The Fun is About to Begin Once Again As Women’s Weekend in Sonoma Gets A Makeover
It’s a reboot for the women’s weekend at the Russian River in Guerneville this fall with headlining acts and excursions among the vines in Sonoma’s wine country at Women’s Weekend 2.0.
The revived women’s weekend in California’s wine country is re-launching as September 12-14 in a way that is reminiscent of its storied past when women flocked to the Russian River in Sonoma County in the fall and the spring, says Carmen McKay, the original producer of the former Russian River Women’s Weekend.
Carmen, a 55-year-old lesbian comedian and 30-year veteran producer of women’s events, decided to revive the once popular women’s weekend that she launched in the late-1980s, which has waned in attendance after she handed it over to the community, she says.
The San Diego-based Carmen has recently been touring with her successful one-woman show, Elvis’ Secret Dyke Daughter. She also promotes her women’s vacations and popular women’s dance parties that attract upward of 400 women monthly in San Diego and that are expanding to Los Angeles through She She, her production company.
“This is a completely different and new festival,” says Carmen, describing a beautiful and classy event with quality entertainment. “This is something that I think is really needed in our community.”
“Where do [women] go to have a really extraordinary fun and classy weekend?” asked Carmen, wondering how lesbians, particularly those who have hit their mid-30s and beyond, can meet other women like themselves and be proud of whom they are. “It’s really, really needed. There is a great demand out there and I think that we are filling it.”
For the first time in more than a decade, women will head to the Russian River to enjoy a stellar line up of entertainment. Beverly “Bev” McClellan, one of the lesbian favorites from NBC’s The Voice, is headlining the weekend along with NBC’s X Factor Lorie Moore and blues and jazz musicians. They will be joined by comedians Julie Goldman and Suzanne Westenhoefer and DJs, such as DJ Rockaway, at the River Theater (16135 Main Street; 707-869-8022) in Guerneville and the outdoor Monte Rio Amphitheater in Monte Rio, California.
The weekend, themed “Practice random acts of kindness,” also features fun excursions from golf to wine tasting.
There will be prizes for guests and 10 percent of the weekend’s proceeds will be donated to animal rescue organizations, says Carmen.
Women’s Weekend 2.0’s Associate Producer Dale Jenkins is excited to see the comedy and musical performances as well as the audiences’ response from behind the stage.
“More than anything, I want to watch the women out in the audience as they are talking to each other, getting to know each other like we used to do,” says Jenkins, a 51-year-old lesbian resident of Sonoma who was once a regular attendee of the former Russian River Women’s Weekend in its heyday.
The entertainers are excited to perform at the women’s weekend in California’s wine country.
This will be Bev and Julie’s first time in Sonoma.
Bev plans to not only rock the socks off of the up to 1,200 women estimated to attend the weekend, according to Carmen, but to also enjoy the entire weekend hanging out with attendees.
“It’s going to be fun,” says Bev, who is about to release her latest album, Roots, before the end of this year. “I just hope they have a great time with me because I’m going to bring my ‘A Game.’”
Lorie will also announce the release of her latest album during Women’s Weekend 2.0.
The all-girl weekend was one of the first women’s events Suzanne performed at the beginning of her career and she has great memories. She’s looking forward to returning after more than two decades, she says.
“Guerneville and that whole area is ridiculously beautiful. You want to go up there. It’s beautiful,” says Suzanne from her home in Los Angeles.
At Women’s Weekend 2.0, she promises to be as funny as possible, she says.
“I’m excited. I’ve heard that the Russian River is gorgeous,” says Julie, who hopes to explore the area and do some wine tasting in between her performance.
Carmen and her business partner and girlfriend, Annie Albright, are taking back the former women’s weekend along with their team to revive it to its glory days when an estimated 6,000 women enjoyed years of great entertainment and fun in the sun along the Russian River in Guerneville during the fall and spring.
“It was more about reinventing, back to music and comedy, more like what we had years ago. We did more than just drink and dance, we got to know each other. We had a chance to bond … an event that can create those kind of connections is what appeals to me and that’s what Carmen is doing,” says Dale.
The legendary weekends started in 1986 as a fluke, when Carmen brought the women to the popular gay resort town after a fire broke out and surrounded the former West Coast Women’s Music Comedy Festival in Yosemite. The funny girl donned a Wonder Woman costume she had with her and rounded up an estimated 3,000 women on her motorcycle and led them off the mountain. About 600 disappointed festival goers followed Carmen all the way to the popular gay resort town Guerneville to the now defunct Atlantis Resort.
The women took the town by surprise and had a great time. They had such a good time that Carmen was tapped by The Woods Resort and its then-business partner, Fifes Resort, to produce its May Day weekend for women. The event started in 1982 was small, but Carmen turned it into a premiere women’s weekend with top notch entertainment.
That same year she was the assistant producer of the March on Washington, she says.
The women’s getaway to wine country exploded with thousands of women heading up to the Russian River twice a year.
In the 1990s, Carmen turned the popular lesbian getaway over to the local community, but the event lost its luster during the past 15 years dwindling to only the spring event attracting only an estimated 300 women two years ago.
Carmen along with her team believe that they will be able to resuscitate the women’s weekend by offering a variety of entertainment spanning interests for party going 20- and 30-somethings to a diversity events that are of interest to the 35 and up crowd.
Good Times Again
She’s driven by the need to create spaces for queer women and their friends to come together, be themselves, and have fun.
“It’s just going to be a really festive, celebratory kind of atmosphere…to just really, really have a great time,” where people connect, dance, laugh and play, says Carmen.
Save the date! Women’s Weekend 2.0 returns to Sonoma May 15 – 17, 2015.