Music Makes You Think | Wila Fest: Why Costa Rica’s First All-Female Music Festival Could Be a Lesson for Every Music Festival
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Artwork by Mariela Montoya Sandoval
Mar 01 2024

Wila Fest: Why Costa Rica’s First All-Female Music Festival Could Be a Lesson for Every Music Festival

Male artists account for nearly three-quarters of all festival performers. It’s a global statistic that has prompted some countries to enact changes. In 2019, Argentina passed a law mandating any musical event (with three or more acts) include 30% female artists in their lineup. And, last year, Costa Rica introduced its first all-female concert, Wila Fest. The original idea was to have Wila Fest stand apart from its older sibling, Rock Fest. This year, however, Wila Fest is being reimagined as a unifying festival within a festival.

Ernesto Adduci remembers growing up in the 1970s. In his hometown of San José, Costa Rica, the radio airwaves were largely dominated by merengue, salsa and reggaeton. These were the sounds of his people but Adduci was drawn to rock music. Not knowing how to play an instrument, he dreamed of ways to unite like-minded fans with rock musicians. So, at the age of 24, Adduci organized Rock Fest; a first-of-its-kind concert event, entirely comprised of Costa Rican artists.

 

Rock Fest’s initial year was modest. Between 100-200 fans showed up. Hungry for greater unification, Adduci added other genres and invited more female artists to perform, like Valeria Atkeys’ band, Nou Red. By 2022, Rock Fest’s attendance soared to 10,000 (an impressive turnout for a country with 5.1 million people). After the festival, Atkeys approached Adduci and challenged him, “All this energy you have for Rock Fest. You should do a concert for women.”

 

“Okay,” he replied flatly. “Let’s talk.”

 

Valeria Atkeys and Ernesto Adduci at Wila Fest 2023 (Photo provided by Rock Fest)

Valeria Atkeys and Ernesto Adduci at Wila Fest 2023 (Photo provided by Rock Fest)

 

The following year, Adduci and Atkeys co-produced Wila Fest. Using profits from Rock Fest, they went all in on building brand awareness. From billboards to news segments to morning talk shows to commercials. Adduci attests that the entire country knew about the event. More than 30 acts were scheduled. In the end, Wila Fest 2023 sold about 2500 tickets which was more than Rock Fest’s first year, but not successful enough to justify a repeat event at the Parque Viva amphitheater (capacity 16,000).

 

“It wasn’t easy,” Atkeys confesses with a tinge of disappointment in her voice. “It wasn’t easy because of the numbers. We used the same venue as Rock Fest and had fewer attendees.”

 

“The reason we used the same venue,” Adduci explains, “is that we wanted to give exactly the same resources as we gave everyone else. We wanted to give the best that we could. My goal was for girls 10, 11 and 12 years old to see a woman perform on a large stage and say to themselves, ‘I can become that person.’ And that did happen. Girls were able to see that.” (Note: Wila in Spanish means “little girl”).

 

Atkeys adds solemnly, “At first, I was surprised that the community of female musicians in Costa Rica weren’t ready to work together. I came to realize that for female artists and all-female bands, the door has never been opened for them. It’s as if they spent years competing against one another behind that closed door. This is not the same experience as a band with a front woman and backing male musicians or a mostly male band with a female musician. They have more open doors.”

 

To better understand how to help transform the psyche of her fellow Costa Rican ticas, Atkeys traveled to Panama for MIM LATAM (Mujeres en la Industria Musical Latinoamericana). At the convention, she met female musicians from Mexico, Colombia, Chile and other Latin American countries.

 

Atkeys recalls, “In Mexico, for example, the community of women is very big, very strong. They’ve learned how to work together because they’ve been fighting for these rights for many years. And, they have the population to do it. Costa Rica is about 4% of the population of Mexico. So, as I see it, the best idea for Wila Fest, moving forward, is to bring ladies from Mexico and other Central American countries to Costa Rica and have them play together.”

 

At the time of our first interview, it’s late July 2023. Atkeys has just received a first round nomination for a Latin GRAMMY. To build awareness, she’s traveled to Chicago and is staying with Adduci, his wife and son in a guest bedroom on the city’s north side. Lollapalooza (with 24% female representation) is just a few days away so all the city’s smaller venues are booked with after shows. Atkeys shapes her spiky hair and adds sparkles to her cheeks.

