War on Women performs at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2022
War on Women performs at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2022

The feminist Baltimore punk band War on Women –Shawna Potter (vocals), Brooks Harlan (guitar), Sue Werner (bass), Jenarchy (guitar), and Dave Cavalier (drums) – are Riot Fest veterans. If you were lucky enough to have seen their 2016 set, you already knew that the Rebel Stage was the place to be for their Saturday afternoon performance on Sept. 17. Before the group unleashed their unique brand of “Wonderful Hell” on the festival grounds, Shawna, Jenarchy, and Sue sat down for a chat about making music, playing shows with friends, preparing for battle in the fight for bodily autonomy and basic human rights, and returning to Riot Fest.

“I love that coming to Riot Fest the second time I knew where everything was already. That was really helpful because festivals are so big, sprawling, and confusing,” Shawna said with a laugh. “For real, I love that it feels like Riot Fest knows what it’s like to be someone on tour. They know what bands need and they always really take care of us.”

War on Women know a thing or two about touring with countless headlining tours of their own as well as a stint on Warped Tour in 2017. Last fall, they served as support for two other Riot Fest 2022 acts, Alkaline Trio and Bad Religion. This was Jenarchy’s first time playing Riot Fest with the band and they really enjoyed seeing everyone and reconnecting with their tour-mates backstage.

“I love the mix of artists. Backstage world is such an interesting place because there’s such a cool mix of artists at the festival,” said Jenarchy. “We spent a whole summer with Gwar on Warped Tour and we spent two-and-a-half months on tour with Alkaline Trio and Bad Religion. It’s nice to see people for a few minutes.”

Sue added that she loved hearing Alkaline Trio on Friday night and reminisced about how cool it was connecting with young women on that tour.

“If you’re a big band with a big platform and you’re looking for ways to help support our causes you can take us on tour and introduce us,” said Jenarchy.

War on Women’s causes are woven into their music. Their 2020 album, Wonderful Hell, serves as a call to action to tackle systemic racism, gender disparity and much more all while making you want to sing and dance along. With the Supreme Court striking down Roe, the band is more fired up than ever to spread their message, share resources – including organizations like The Brigid Alliance, The Lilith Fund, and local groups introduced to them by fans across the country – and continue to learn new ways to help people in each and every state.

“I feel like the huge thing that happened a couple of months ago with the U.S. Supreme Court has sort of been a catalyst for people,” Sue explained. “We always give a f*ck about reproductive rights and such, but now I feel like people are extremely fired up about it in a way that is really inspiring. I hope it will lead to some results somewhere and it’s really giving us a little extra push to be like, ‘We have to really f*cking do this.’ If this is what we say our job is we have to get our asses out there.”

Jenarchy added, “We’re in our best place when we’re playing a show and connecting with an audience so I think it’s easy to do in that moment. And then the rest of the time we’re trying to keep our sh*t together. I live in Florida so my main job is just to set everything on fire every day.”

The members of War on Women are among the most brave, bold, and relentless artists fighting for change in this country, but they are quick to point out there are many other people at the forefront of the fight who are actually putting themselves in danger to make a positive impact.

“It is a privilege and an honor to play our songs for people, but that’s not necessarily us putting ourselves in harm’s way, which may be something that may need to be done to win this battle. It is turning into a battle,” said Shawna

Jenarchy continued, “There’s work that’s so much more challenging and hard day-to-day and sometimes maybe less rewarding than getting to spread a message of resistance and hope.”

War on Women performs at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2022
War on Women performs at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2022

With so much happening in the world, we need the music of War on Women more than ever. Fans looking to dive deeper into the tracks on Wonderful Hell should be sure to check out Shawna’s podcast, “But Her Lyrics…,” which finds her chatting with her bandmates about their writing process as well as interviewing experts on the topics discussed in each song. And, the band has already started working on new music to meet the moment. Sue explained how most songs start with the riffs and she’s always on hand to add a catchy chorus.

“Brooks is a riff machine,” she said. “I feel like we all add our little thing to that. I always think about how can we make this catchier because that’s what I respond to. Brooks is like, ‘Let’s add a polyrhythm in here.’ and I’m like, ‘Let’s add big chorus.’”

War on Women will be bringing their feminist fight, polyrhythms and big choruses to The Fest in Florida in October before a short string of shows running through Nov. 1. Head over to Bandsintown.com to pick-up tickets and click here for more information about music and more.

Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and...