Lani Ramos' Rock & Rouge Women’s Festival
By AnaMaria Bech
Click aqui para español- >The Rock & Rouge Festival de mujeres creado por Lani Ramos
Opportunity. That is precisely what has been lacking in the world for women. The workplace can be tough terrain for women who often lack access to leadership positions and are denied fair pay. The situation can be even more complicated for self-employed women who work in male-dominated industries. Women have often been forced to find a solution to inclusion, and for creatives all around the world the answer has been creating their own spaces where they can showcase their talents and, hopefully, make a decent living out of it.
The music scene in New Orleans is no different. With so many talented artists, women continue to be underrepresented in festivals and music venues. Lani Ramos, a talented musician, producer, and lead singer of Big Pearl and the Fugitives of Funk, is no stranger to this reality. The California native has resided in New Orleans for almost two decades and has been an active performer in town. She has once again taken the role of producer to create The Rock & Rouge Women’s Music & Food Festival & Beyond, a woman-headlined music festival that will debut its second edition on March 21st, 2020, at Lafayette Square in downtown New Orleans.
After falling in love with New Orleans during a short birthday trip (during which she brazenly knocked on the door of music legend Fats Domino), Ramos knew she had found a special place with a character like no other. The day she decided to find Domino, she was armed with cookies made from her great-grandmother’s recipe, and that was what convinced the artist to open the door for her. The rare encounter left Ramos with a precious birthday gift and a story to tell for generations. She walked away having met a Rock ‘n’ Roll legend that was kind enough to give the young Californian tourist an autographed photo.
She returned to Los Angeles to try one last time at a breakthrough in the entertainment industry as an actress. Ramos continued to work in production for a big movie studio, but New Orleans kept calling her. In the summer of 2000, she moved to the city where she could live her dream of fully becoming the creative artist she is. “Moving to New Orleans was a dream come true because New Orleans let me be who I wanted to be from the inside out, without judgement, without scrutiny,” says Ramos.
Within a few weeks, Ramos was living her plan A dream as an artist, and to top it off, she also got to live her plan B of being a producer. Her first gig ever on Frenchmen Street was for the Music Maker Foundation where Ramos got to open for Earl King. She also got to record with the guitar player of British band The Alarm. The venues welcomed her energy, her mezzo soprano voice, and regularly booked Ramos for gigs on Frenchmen and Bourbon streets for many years.
After the events of September 11, 2001, Ramos went into full producer mode and worked with various musicians in New Orleans to create “In Loving Tribute, 9.11.01,” a compilation CD for first responders in New York City. Ramos traveled to the Big Apple to distribute the CD’s to fire and police stations. While in New York, she watched the play “Love Janis” and was inspired to create a dinner theatre style version of the show back in New Orleans. “I didn’t want to be her, I just wanted to sing her music, have fun, make some money.” People seem to remember Ramos mostly for that show. She used that platform to release her second album during the Janis Joplin Birthday Bash in Port Arthur, Texas in 2004. She performed her tribute to Janis and debuted her original music with Scoot Boogie Baby.
Playing Janis Joplin gave Ramos recognition, but it also created a stigma for her that was hard to break out of. Even when tribute shows became popular for other local artists long after she was done with her show, people didn’t seem to let go of the fact that Ramos performed Janis’s songs. When booking some of the big festivals in town, she was passed over many times. Although the reasons were unclear, it may have had to do with the fact that she had done the Janis show and Ramos’ original work was overlooked by festival producers.
That was just one of the many obstacles Ramos had to overcome in the music scene. Hurricane Katrina changed many things in the city, and the aftermath took its toll on Ramos as well. She stayed during the hurricane and has detailed stories of the days after the hurricane that could easily be made into a vivid movie. She left momentarily to San Francisco, where she booked some gigs before returning to New Orleans shortly thereafter to deal with a precarious housing situation, health issues related to black mold for which she became an advocate, and a city in recovery in the music industry as well.
Through resilience, she was able to regain her footing. Ramos continued to perform across town and recorded her third album “Big Pearl Double Faces” in 2012. Big Pearl and the Fugitives of Funk released “Live on Frenchmen Street” in 2014. This album was a live recording of their performance that included various influences and allowed New Orleans’ essence to come through with audience reactions, improvisation, and collaboration.
Ramos has kept busy and active, playing, recording, and even producing the Yeah You Right! television series. But Ramos recognizes the difficulties women in the industry face. She has been vocal about health issues and has lent her voice to speak against gender inequality in the industry. Just as she had to create opportunities for herself, it is important for Ramos to do the same for other female artists. After getting involved with the Women’s March a couple of years ago, she realized the need for a female-driven festival in the city of New Orleans. “In 2017 I was so fed up with the oppression in this town of the female artist. When the Women’s March came up, I wanted to join because we wanted to make statements.” Ramos created The Rock and Rouge Women’s Festival in 2018 with the intention of giving an opportunity to women-led bands and women-owned businesses to showcase their artistry through music, crafts and food.
The second edition of The Rock and Rouge festival takes place March 21st from 10am until 8pm in the CBD in Lafayette Square Park. “The Rock & Rouge is not a man-bashing event, but quite the contrary. It is instead inviting men to come see women as powerful role models and as equals in the playing field of male-dominated careers and as beautiful and educated women.” Launching the festival has allowed for the creation of the Rock & Rouge Foundation, which aims to support young women with a future in STEAM college courses and careers.
The Women Who Rock stage will include great artists like headliner Lena Prima, The Vettes, Lynn Drury, Big Pearl & The Fugitives of Funk, Muevelo, Shawn Williams, Sandra Love and the Reason, The Dirty Rain Revelers, and Sole Gaze.
Women will also feel inspired at The Women’s Empowerment Panels that will cover topics like local politics, business ownership, navigating the music industry, combating social and economic oppression, along with other diverse panelists and themes. The Rock & Rouge Foundation, in conjunction with the local Microsoft branch, will host the S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) Tent for girls, featuring interactive workshops in all these fields to inspire and educate the next generation of independent, creative women. Additional local organizations and individuals invested in educational programs, focusing on ages 8 – 14, will help cultivate these activities.
The festival is free to the public to enjoy great performances along with delicious food provided by women-owned restaurants. This year, the festival is offering the option to purchase reserved seating tickets that include a wonderfully prepared picnic from Carmo, spearheaded by Chefs Christina and Dana Honn.
Ramos’ vision is getting the support of organizations who believe in the importance of creating equal opportunities for women. All are invited to come out on March 21st to support our local women artists and to enjoy a spring day of great music for a great cause.