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Last year, the organizers of OC's annual Grrl Fair were getting ready to pull off their most ambitious showcase yet when bad news came. Just one day before the the event, the DIY activists learned the Santa Ana police threatened to shut it down because the host, 511 Creative Space, didn't have the proper permits. After some scrambling, the celebration of International Women's Day relocated the next night to the cramped quarters of Calacas, a Santa Ana clothing-and-culture store, and salvaged what had been months in the making.
"There were a lot of missteps last year," Grrl Fair organizer Adrienne Santellan readily admits, reflecting on the fiasco. "We came out from the underground."
With this weekend set to be the event's 10th anniversary, Santellan and other members of the organizing collective didn't want to take any chances. "We pretty much started working right after last year's Grrl Fair and tried to get all the permits. But it was hard to find out which ones we actually needed," she says. "We ended up speaking with a city planner who told us that recent changes made downtown live-entertainment events possible without needing the permit process."
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The Grrl Fair crew decided on setting up the stage at the galleries of the Santora Arts Building. As always, the women-centric gathering focuses on female-powered local bands from diverse genres in addition to feminist-themed workshops and art exhibits. The only difference this year: Santellan's stated goal of making it the "biggest and best" ever.
With a venue secure and the ghosts of its non-permits past seemingly behind it, the collective went about selecting participating musicians by vote. "We wanted an all-new lineup," Santellan says. "This was the most bands we ever had submitting, so we had to cut it off."
There was one notable exception: Bluesy songstress Sunny War will be returning after performing two years ago as part of the Anus Kings duo. "She's a phenomenal singer and guitar player," Santellan says of the musician who has only appeared in OC by way of Grrl Fair. That fact underscores a very important function the event serves: "[People] don't book these acts anywhere else," the organizer adds. "We are able to do things that other venues aren't willing to do."
The Grrl Fair collective also solicited the talents of Long Beach's spaghetti-western/indie rock band Bella Novela. Their roster is two-thirds female, with Jackie Ojeda on vocals and keyboards and Jannae McClure on drums. McClure recalls her inspirations to pick up an instrument."When I was young, I saw Joan Jett with a guitar and watched Jem and the Holograms [the cartoon from the '80s with an all-girl band]. Even Debbie Gibson wrote her own music. If it weren't for all that, I wouldn't realize that I could do the same thing."
Now Bella Novela, who plan to spend the year writing a self-described rock opera follow-up to their first album, have the opportunity to be that band for youngsters who turn out for Grrl Fair. They promise to deliver a scintillating set.
"We love what we do and have tons of fun while we're doing it," McClure says. "We are absolutely full of energy. We are not afraid to get sweaty and stinky!"
This article appeared in print as "Not a Little Grrl Anymore: After last year’s cancellation soap opera, Grrl Fair organizers are hoping to turn its 10th anniversary into a Bella Novela."