The Changeville Festival is a downtown music & arts festival featuring local and national artists united by a passion for social change.
Michelle Zauner, frontwoman for Japanese Breakfast, started her career as a true DIY musician, scheduling recording sessions around a nine to five job with an advertising company. As Zauner dealt with losing said job months later, her first releases began gaining traction. She earned herself eight separate performances at SXSW, a review from Pitchfork, and a huge influx of labels reaching out, including Dead Oceans where she is currently signed.
Zauner’s mother and the experience of losing her to cancer play significant roles throughout the music of her two albums Psychopomp and Another Planet. Outside of music, Zauner’s mother is the root for her steadfast love for her Korean culture. Zauner connects with her culture through Korean cooking, personal essays about living as an Asian-American, and even employing Asian-American designers for her merchandise and tour posters.
Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, AJJ has released four full length albums since 2005. Their signature folk-punk sound oftentimes features deceptively upbeat instrumentals accompanying humorously macabre lyrics. It’s not unusual for AJJ songs about death, racism, and similar topics to be juxtaposed against a plucky upright bass line. Their Facebook description boasts, “We’re super good, I promise.”
In an effort to relinquish any connection to former President Andrew Jackson and to avoid disrespecting Muslims, the former Andrew Jackson Jihad rebranded themselves to AJJ in 2016. “As the world changed, and as we changed as people, it just got more difficult to give a convincing answer for why our band was called that […] The act of striving to do better is a constant theme in our work, that’s where the name [change] was coming from,” frontman Sean Bonnette told AV Music. AJJ has strived for social justice since, as the band pulled all music released on label plan-it-x in 2017 after the owner was ousted for a history of sexual harassment and abuse.
Affectionately known as the Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia has been a driving force in popularizing New Orleans hip-hop and bounce. Freedia entered the scene as a backup dancer for Katey Red, a late 90’s transgender bounce rapper. She eventually released her first album Queen Diva in 2003, with four more studio albums following, and most recently performing at Voodoo Festival in New Orleans over Halloween weekend.
Alison Fensterstock, a reporter for NPR, recounts the Voodoo performance as a testament to Big Freedia’s mission as an artist – making a statement about visibility and bolstering gay and gender non-conforming people’s right to be seen. Freedia identifies as a gay man, yet does not prefer any specific gender pronouns, although is frequently referred to as “she/her”. While identity plays a part in Freedia’s stage presence, the main takeaway is being so true to yourself it transcends any previous perceptions of how fashion, gender, and identity should be expressed.
Ted Leo, frontman for The Pharmacists, returned from his seven year hiatus last year to debut his solo work, The Hanged Man. Being dropped from label Matador Records seemed to do little to no damage to Leo. The album was funded through a Kickstarter campaign fans helped reach its goal within the first day. Leo recorded in a home studio where he played many of the instruments himself.
Coinciding with his return to music, Leo has become more open to exploring past traumas he has endured in his latest release. Likewise, many songs featured on The Hanged Man act as a vehicle for Leo to discuss topics such as institutional racism, sexism, and xenophobia. He explains these tracks are not an excuse to yell at the President, but rather to help those on the ground who are directly affected by these phenomena and to start a conversation with those who’ll actually listen.
Laura Stevenson, the former keyboard player for Bomb The Music Industry!, has released four albums since her initial solo debut in 2010, A Record. Many of Stevenson’s lyrics deal with emotionally closing off, refusing support from others, and the persistent fear she’s wasted her younger years unable to shake these habits. When asked why her music deals with such sad aspects of life, yet sounds so musically lighthearted, Stevenson told Allston Pudding, “I try not to be so melodramatic because life is just so much happiness and sadness juxtaposed. The contrast makes it more fun and easier to deal with. Life’s going to be hard, but at the end of the day, it’s going to beautiful and fun.”
While Stevenson uses music to express her own personal turmoils, she is no stranger to using music as a catalyst for change. In direct response to the result of the 2016 election, she and her band released a live recording of a show played at The Vera Club in Groningen in the northern Netherlands where 100% of the proceeds from the album’s sales are donated to Planned Parenthood.For the past eight years, Stevenson also performs a semi-annual holiday show in New York City alongside friend and former bandmate Jeff Rosenstock. 100% of the proceeds benefit Safe Horizons, an advocacy organization that assists survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault.