 

Valeria Atkeys. (Photo provided by Rock Fest)

Valeria Atkeys. (Photo provided by Rock Fest)

 

“We’re ready for you,” Adduci politely interrupts our interview. Guests from the private event he and his wife coordinated eagerly await her acoustic performance.

 

Before exiting this unique backstage area, Atkeys smiles hopefully, “I would love for Wila Fest to be a path and a platform for women. I would like to have workshops to help women work with other women eventually. But first, concerts.”

 

Fast forward to 2024:

 

Rock Fest will be celebrating its 27th year on April 20th; a date officially recognized by the Costa Rican government as National Rock Day. As in past years, Rock Fest will only feature Costa Rican artists, including female and female-fronted acts. Meanwhile, Wila Fest is making a comeback with a different vision in mind. With Atkeys as head producer, Wila Fest will take place within Rock Fest.

 

Photo by Israel Solís

Valeria Atkeys (Photo by Israel Solís)

 

“I will not be performing a set,” Atkeys Zooms from a desk in Costa Rica. “I think it’s important that the artists know I do this out of love. I need to give them all I can that day, as a producer, so everything works out. I’ve been asked to guest perform with other bands at Rock Fest. If it’s one song, that’s okay. We’ll see what happens.”

 

“So, let’s talk about what will be different this year,” I prompt Atkeys.

 

Atkeys’ eyes begin to sparkle with enthusiasm as she reflects on how her excursions and connections from last year are informing this year’s plans. She explains, “The majority of artists at Wila Fest are Costa Rican but we also have artists I met last year from Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. These artists are references for our artists. Last year seemed competitive. Now, it’s different. I see a lot of collaboration. Musicians want to play together.”

 

When asked how many musicians within a band have to identify as female in order to play at Wila Fest, Atkeys interjects, “I’m actually trying to mix our stage with male bands. Why? Because I want male bands to feel honored to play on Wila’s stage. Right before this call, I was talking about the need to build community between males and females. We know from last year that there aren’t enough fans to support an all-female concert. And, at this moment, there’s an even smaller fan base to support a music festival for LGBTQ artists.”

 

Atkeys adjusts herself in her seat as she settles into a strong, visionary mindset, “While we mostly support women, mixing audiences is better for Wila Fest. We welcome male audiences. We welcome female audiences. We welcome people who identify as LGBTQ. We welcome fans from Mexico and Colombia and Guatemala. We welcome all audiences.”

 

Artwork by Mariela Montoya Sandoval

Artwork by Mariela Montoya Sandoval

 

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Julie Simmons
jsimmonstrapp@gmail.com

Julie Simmons is an American music journalist and creator of Music Makes You Think. She's written for numerous national publications, including: Chicago Tribune, UTNE Reader, Paste, Harp, Reverb, DRUM! and Tom-Tom magazine. Throughout her music writing career, she's interviewed hundreds of musicians and industry leaders including Josh Dun (twenty one pilots), Peter Gabriel, Suzanne Vega, Neyla Pekarek (f. The Lumineers), M Ward (She & Him), and Jeff Bridges (Academy Award Winning actor / singer). Simmons was named an Industry Icon by Hit Like a Girl for interviewing female drummers. Her music career started at the University of Notre Dame, where she organized and hosted concerts for Tracy Chapman, The Indigo Girls, Gin Blossoms, Blues Travelers, They Might Be Giants and others. Also at Notre Dame, Simmons took graduate level writing courses and was invited to stand in for Pulitzer Prize Winner, Edward Albee, at the university's 26th annual Sophomore Literary Festival. She also spent weekends deejaying global music at WSND-FM and weekdays conducting research to understand the difference between musicians' and nonmusicians' cognitive reliance on timbre. The study was published in the University of California Berkeley's "Music Perception Journal." After graduation and in the midst of a successful advertising career, Simmons began moonlighting as a music journalist. After undergoing an 11-hour surgery for a full spinal fusion, she launched Music Makes You Think (MMYT) and took up the drums. To date, the MMYT's Facebook group has posted more than 2,000 non-recurring questions about music and has turned the daily questions into a conversation card game. Recently, she was invited to be a guest on the music podcast, Campfire Songs.

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