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  • Writer's pictureCVZ

Sweet Juice Fest creators talk community and the future of equitable spaces in the Philly DIY scene

Shona Carr, Sug Daniels, Katie Hackett, and Melina Harris. Photos by Paige Walter.

The spirit of DIY is alive in Philadelphia. In the music scene especially, artists prove time and time again that if you want to perform for a live audience, host an event, or organize a market there is room to do so here. Sweet Juice Festival, a multimedia arts festival happening July 31st at Rigby Mansion in Germantown, is a prime example of that expressive freedom. It began as, and still remains, an opportunity for friends to play music together, and grew into a festival supported by visual artists, wholesome catering, and even tarot readings. Four songwriters, Sug Daniels, Katie Hackett, Melina Harris, and Shona Carr met me in my home for an enthusiastic conversation about the festival that naturally evolved, as conversations with thoughtful and gracious leaders do, into a chat about equitable representation, business strategy, and the benefits of non-transactional relationship building. Specifically, we began by discussing Twitter…

Sug Daniels: I love following you [Katie] on Twitter, pushing buttons and shit.

Katie Hackett: *Bleep bloops.* I sometime will post videos of me putting things through petals, and little buttons–

SD: It’s so fun! Let me in there. Sounds like a video game.

KH: Twitter’s like my online diary, if diary entries were a sentence long, and then videos of music and stuff.

SD: Twitter is my favorite social media because all of the radio DJs are on there, lots of blogs and magazines. If you're on social media to market yourself and work with people, to me it's Twitter hands down. That’s how I got linked up with The Black Opry.

KH: I’ve gotten shows through Twitter. People are like, ‘Anyone wanna hop on this show?’ And I’m like, ‘Me! I wanna do it.’

SD: I feel like news breaks first on Twitter.

Daniels will perform with The Black Opry in September at XPoNential Music Festival; it’s her second year in a row playing WXPN’s annual festival, last time was with her band Hoochi Coochi.

Sug Daniels

CVZ: All four of you are the songwriters of your own projects, but also have a hand in producing your own music as well. Are you able to do that from home?

SD: When I can, yeah. That was the whole Franklin Street EP. I just had access to do the shit, so I was like, I'll do it.

Shona Carr: That’s pretty much what I did during Covid [record from home]. I didn’t release anything; I still might.


SC: I have a little graveyard of songs on my computer. I wanna get better at it though.

KH: It feels like once you get past that [a learning barrier], then you’re like oh yeah, everything else just makes so much sense.

SD: There's little plateaus to it. I got to a good place, and then had a mind explosion and was like, ‘Oh, there's still so much I don't know,’ I’m starting to learn again and get comfortable with that, and now I’m about to go back into it and be like, ‘Ok, what’s the next thing.’

Melina Harris: I really just use GarageBand as a song recorder, like recording a song so that I remember it. But I would never make anything that would be functional as a demo, but I have been thinking a lot about that and who owns the music production kind of thing, so often men are in that position of power. It is so rare that someone other than a cis dude has the equipment. When Personal Trainer [Harris’ indie rock band] was making a record, we wanted to exclusively work with women and nonbinary people but, then we were like, ‘We don’t have that much money, and like there’s all these men around who just want to do us favors,’ And I was kinda like, ‘Well, I guess I should use their free labor.’ It’s this confusing conversation.

KH: They all dominate the industry, like 98% of producers in this country are men. Pretty much every experience, maybe except one, that I’ve recorded in a studio it’s all been with men. And they sometimes don’t respect my vision, and that just really gets to me. And it’s not that I want or need control over everything, but when every idea is shot down or the autopilot thought is that you don’t know what you’re doing because you’re a woman, or not a cis dude, it squashes the creativity.

SD: Like, they think it's your first time and shit.

Everyone: YEAH!

SD: Like, I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old, and I'll still get in the studio sometimes and men will tell me–I'll be like, ‘listen bro, I know about microphone etiquette.’ But I think when I first got into recording Franklin Street, you [Katie] were somebody I would hit up when I had some questions. I knew you do your own music, so I was like, ‘let me reach out.’ It's also nice to feel comfortable, you just feel more comfortable asking non-dudes or talking to them.

