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'I Know The Music Will Work': Lulu Fest Moves Online For 2020

Dana Stringer
Lulu Fest Founder Peggy Stern

Seventeen years ago, while living in New York, pianist Peggy Stern attended a jazz festival and was surprised to discover that it was an all-male lineup. “There were no women performing, and certainly no women leading bands,” Stern says. “And so a friend and I got together and created the Wall Street Jazz Festival in Kingston, New York, where all the leaders are women.”

That festival would later evolve [after Stern moved to Austin and brought her love of music with her] into Lulu Fest. In keeping with Austin’s more diverse musical leanings, Lulu Fest casts a wider net and doesn’t limit itself to just jazz music, but like its predecessor it remains a celebration of female bandleaders. 

Since creating Lulu Fest, Stern has seen her role in producing and scheduling the festival as something akin to composing music. “You know, I like to create a musical suite, from beginning to end,” she says. “Like… a sonata or a symphony, it all plays together” over the course of an evening. This year’s festival won’t have quite the same flow, she says, because it’s not happening all on the same night in the same venue. Like a lot of festivals this year, the 2020 iteration of Lulu Fest will be happening online, with musicians performing remotely and audience members watching and listening from their homes. 

Stern’s looking for the silver linings in the new format. “But the advantage that we have is that it’s going to reach more people,” she says. “Because it’s all online and because our artists are international. So they’re posting it on their on their Facebook feeds and on their websites, so we’re having a lot or response from not just Austin but from all over.” 

Stern says that figuring out the technology has been the hardest part of the fest’s online pivot – convincing the musicians to perform from home was the easy part. “Hopefully the technology works,” she says. “I know the music will work.”

She’s hoping that moving the festival online will mean more people actually hearing the music, and she's already looking forward to incorporating a live streaming component into next year’s (hopefully) live and in-person festival. “And by then, you know, the technology will really be nice and tight,” Stern says, adding with a laugh, “and I’ll understand it better!” 

The musicians in the year’s Lulu Fest will be logging on from around the world. “Dena DeRose is in Austria… Kristen Strom’s in San Jose, California; Kate McGarry’s in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina," STern says.  "A bunch of us are here and Suzi Stern is in Pasadena, California.”

As luck would have it, many of the performers are currently quarantined with their bandmates. “So they happen to be in the house, so they’re gonna be participating,” Stern says. “There are a couple of husbands involved, and one mate involved, and it’s just kind of worked out well.”

Lulu Fest is free online May 14 - 17 via Facebook Live.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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