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Lady Fest's Legacy: 10 Years of Music, Diversity and Cookies and Cake

By Dakota Parks for Inweekly

Like many iconic staples in the Pensacola music scene, Cookies and Cake was born out of the creative and cultural zeitgeist of Sluggo’s, the iconic and deeply missed local music venue. This raunchy, riot grrl rap duo, consisting of Melody Davis and Ashley Faulkner, filled a void in Sluggo’s lineup and quickly ascended to becoming a regular house band. The two went on to book a tour, record a CD and spearhead a music festival called Lady Fest with diversity at its center to promote women, LGBTQ+, nonbinary and non-white artists, musicians and performers.

“I never would have pictured us doing this 10 years later,” Davis said. “I thought it would be funny to do some raps at Sluggo’s, so I asked Ashley to rap with me, and we got some beats from our friend Paul the Pfunk Fresh and wrote a couple songs. I figured we would do it for a little bit and then get bored, but everyone just kept booking us. We started Lady Fest because we wanted to see more local bands with people in them that looked like us. Lady Fest is for everyone that usually get left off or squeezed off the stage.”

While Davis had previously been part of a band called Moose Knuckle Sandwich, she works as a baker and runs Pretty Baked, a vegan bakery. Faulkner, on the other hand, works in higher education and doesn’t have a musical background. One common thread between them, however, is a passion for community building and political action, which not only influenced their music but also ignited their advocacy for diversity, bodily autonomy, consent and body positivity.

“I was involved with the Feminist Society of Pensacola, and I have a journalism degree, so I think that helped me not be afraid of letting political leaders know what I think,” Faulkner said. “Lately, I’ve been going to a lot of school board meetings, because what’s happening right now in the state of Florida is terrifying. There are certain groups being very politically savvy in how they are disrupting and dismantling the education system in Florida for their own nefarious purposes. Similar to our community involvement, I think we channel our outrage in our music to get these ideas stuck in people’s heads.”

Echoing that same sentiment, Davis explained that Cookies and Cake incorporates humor and booty-shaking beats to juxtapose some of their heavy-hitting feminist messages while creating a mantra of empowerment and body positivity.

“I’ve always been angry about injustices, but I never really knew where to put my frustrations,” Davis said. “So, I would go to protests, but I wouldn’t speak out. I always wished I was more articulate in my anger, but it’s easier for me to write about it in songs. I think our music gives people a way to express the same feelings we have and to feel more comfortable talking about what’s happening in our community.”

Since their inception, Cookies and Cake has always given back to the community, hosting charity shows and donating funds raised by Lady Fest back to local groups, such as Strive and FavorHouse of Northwest Florida, Inc., as well as reproductive rights organizations and abortion funds. They have also used their platform to drown out the noise of anti-LGBTQ+ protestors.

“One of my favorite memories over the years was counterprotesting outside of Emerald City back in 2014 wearing bikini tops that we dyed to look flesh colored and painted nipples on, so we looked naked,” Davis explained. “There were busloads of people coming from the beach because it was Memorial Day Weekend, and preachers were outside the gay bar yelling and harassing people. We showed up with some bands to counterprotest, and halfway through our set, they packed up and left. They did not like Cookies and Cake.”

Creating safe and intentionally inclusive spaces is at the heart of both Lady Fest and Cookies and Cake. Neither Faulkner nor Davis shy away from confronting someone being a jerk, whether that means freestyle rapping to confront sexist behavior in the audience or drowning out bigotry with their raps.

To commemorate a decade of impact, Lady Fest has acquired the trifecta of the local punk scene with shows organized at 309 Punk House, Bugghouse and The Handlebar. All three nights of Lady Fest 10 is not only curated with local bands that emerged or were influenced by these spaces, but also raises funds for the 309 Punk Project, Bugghouse, drag performers and Strive.

“Each night of Lady Fest is like our love letter to these Pensacola venues and the places we’ve rapped at,” Faulkner said. “We’re currently doing an artist-in-residence at 309 and love the work they do. Bugghouse actually hosted a previous Lady Fest virtually during the pandemic, and The Handlebar has always been so accepting and amazing to us. We want to share and funnel some of that love back to these places.”