“Non-dude” became the preferred term for anyone without toxic masculine traits. And there are none of them involved in the organization or performances of this festival.

MH: I don’t know if this was intentional, like we’re not going to include men on this, as much as it was really organic. We’re all friends, we really like each other, and because of those gender politics we trust each other and want to create this thing. Everyone is so actively invested, and it's coming not from a place of expectation and rule setting, but everyone naturally contributing ideas and wanting to do it. It felt really easy.

SD: I moved to Philadelphia to play shows and festivals like this, exactly what we’re doing.

SD: I feel so lucky; I have goosebumps. I’m part of a community of musicians and women-focused, not even specifically, but it kind of worked out.

Shona Carr, Melina Harris, Katie Hackett, and Sug Daniels

CVZ: How did the idea for the festival come to you? I heard it might have something to do with the two shows, one CVZ presents at The Dolphin and the other down the street at the Pharmacy, that both happened on the same night last March?

The date was March 31, and Justmadnice, Sug Daniels, and Emospacebird were playing at The Dolphin, and The Lunar Year, Reese Florence, and Popcorn Daddy were all playing at the Pharmacy. All six bands make up the lineup for Sweet Juice Festival.

KH: Yeah, I think we were over by the food table at the Pharmacy like, ‘this feels like a festival.’ I felt like the lightbulb go off in all of our brains. A couple weeks later I was driving with Alex [of Justmadnice] and I said, ‘I feel like we should combine those bills, and do this big thing.’ We were all down to participate in some way, and it was a miracle that everyone was free that day.

SD: You just hit me up and were like, ‘You wanna play a festival?’ And I was like, ‘YES! I’ll do anything with you.’

KH: It was magic. Six musicians… that’s a lot of schedules to work with. Especially in the middle of the summer.

CVZ: Mel and Shona, that was your first gig as Popcorn Daddy, right?

SC: Yeah, we just played a few songs.

KH: They’re so good. That ‘I Don’t Wanna Have a Baby’ song, it gets stuck in my head. I’ll be at my nanny job singing “I don’t wanna have a babyyyy.”

SD: It’s true! It resonates! It’s such a good song!

SC: I’m from a folk background, like old time folk. And I was just musing on the idea like, ‘I don’t want to have a baby, I’d rather get a puppy.’And then Melina wrote out all the lyrics and then we had that song, one of my old songs, one of her old songs. And people seem to really like it. It’s funny because my nanny family wants to come [to the festival] and we’re going to play that song [“I Don’t Wanna Have a Baby”]. And I’ll be like, ‘Hey, Amy, when I say I don’t want to change a stinky poop diaper, it’s not Alice’s.’

We all felt how topical the conversation was, with Roe v. Wade recently overturned.

Popcorn Daddy, Shona Carr and Melina Harris

CVZ: Tell me more about the vendors and visual artists coming to the festival.

SD: I think it was Alex who was like, ‘Maybe we should have vendors.’

SC: We wanted it to be an experience. We wanted people to come and feel a certain type of way, have food and water and coffee. Alex put the call out for vendors.

SD: And it wasn't even 24 hours, and they were like, “Done” and I was like, ‘Damn.’

KH: So many people responded that we had to cut it off after a few hours. It's going to be very cool. There's a person who does tie dye stuff and a few painters.

SC: We were talking about doing some sort of art for the audience to participate in. One of the ideas was putting paper on a string, or a paint set up so people could add to it. Just tapping into this live creative energy.

MH: We can bring everyone into the idea that we all have that creative power, there’s so many different ways to express it. We thought about how to break down the audience/performer binary or boundary, and how it expresses in very structural, literal ways. We want to rethink how stages are set up or spaces are used. I feel like when you add these opportunities to invite other people to feel like they're actually participating instead of just spectating, that's how you create that actual community feeling. The feeling is going to go beyond this one event, and people aren't just paying to see us, but it's an exchange of energy to keep working on your own art.

