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F.I.R.E. Festival to spotlight CNY female musicians, artists

Jess Novak, "Gravity"
Robyn Stockdale
Graphik Nature Studios
Jess Novak has organized the third annual F.I.R.E Festival, which will take place at 2-6 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at the Center for the Arts of Homer.

The third annual F.I.R.E. Festival will take place Sunday afternoon at the Center for the Arts of Homer.

Organized by Syracuse singer-songwriter Jess Novak, the festival takes its name from an acronym, standing for “Females. Inspire. Rock. Empower.” And it’s taking place in March as part of an ongoing celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.

Besides Novak, the lineup includes Amanda Rogers, Ashley Cox, Caitlin Barry, Sarah Blujus, Peg Newell, Claire Solis, and several other musicians – all of whom hail from Central New York. (See the full schedule below.)

There also will be 23 artists and vendors setting up shop in the Center’s Community Room (see list of vendors below). A dozen regional businesses have donated prizes for a raffle; tickets are $1 each, 12 for $10, or 25 for $20 (must be present to win).

Main Mission

In a recent interview, Novak said that she started F.I.R.E. because was “just tired of many times being the only female at a festival.”

“And especially, I've been part of so many all-female events where it's celebrating women but women still were the minority, and it just felt kind of strange to me. They were fun. They were great. But that's not what I wanted to do,” she said.

“I wanted to prove that that representation of us is kind of false, and it’s maybe even harmful to say like, ‘Oh, women are great, but they just sing, and they sing covers, right?’ I wanted to show that there's a lot more that we are doing. So that was the goal – to make this event this top to bottom all women.”

Syracuse singer-songwriter Amanda Rogers played the first two festivals, which took place at the Oswego Music Hall; she will return this year.

“It’s been nice to see the gradual growth and progress and how each one is adding more variety as far as the music, and including other art forms such as dance and hula hooping,” Rogers said.

“It’s always beneficial to highlight that there are a lot of local women that are making music,” she said. “For myself, I've always been out there making music, and I've been doing fine in a man's world, but it is fun to share the stage with a bunch of other women.”

Ashley Cox
Ashley Cox

Ashley Cox, a singer-songwriter from Syracuse who also plays in the band Professional Victims, performed at the first F.I.R.E. Festival and returns for this weekend’s event.

“I am so excited to be a part of it,” she said, adding the festival is a place “where a bunch of women can get together and showcase each other. And then there's just that camaraderie of women cheering each other on. Because somebody's gotta, you know.”

Novak said that “it would have changed my whole life” if she had been able to attend an event such as the F.I.R.E. Festival as a youth, noting that she had no role models for female musicians at the time.

“I heard Bonnie Raitt on the radio, but I didn't even know she played guitar,” she said. “Of course, nowadays you know what everybody does because it’s everywhere all the time. But when I was 10, I didn't know. Why would I know? Nobody told me that, I wasn't watching the Grammys, and I just didn't realize it.”

Her brother introduced her to classic-rock artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Cream, but those all-male bands meant “it just wasn't even a thought in my head that I had a place in here,” Novak said. “And then when I got a little older and I started noticing Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, it was like, ‘Okay, I have to be a supermodel and I have to be the best singer ever. And that's it. That's the space for me.’”

That’s why she felt “it's super important” to launch the F.I.R.E Festival, noting that men don’t lack role models. “‘Your whole life you see examples of everything you ever could want to be.’

“So, it's different, and other people aren't going to recognize that. And I want to be part of changing that. Every time I play a show and there are young girls there, I can see their wheels turning – ‘I like Taylor Swift, and she was playing a Taylor Swift song and then she played her own song and like, okay, I can do that.’ And then they do, which is amazing.”

Family Fun

The festival runs 2-6 p.m., making it a family-friendly event.

“That's always been very intentional. I want young people there,” Novak said. “And I mean, the younger, the better. I love that we've had infants come to the show, and it's appropriate. The energy is just so positive, there's a lot of motherly energy, and it's great.”

Rogers has two young daughters. “I think it's important for them to get a chance to see what it is their mommy does for a living,” she said, “and also let them see that there are a lot of opportunities in the creative world for all genders. And that women are having fun, expressing themselves, and are able to dedicate that time to the things they're passionate about.”

“It will be nice for them to see the camaraderie and the support that women tend to have for each other in creative worlds,” Rogers added. “Because, you know, we've got to be there and be supportive of each other. There's already too much against us, so we have to be rooting for each other.”

Amanda Rogers
Amanda Rogers

Music Schedule

2:30 p.m. – Caitlin Barry

3 p.m. – Shades

3:30 p.m. – Peg Newell with Megan Hiltbrand

4:30 p.m. – Jess Novak, with special guests Sarah Blujus, Andrea Canale, Jozette Gordon, Claire Solis, and Ashley Cox

5 p.m. – Ashley Cox

5:30 p.m. – Amanda Rogers with Speakerdance CNY

Artists & Vendors

Azure Eyes Photography
Morse Code Art
Slit Weave
Crown City Curiosities
Wildebeest Publishing
Artisan Elements Collective
Cathy Wool Art
Anna With Intention
Clay Design by K
Creative Roots Studio
Straubrey’s Shop
Leo in the Crystal Room
Ras Jacobson Art
Crown Coordination
Livin’ La Vida Bruja
MLH Events
Pam’s Crafty Corner
Lindsey Graf
Roxanne Bocyck
Mara Casler
Tarot Readings by Marie
Rebecca Lloyd

If You Go

What: F.I.R.E. Festival

When: 2-6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Homer Center for the Arts

Cost: $10-$12, available online here

Event Info



Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, WITHradio.org) and its affiliates.