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Queens of the Queen City: Femme-identifying musicians talk sexism in the Burlington music scene

A woman in a blue top and red pants singing and playing her guitar on a stage.
Sophia Carlat, Courtesy
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Sophia Carlat is the creator of the Femme Music of Burlington page. Here, she is performing a set at Radio Bean.

A new Instagram page started by a local artist seeks to unite and empower femme-identifying artists around the Queen City.

The idea behind the page is to connect other femme and nonbinary artists to collaborate, support, and empower each other.

VPR’s Marlon Hyde spoke with a handful of femme-identifying artists. He sat down with VPR's Myra Flynn, who is an artist herself, to talk more about the culture women and femme artists in Burlington face. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Myra Flynn: Recently, you met with a Burlington musician pushing for changes in the music culture. Tell me more about how they are looking to create change.

Marlon Hyde: I want to introduce you to Sophia. She's recently created an Instagram page to unite femme-identifying artists to put on shows together and collaborate.

Femme is defined by Outright Vermont as an identity or presentation that leans towards femininity. It’s used by many to describe a distinct gender identity or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman or not.

Also, full disclosure I am the only male-identifying person that was part of this reporting process.

Thanks for unpacking that for all of us. So Marlon, how did this Instagram page come together?

In October, Sophia Carlat, also known by her stage name, as “Bobby Coe,” was telling her mom how much she wanted to transform the music scene in Burlington.

“I was talking to my mom," she said. "I was like, 'This sucks, you know, I just want to talk to these women and collaborate and do something together and like, make this happen.'”

Her mom gave her the idea to use social media as a tool, thus the femme_music_of_burlington Instagram page was born.

And just to be clear Sophia does not want to just rid Burlington of male bands. She sees an opportunity for femme artists to have a space within the music scene.

“We are just trying to equate the situation," she said. "We are just like — the definition of feminism is equality. Right now there is a massive gap. And I just want to uplift female voices, and hands and feet and body to make beautiful sounds and feel confident and comfortable doing that.”

“We are just trying to equate the situation. We are just like, the definition of feminism is equality. Right now there is a massive gap. And I just want to uplift female voices, and hands and feet and body to make beautiful sounds and feel confident and comfortable doing that.”
Sophia Carlat, founder of the femme_music_of_burlington Instagram page

Playing music somewhere along Burlington’s Church Street for many musicians is where it all starts. Whether it be in bars (I’ve played in way too many of these) or just on the street with an instrument and a dream. What’s Sophia’s story? How did she start out? 

Sophia got her start performing at weekly open mic nights at a local bar with an all-male band. But, she noticed some unfair stuff going on.

“I only found out they were all paid until like months later," Sophia said. "But I was still expected to be there every week and be the house singer and perform every week. Weird because the backing band was all male. And I was like, the one singer.”

Despite how unfair the monetary patterns seemed to be in her industry, her love for music kept her performing. Sophia says, no matter her love for music, or the losses she took financially, it still didn’t matter. Folks still want a dude on stage.

“A solo female musician is thought to not even compete with a solo male musician as a stage presence, bringing the energy, captivating the audience," she said. "And I think that this is a fundamental difference and flaw in the ideology.”

A woman strumming a guitar on stage while surrounded by colorful lights.
Marlon Hyde
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Veronica Russel performing during the Femme Takeover at Radio Bean on Nov. 19, 2021.

In late November, there was a Femme Music Takeover at Radio Bean in downtown Burlington. It was a bill of all femme identifying artists rocking out. The cover charge and additional donations went to Black Women Speak, an organization for Black women to form community and support each other.

Sofia hopes that this is a step forward for music in Burlington, and will help create more opportunities for artists.

“I want to see tons of femme bands, tons of femme artists taking themselves seriously," she said. "And respecting themselves and calling for respect in the industry.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Marlon Hyde @HydeMarlon.

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