It was a late summer afternoon when I made my way to Los Angeles State Historic Park for the Yola Dia festival performances. Being a mom to a 1-year-old meant that I couldn’t get out as early as I wanted to so I missed a few of the earlier performances. From what I was able to experience, however, I could definitely tell I had missed out. After picking up my media credentials at will call, I began the long trek to the General Admission entrance. However, once I arrived, I was nicely welcomed by a tasteful entrance display. General Admission ticket holders were greeted by tall, looming signs surrounded by large potted plants before making way through (very speedy!) security. Even all the way at security, you could hear the killer, beat-heavy performance by Megan Thee Stallion on the Yola stage. Her smooth, deep voice rang throughout the park for all to hear. By the time I reached the grounds, she was already walking offstage amidst a screaming crowd who were demanding an encore from this energtic performer. Very disappointed I missed her set, I made my way to the Del Rio stage in anticipation of the next performance by none other than ‘90s icon/cool girl, Courtney Love.
If you want to picture what it was like there, think the ‘90s in the modern age. The decade’s resurgence in mainstream fashion was not lost on Love’s crowd as I was surrounded by a sea of delia’s-inspired clothing and accessories (for those out of the loop, delia’s was a fashion powerhouse in the ‘90s) from neon-colored scrunchies to mini backpacks and tiny sunglasses. Love came out backed by an all-male band and immediately started what would become quite an interesting set. She was dressed in a dark grey blazer and black pants giving off that effortless vibe she's become famous for as she swayed and sang to her music. A couple of songs in, Love announced to the crowd that she was taking off her blazer (made by personal friend Kim Jones of Dior Homme, I might add) as she had worked up quite a sweat and still had many more songs to go. It was interesting watching her perform not only for the ‘90s nostalgia but because she is such a larger-than-life personality outside of music. Every so often, fans would shout from the crowd “I love you, Courtney Love” to which she would respond, “I love myself, too. It’s taken me a long time but I love myself.” This happened many more times throughout her performance. It was nice to hear an affirmation of self-"Love." The rest of her set was the ultimate declaration of girl power as she frequently chastised her male guitarist and proclaimed that although her backing band was all-male, she definitely wasn’t taking any flack from them and, in fact, was pretty tired of men’s “bullshit.”
Cat Power performed next on the Yola stage. I was excited to see her given that she is from my home state, Georgia. I had listened to some of her songs in the past and definitely vibed with her laidback demeanor and cool musical style. She was a nice contrast to the higher energy sets by Megan Thee Stallion, Courtney Love and Lykke Li (who would perform after her). I was particularly taken by her simple, yet fashion-forward black dress, the sleeves adorned with shimmering accents. Her songs gave me a strange sense of longing for home. While they weren’t necessarily typical Southern tunes, her rhythms and the soft tone of her voice made me feel like I was sipping a cold, refreshing sweet tea on my front porch. Maybe this was due to the fact that her music often found its way to my ears during long drives through the Georgia countryside. Power’s backing band was pleasantly comprised of a female drummer, female bassist and male guitar player. She sang one song as a duet with her guitarist. Power showed the crowd that she’s been in the biz for a minute when she elegantly handled technical issues with her mic often directing the sound be adjusted mid-song.
After Cat Power was around a 30-minute break while stagehands set up for headliner, Lykke Li. Yola Dia (the festival) and Yola Mezcal (Yola Dia sponsor and alcohol brand) are the brainchildren of Li along with partners Gina Correll Aglietti and the brand’s namesake, Yola Jimenez. Yola Mezcal is made using Jimenez’s grandfather's recipe and both Yola Dia and Yola Mezcal’s main tenets are the advancement and empowerment of female-identifying individuals. Yola Mezcal is made and run entirely by women in Oaxaca, Mexico using traditional methods. Employees are paid a fair, living wage and are provided a steady stream of work. The three women’s dedication to this cause spearheaded into creating Yola Dia, a music and arts festival that showcased female performers, culinary artists and visual artists. They partnered with PLUS1, a non-profit organization that grew out of the band Arcade Fire that collaborates with concerts to catalyze social change, to donate $1 from each ticket sold to the Downtown LA Women’s Center. PLUS1 provided the $1-per-ticket add on fundraising feature. The organization tirelessly works with artists, fans and social justice organizations to tackle global injustice. The proceeds donated to the Downtown LA Women’s Center went to further their initiatives to serve and empower homeless and formerly homeless women. Such initiatives include MADE by DWC products, their social enterprise that seeks to provide job training and transitional employment in product and retail environments for women transitioning out of homelessness. Additionally, Yola Dia featured flags designed by women artists and held a flag auction. Money from the auction was donated to the ACLU.
Lykke Li took the stage just a few minutes after her posted start time. I had never seen her live before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I got was an energy-filled experience of a lifetime as Li took us on a wild ride through several of her best hits including “so sad so sexy,” which also serves as the title of her latest album. People were packed in like tuna, almost climbing over each other for the best view. I was definitely semi-trampled by a group of girls who were elbowing their way to the front. Thank god for the large screens on either side of the stage or else I wouldn’t have even been able to tell you what color she was wearing. Li was appropriately dressed in a red leather outfit and knee-high boots that relayed her “so sad so sexy” persona very well as she danced across the stage incorporating drum sticks, the mic stand and whatever else she could find into her choreography. Accompanying her was a dazzling light show that lit up Los Angeles Historic State Park. It was night turned day with her stage set up as sparks seemingly flew. I’m pretty sure you could watch that performance from the moon if you wanted. Li was amazing at engaging the crowd as she periodically checked in to see if everyone was still sober since her goal for the festival (among others) was that everyone party and have one hell of an experience. I have to say that although I entered Li's performance as a casual fan, she definitely converted me as I know often blast her music during runs and other miserable jaunts at the gym.
I definitely had a good time and I look forward to attending in the coming years. Its social impact angle is also quite admirable as it champions causes that are pretty near and dear to my heart. Using art to inspire a movement has seen success time and time again (think any period of history when musicians doubled as activists) and Yola Dia and Lykke Li have joined the ranks of countless artists who used their craft for the betterment of others. Other performers at Yola Dia were Sophie, Kelsey Lu, Empress Of, Cupcakke and Lia Ices.