At first, Maei Flowers just wanted to throw a party. She was about to move out of her West Oakland warehouse, and with about 3,500 square feet at her disposal, she couldn't help but do something to celebrate the space. She invited all the artists and musicians she knew, enlisted a chef friend to cater, and decided to charge a modest fee and donate whatever money she made to a local nonprofit. She called it Girlstock — a nod, she said, to both her upbringing in the Haight-Ashbury district and to the event's female-centric ethos and lineup. She didn't expect all that many people to come, but about 200 strangers showed up, and now, eight years later, what began as a one-off warehouse party has blossomed into a full-scale annual benefit, spread out over four days on both sides of the bay.
"I got enough interest, enough people asking me, 'Hey, when's the next Girlstock?'" Flowers said. "I figured, what the heck, I'll do it again." And she did, seven more times, each year gaining some organizational steam but retaining the party's original grassroots feel by planning and executing the whole thing almost entirely on her own, with the support of sponsors.
Every incarnation of Girlstock consists of an art opening, food, and music, but beyond that, the event's lineup and focus shift with whatever catches Flower's attention. Recently, for example, she's been obsessed with bellydance, so Saturday, August 21, features a performance by Suhaila Salimpour's School of Bellydance. This is one of the upsides of doing the whole thing as a homegrown operation: It's personal and dynamic, with none of the static seriousness imparted by many benefits. The beneficiary, too, has changed each year, the common element being that Flowers aims to help smaller nonprofits. "I don't want to just be a drop in the bucket," she said. "I want to be able to be a significant help." In past years, the party's profits have gone to organizations that assist homeless youth, people living with HIV/AIDS, and Katrina victims; this year, Girlstock benefits the Women's Cancer Resource Center, a Bay Area organization that advocates for health care reform and provides services to women with cancer.
This year's Girlstock kicked off last weekend with an art opening and party at Mama Buzz, and a live music show at Bottom of the Hill. Saturday, August 14, features a live music show at the Stork Club (2330 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), with Nazelah Jeffries of the Oakland Poetry Slam emceeing a lineup including Brazilian bassist Gil Hulian, singer-songwriter Shelley Doty, surf-rockers The Twinks, Led Zeppelin tribute band Delicate Pie, and hard-rock trio Sistas in the Pit, who recently toured with Iggy Pop. Girlstock finishes up next weekend with a poetry reading, live-art auction, and the aforementioned bellydance at the Mina Dresden Gallery (312 Valencia St., San Francisco).
While most of the performers are women and there's a feminist angle to the event, Flowers emphasizes that everyone's welcome — it's more about celebrating female creativity, loosely defined, than any kind of hard-and-fast political message. "Girlstock has never been about exclusivity," she said. "My tagline is, 'Everybody has a little Girlstock inside.' We're all in this together." Saturday, August 14: 6 p.m., $10-$40 sliding scale. Saturday, August 21: 5 p.m., free. 415-615-2322 or Girlstock.com