Currently serving as the resident artists at 309 throughout the end of the month, Cookies and Cake have spent their time within the iconic punk house doing what they do best, bringing people together. They have hosted a potluck and harm reduction workshop with health professionals. On Saturday, Aug. 26, they will host a tie-dye T-shirt and movie night, where they will sell Lady Fest 10 shirts, with proceeds donated to 309. As their residency culminates, their final night coincides with the kickoff of Lady Fest 10.

“From the beginning, Cookies and Cake have always been supportive of the punk and music scene as a whole and unique in their music, which connects punk and hip-hop together, like Bikini Kill meets 2 Live Crew,” explained Scott Satterwhite, a punk historian and 309 Founder. “We are lucky to call them friends and so grateful for all they do, not just for us at 309 Punk Project, but for all of Pensacola.”

Like Satterwhite, Brandon ‘Grover’ Ballard, a DIY artist and the owner of the Pensacola punk house, Bugghouse, explained Lady Fest goes beyond entertainment and unites the community. “Cookies and Cake’s music has always promoted radical feminism and intersectionality, but Lady Fest 1 back in 2013 was the first time I realized an event itself could be a form of solidarity. Cookies and Cake’s message is just as important— if not more important— now than ever. The same is true for Lady Fest,” Ballard said.

AN EVOLVING SCENE In the span of the last decade, Pensacola’s music scene has evolved from a once male-dominated space, reflecting the music industry as a whole, to become more diverse and welcoming. When Davis and Faulkner first spearheaded Lady Fest, they struggled to find bands that didn’t conform to the conventional straight, white and exclusively male mold. Now, they have such an influx of bands that they have to turn away or shortlist them for the next year.

This evolution in the local community is a collective endeavor, influenced by the tenets of punk ethics, younger generations entering the scene, social media making it easier to hold people accountable for their actions and the invaluable support of local music venues and organizations—such as 309 championing underground music. All the while, Lady Fest carves out a space that prioritizes diversity and inclusion.

“Lady Fest has been such a major presence in Pensacola over the past decade. Having an event every year to celebrate the women and queer folk in this scene is so inspiring for us in a creative world that’s, for the most part, oversaturated with men,” explained Ryan Holtzen of Mid Evil Times. “Lady Fest has always been a huge event for the members of Mid Evil Times who grew up here, and now we get the chance to inspire others just like we’ve been inspired over the last decade by the amazing women like Ashley and Melody in our local scene.”

Mid Evil Times is part of Lady Fest 10’s diverse lineup, which includes local bands Boxcutter, Marigold’s Apprentice, Ego Death, Death Mood, Don’t Feed the Plants, Crux!, Rat Daughter!, Jug of Water Obituary and visiting bands Team Nonexistent, Blind Tiger and Future Hate.

Like Mid Evil Times, Jordan Stanton of Don’t Feed the Plants recognizes the festival’s role in uplifting marginalized voices in the community. Lady Fest has provided Stanton not only a stage to express herself as a trans musician, but also played a pivotal role in catapulting her into the broader music scene.

“Lady Fest was one of the first times I performed music on stage, and it gave me the chance to get noticed by more people and play more shows,” Stanton explained. “Living in a place where the government is actively working against you is exhausting. Lady Fest provides a place where we can be seen, where we can be loud and take up space.”

Davis and Faulkner unanimously credit this inclusive atmosphere Pensacola has become known for, characterized by a multitude of genres and a diverse array of band members, to a collective endeavor that extends far beyond themselves.

“The scene is so different now. I think we owe it to a lot of the younger kids in the punk scene, which I call the angel punks, the Gen Zers, that spend time at 309 and Bugghouse,” Faulkner explained. “I love these kids so much. They’ve embraced the spirit of ‘Let’s make the scene what we want it to be.’ I think everyone is doing their part to make our community better, and we’re becoming known for how welcoming and supportive we are in Pensacola. Out of town bands frequently tell us it’s not like this in their hometowns. There’s so much more space now for different kinds of bands and artists. It’s been really beautiful to witness.”

Lady Fest 10: The Bad-B*tchiversary WHAT: A multi-night event “celebrating women/femmes, WOC, non-binary folk, LGBTQ+ or anyone who’s normally left out or squeezed off stage” WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, Sept. 2 WHERE: Multiple venues COST: $10 admission per night DETAILS: @lady_fest_pensacola, facebook.com/ladyfestpensacola

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