KH: It’s all connected, the multiple types of art. The festival isn't just about music, but embracing the spirit of art itself, and bringing it into everything.

CVZ: Another aspect of participation is the clothing swap you’re organizing for the fest.

SD: It does provide the unique opportunity to have these different and random conversations.

SC: If you’re cold, you can just go and take a jacket, or if you’re hot and you want to get rid of your jacket…

KH: A lot of this whole day was like, what would we really enjoy? What kind of thing would we live to have, and I’d love to have a clothing swap.

SD: I have some performance clothes that I've been photographed in a number of times and I’m like, ‘Ok, these gotta go.’

SC: Or like, I had a breakup in this, or I cried really hard on the way home from the breakup in this.

The discussion after this led to a brainstorm about where the clothes that weren’t claimed by the end of the festival would end up. It was decided they’d be donated in part to a women’s shelter and also upcycling thrift stores.

CVZ: What do you all have coming in the future? Alex of Justmadnice is playing Philly Music Fest in October.

SC: I'll have a record out by next spring; I’m saying it now. I write and produce my own stuff and play a lot of instruments.

KH: I have a single that’s coming out at the end of August, and then The Key Studio Session on July 26th. And then I have an August tour. I'm going to a couple of places in New York. I think we're going to the Catskills too, and then Burlington. It's just a little east coast thing.

SD: I like how you’re like, ‘Just a little east coast thing, a killer tour, just a little something.’

KH: Vermont’s one of my favorite places ever; it's so beautiful

Katie Hackett of The Lunar Year

CVZ: You all have the best intentions with this festival.

SC: The more good people you get, whatever gender you are, the more reverberates, and brings more people in. And you are sort of synced. I feel like even though I just moved here, I feel lucky to have been embraced, and I feel so safe, everyone here has my back. It's just love and trust and being good people, you naturally filter out the bad.

SD: I think in the arts community we’ve figured out, and definitely in the queer community we figured out, that community is the thing that keeps us strong and keeps us together. You can’t do it by yourself. You need someone looking out for you; you need someone who’s gonna have your back whether they know you or not. If I see you around the scene, know I see you, if you need help I'm here for you. So I think that's why this is working so well, because we know that. We know that collaboration is the key. That's the thing that makes it not so much like, ‘how's this band getting paid?’ It makes me want to be a part of it. The money is gonna come.

SC: Doing it for the love of it doesn't mean that you don't want to get paid, it just means your intention behind it is pure. It’s not like I’m trying to social climb, or I want this or I want that. If you really have pure intentions it actually ends up being more monetarily successful a lot of the time.

SD: You’re putting in your all.

MH: I was singing our song, that folk tune we’re learning for the show, at like 8 in the morning waiting for the trolley. And this guy came out of nowhere like, ‘Oh my god, were you singing? I love that. I make music.’ And he was so sweet and so kind and he's coming to our show and he's bringing his kids.

SC: There’s a glow, a love energy around those things when it’s not for shitty assholes or clout. Making money is not a bad thing.

SD: You gotta make it. All I want to do is make music, so I have to charge for it.

SC: It’s an exchange.

SD: That’s why having a manager has been so important, someone to deal with the money. It’s like having one person to talk to instead of having ten. It’s absolutely changed the game for me, it's been really nice.

Melina, Sug, Katie, and Shona

CVZ: I’d love to see you strum with an old spoon at Sweet Juice, Katie…

KH: Oh yeah, metal on the strings gives that good distortion.

SD: I’ve seen you play a bell, I’ve seen you play piano but it’s a phone ringing. I never know what the fuck you’re gonna do, but I always enjoy it.

KH: I spend way too much time in my office just stoned like, ‘Ok, now I’m going to play this fucking crystal.’

SC: Years ago I got all these leaves to crunch on this track.

KH: There’s a fundamental belief I have that everything is music. Us talking is music, the wind blowing is music, so silverware is music. Drums are just like your insides but on your outside. It’s like the beat of your heart. That's where it all comes from, that’s what grounds you. Anything can be music, everything is music.

Buy your tickets to Sweet Juice Fest online now here.

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