When Jenny Pagliaro took the stage with her band Roses and Cigarettes at the 2018 Cape Cod Women's Music Festival, what began as a set evolved into a powerful experience for all in attendance, moved not only by the music but also by the woman at the mic who was, at the time, living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Sadly, Pagliaro, a longtime Chatham summer person, passed away in March, but organizers hope that her indomitable spirit will infuse the 2019 event, which will be held in Pagliaro's honor on May 11.
Sarah Swain started the Cape Cod Women's Music Festival in 2012 as a way to celebrate and highlight women in music, and also to honor her mother, Jessie, who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 52.
The inaugural show featured a wealth of talent, including Zoë Lewis, Monica Rizzio, and Meghan Trainor. Since then, the CCWMF has expanded each year, and this year will feature Shea Rose, Catie Flynn, Mozelle, Amy Lynn Barber, Sarah Burrill, and Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, with Lewis as the emcee.
Swain said she is grateful for the support that has allowed the the CCWMF to thrive.
“Both Cape Wellness Collaborative and CCWMF have grown and flourished beyond our wildest dreams,” Swain said. “Cape Wellness Collaborative has distributed over $200,000 worth of therapies to over 550 people in our community facing cancer in just under four years. We are able to do this largely in part due to CCWMF and our gala event, Dancing with the Docs (held annually in Feb).”
Swain said what makes the CCWMF so unique and vibrant is the music and the enthusiastic crowd.
“There is always a synergy at CCWMF that it so powerful and so full of love, this has everything to do with the fantastic performers and the community that has been built around this event,” Swain said. “I love the audience, it is truly the best audience in the world. The energy in the room is always off the charts and is felt by the audience and the performers, it truly fills you up and inspires!”
Swain remembers well Pagliaro's transcendent performance at last year's event, that reverberated not only with the audience everyone behind the scenes as well.
“Jenny performed a set with Roses and Cigarettes and blew the roof off the place,” said Swain, who was assisting emcee Thirsty Burlington backstage. “When you’re backstage working a concert it’s spent doing all sorts of random stuff. In this case I was zipping our beautiful drag queen emcee into her sparkly gown when a feeling flooded over both of us that something important was happening on stage and we ran to the wings for a peek.”
Swain said Pagliaro was “giving the performance of her life” in that moment, sweeping the audience up along with her.
“Every cell of her body was so present and focused and fierce, and boy we all felt it,” Swain wrote on Facebook following the experience. “It was the sound of a woman living her purpose to the max—it vibrated through her and was amplified through her voice and it reverberated through the bodies of everyone within earshot. What we all felt was bigger than music.”
Adding even greater depth to the moment was Pagliaro's announcement at the start of her set that she was living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Swain said that during Pagliaro's cancer journey, she embodied numerous healing modalities, some traditional and others not, such as acupuncture, massage, energy work, and yoga.
An awareness that not all of those modalities are covered by insurance inspired Swain to found the Cape Wellness Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that works with local wellness professionals to help provide integrative therapies to anyone facing cancer in the Cape Cod community. The CCWMF directly benefits the five-year-old Cape Wellness Collaborative.
“Jenny truly embodied what CCWMF is about musically and what the fest benefits—Cape Wellness Collaborative,” said Swain. “Jenny was living with a terminal disease and at the same time fiercely living her best life, sharing her gifts and her story, and lifting us all up right along with her.”
Swain hopes that the memory of her friend and the determined way she lived with her illness will motivate people at the music fest and even those who can't make it, to donate, knowing that their generosity can help make living with cancer a little easier for those with the disease.
Swain also noted that the 2019 event marks the second year the festival is 100 percent single-use plastic free, and gave kudos to sponsors Cape Cod Beer, Nauset Disposal, Kaleidoscope Imprints, Cape Cod Package Store, and OM Organic Market for their efforts in that regard.
Mostly, Swain is looking forward to a night of celebrating her friend, the incredible music, and the ability to do good for and within the community.
“When people transcend themselves and create a conduit to the beautiful energy that connects us together, in these moments we are free of fear and reminded of why we are here,” Swain said, echoing her Facebook post. “To love. To love each other and be the best versions of ourselves during the short time we are blessed with life.”
The Cape Cod Women's Music Festival will be held May 11 at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis. For information and ticket availability visit capecodwomensmusicfestival.org.