Locos por Juana
Locos por Juana, a bilingual fusion band based in Miami have been nominated for both a Grammy and Latin Grammy thanks to their captivating blend of reggae, funk, cumbia, salsa, and rock. LPJ has worked with a number of other talented artists, including Changeville alum Talib Kweli. Likewise, the Miami New Times voted them Best Latin Band of 2017.
2017 proved to be a successful year for LPJ. This was the same year the band was awarded the American Latino Influencer Award for their work with #WeDreamAmerica, a Twitter initiative educating and uniting our nation around its immigrant heritage. The initiative has been a strong supporter of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), legislation estimated to help 3 million undocumented immigrants streamline the path to citizenship. To further #WeDreamAmerica’s mission, the band reimagined the national anthem to be more representative of all the cultures movements like DREAM aim to support.
Lizz Winstead has used her political wit to make a name for herself as one of the top political satirists in America. She is the co-creator and former head writer for The Daily Show, as well as the co-founder for Air America Radio. She has helped change the very landscape of how people get their news, and her reach goes far beyond her behind-the-scenes work. Alongside writing, Winstead has appeared as a correspondent for The Daily Show and has also hosted shows like Unfiltered on Air America Radio.
Winstead also gives back. Her previous tours have benefitted Planned Parenthood and NARAL, raising over 2 million dollars. As of late, Winstead has started a nonprofit reproductive rights organization called Lady Parts Justice League. Winstead has gathered a team of fellow comedic writers creating content to engage audiences and raise awareness on the latest news concerning abortion laws and clinics. Winstead reported to Newsweek that Lady Parts Justice League “will do everything from replanting gardens” to revamping the entire reception area to taking employees out to dinner at any given clinic.
Joyelle Johnson describes herself on Twitter as “the black girl who worships George Carlin and Gone with the Wind.” Many describe her as a source of pure joy on stage. If you’re a talk show fanatic, you may recognize Johnson from her appearances on Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act or on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Or you may have likely heard one of the jokes she’s written cracked on Comedy Central’s Broad City. Likewise, she’s performed alongside huge names in comedy like Hannibal Buress, Dave Chappelle, Russell Peters and Maria Bamford.
Johnson is an active member of Lizz Winstead’s Lady Parts Justice League, a self professed “coven of hilarious badass feminists who use humor and pop culture to expose the haters fighting against reproductive rights”.
Jaye McBride has perfectly intertwined being proudly transgender into her act. Her stand-up involves playful self-deprecating humor about transitioning, coming out to family, and dating as a trans person. She has opened for and shared the stage with high-profile comedy acts Aziz Ansari, Gilbert Gottfried, Jim Norton, and Bobcat Goldthwait.
Since McBride’s identity plays a huge role in her stand-up, she uses her platform outside of comedy to educate the public about being transgender. McBride regularly tours colleges across the country to present her lecture titled “Trans 102: The Chamber of Secrets”. She is also an active comedy writer for the non-profit Lady Parts Justice League.
Zahra Noorbakhsh is a feminist, Muslim, Iranian-American comedian who works through a variety of mediums. She regularly contributes to the New York Times anthology, “Love Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women”. Her one woman show, “All Atheists are Muslim”, was directed by W. Kamau Bell, featured at the International New York City Fringe Theater Festival and given high praise from The New Yorker Magazine. Noorbakhsh is also the host of #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, a “must listen” podcast according to Oprah Magazine.
In an installation of NPR’s Fresh Air, Noorbakhsh recalls considering cancelling one of her comedy specials scheduled to debut in the midst of a string of anti-Islamic hate crimes in 2017 spanning all the way from Quebec to Texas. The memory of sneaking into her father’s bedroom late at night to steal back the controller for Super Mario 3 reminded her to persevere as “the mischievous 10-year-old girl on her tiptoes, eyes wide with anticipation, clutching her candle in the dark because she loves to play”. Since then, she has been breaking stereotypes about Muslims’ comedic ability and refusing to water her act down to “Muslims are just like you” by being unabashedly proud of her background.