 George street North. Its Facebook page defines the café as “a local pirate ship of art & culture, with worldwide connections, focusing on originality.” It was also X*fest’s sole venue.
“I chose the Spill because it’s such a welcoming space. [Owner and barkeep] Dave Tobey is a wonderful person and promotes local people doing whatever they do,” says DM. “He gives me the tools, and I think he does that for everyone else. He makes people feel safe, and so do the rest of the staff. He told me he’s just there to help me make it happen. The Spill is just a good place, and it always has been.”
“I noticed I was hyper-vigilant about whether the space was safe for people. I’ve had experiences as a woman going to shows of being unsafe,” she continues. As an avid show-goer and musician herself, she says, “Making a good environment for people is what I was focused on.”
However, Calla DM makes clear that this is not just an issue in the music scene.
“Recently there was a group of guys I was walking past after going to the grocery store at 8 PM, and they screamed in my face, like, very violently. I was like, “What the fuck? What are you doing?!” and they just laughed it off and walked away from me. Some people stopped and took me home, and they told me that there’s people targeting and harassing Asian – or Asian-looking – women in Peterborough; they’ve been walking the trails and stuff,” she recounts earnestly. “The town is 97% white population, and there’s lots of issues with that. Like, for example, there’s a white supremacist rally that’s been OK’d by the city. That’s ridiculous.” [Editor’s note: this interview occurred before the city denied the rally’s permit, citing late paperwork.]
DM hasn’t only had bad experiences at music festivals, though. When asked about some of her favourite festivals, attended or not, she lights up immediately.
“The first thing that comes to mind is Not Dead Yet [festival], in Toronto. It’s a hardcore music festival. That’s the kind of organizing I’m really inspired by,” she says. “They’re really tight on times, they don’t take any shit from people, you get kicked out if you’re being an asshole. That’s the kind of culture it is. It’s very like, “Nope. No tolerance. Sorry, not sorry.””
Another key factor for DM was payment. You find neither bullshit nor starved artists at X*Fest.
“I feel like there’s been a lot of drama with other festivals, like bad organization, or not paying people right. I wanted to be make it right,” she states firmly. “I wanted to promote a boost of creativity in the community, focused on youth, women, and people of colour… Just, really good people. And paying them well.”
With the hefty goal of promoting “creativity, diversity, representation, accessibility, and inspiration to the broader community of Peterborough,” will DM be returning to the organizing position again soon?
“I’d like to do it again sometime,” she hints. “Maybe in the spring, I’d do something fun.”