MILFORD — As an independent female artist, Rachael Sage can’t say enough good things about Saturday’s Ladybug Music Festival.
“I absolutely love what the Ladybug Fest is all about. Supporting female-fronted bands and artists and women’s music has just been such a source of inspiration to me my entire life. So I’m very proud to be part of it,” said Ms. Sage, a New York City-based singer-songwriter and veteran of the free festival.
After two years away due to the pandemic, Ladybug returns to downtown Milford starting at 2 p.m., kicking off seven hours of music performed by more than 30 female-fronted acts on 10 indoor and outdoor stages.
What started in Wilmington in 2012 by Gable Music Ventures as an alternative to the Firefly Music Festival expanded to Milford in 2018.
The inaugural event drew an estimated 2,500-3,000 visitors, with many driving several hours to attend. In 2019, there were 4,000-5,000 in attendance.
For many, the gathering brought them to Milford for the first time.
“It allows travelers to swing by Milford, now that they know what’s downtown, when they’re traveling Route 1. It puts Milford on people’s radar. It’s an economic driver. We want to give people a reason to come back,” said Gayle Dillman, founder of the festival and CEO of Gable Music Ventures.
Genres range from jazz to hip hop, from country to rock and much more. The rain date is Sunday.
There are 10 venues, including the Main Stage (on the corner of Walnut Street and Park Avenue) and the Richard Johnson Amphitheater (outside the Milford Public Library), as well as various restaurants, art centers and other businesses.
Ms. Sage, an award-winning singer and multi-instrumentalist, will perform at the Causey Mansion, 2 Causey Ave., at 5. She will be joined by Trina Hamlin on harmonica and percussion.
The six-time Independent Music Awards honoree and founder of MPress Records will perform songs from her recent Billboard-charting album, “Character,” along with pieces across her repertoire of 14 records and her new collaborative spoken-word side project, “Poetica.”
She has shared stages with artists as diverse as Howard Jones, Shawn Colvin, Eric Burdon and Ani DiFranco.
Along with being an accomplished singer-songwriter, Ms. Sage gained admission to the School of American Ballet during junior high school and later attended Stanford University, graduating in 1993 with a degree in drama. She is also a visual artist.
“I just kind of came out of the womb wanting to express myself, and for better or worse, I had parents who did encourage me. I probably couldn’t dance en pointe anymore, but I never threw out the shoes,” she said with a laugh.
Stanford shifted her in other directions.
“My parents really wanted me to pursue college. So those things kind of came to a head, and we had to make a choice. But I did keep dancing for a number of years after that, when I went to Stanford, but I just got heavily involved into theater and more entrenched in music. But I kind of consider it all to be sort of the same process creatively, that you’re trying to tell a story and access your emotions. And so for me, it was a very natural shift to start emphasizing other arts, as well,” she said.
Her visual art continues that cycle.
“I remember spilling some watercolors with some water and paper as a kid and being nervous that my parents would get mad. I spilled it on the floor. And it was a very pivotal moment because they actually said, ‘Well, honey, that looks like modern art. We’re going to frame that and put it on your wall.’ So I think that taught me at a young age that I did have that freedom and that latitude to be expressive, and I’ve been making stuff with my hands ever since,” said Ms. Sage, who also crafts her own clothes.
Her music videos reflect her artistic eye — for example, the stop-motion in “Revelation Ground” or her performance with an ice skater on “Blue Sky Days.”
“I’ll go to a videographer with a certain idea, whether it’s a storyline or just kind of an array of imagery. Some of the videos ... I feature dancers like Elliana Walmsley from ‘Dance Moms,’ and I had a dancer from the Joffrey Ballet, Abigail Simon. I’ll bring those casting ideas and those performers to a videographer or a director. And we’ll collaborate on it together,” she said.
“Usually, I’ll pick the location, have sort of an arc of what I want to happen visually in the song, but you’ve also got to let talented people bring what they bring to the table, and I really love collaborating.”
A fan of 1960s-era folk tunes, Ms. Sage released a video for the Neil Young song, “Ohio,” on the anniversary of the Kent State shootings earlier this year and also collaborated in 2015 with music legend Judy Collins on another Young track, “Helpless.”
“She made it so easy and so natural, and by then, we had struck a friendship, with me touring with her for a while as her support. But she’s just a lovely, down-to-earth, beautiful human being. I was just in heaven, really. We got to do the video in the former Steinway Hall in Manhattan. So it was a very memorable experience,” she said.
Comparisons have been made between Ms. Sage and artists such as Carole King, Norah Jones and Bob Dylan. And while she’s grateful for that, she prefers to stand out on her own.
“It’s always blush-worthy to get any kind of compliment. You’re gracious, and you say thank you in any way that anyone can help connect the dots, so that they understand what you’re trying to do and what your music sounds like. I think it’s positive. So I’m always grateful for positive comparisons,” she said.
“But I believe very much in everyone trying to forge their own path and especially if you’re going into the creative arts. That’s the entire point. It’s just to continue that great tradition of finding your own voice and also encouraging your listeners to do the same thing.”
Along with music, Ladybug will feature food trucks, adult beverages and vendors of all kinds. For information, the roster of artists and the schedule, visit the Special Sections tab of BaytoBayNews.com.