Every June, the volunteers organizing PrideFest give themselves a simple challenge: Make this event better than last year’s.
They appear to be on track to achieve that goal again this year. The LGBT-focused kickoff to the summer festival season has expanded farther across the grounds than in recent memory, while maintaining the same core attractions that have made it a beloved part of Milwaukee summers for LGBT people, their allies and music lovers throughout the Midwest.
Festival co-producer Kate Sherry says that expansion isn’t the only change to the 2014 festival, but it’s the one visitors are going to notice first. The festival space, which usually takes up about half of the Summerfest grounds, is stretching a little to both the north and south, giving PrideFest the use of the U.S. Cellular stage for the first time and taking advantage of more of the Harley stage area than in previous years. It’s a development she says is as exciting as it is practical: “We’d technically been paying for both areas without having the ability to use them for a while, so now we are taking that opportunity to grow just that little bit more.”
The U.S. Cellular expansion has resulted in the creation of the new Rainbow Stage, a renamed version of last year’s Multicultural Stage. Sherry says the inaugural line-up for the stage is packed to the brim. On opening night, it hosts a group of R&B-esque DJs and singers, on Saturday it offers a retro evening with DJs spinning songs from the 1980s Milwaukee scene, and on Sunday the stage features a Latin night that includes everything from music and dancing to drag and comedy.
On the other end of the park, the festival has moved the educational Stonewall Stage into the expanded Harley space. The stage is sure to be a draw this year, thanks to an appearance on Sunday by the ACLU of Wisconsin and the four couples on whose behalf the group has filed a marriage equality lawsuit seeking to strike down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Also on the schedule at the Stonewall Stage are a discussion about how last year’s repeal of DOMA will affect lesbian and gay families and an appearance by local filmmaker and transgender woman Ashley Altadonna and Tool Shed owner Laura Stuart to talk about female gender presentation.
Nearby, Sherry says, the popular Wom!nz Spot Lounge, established at Pride 2012, remains a hotspot for relaxing while listening to great music. This year, the lounge will open restaurant space below it for the first time. This year’s performers include Milwaukee-based lesbian musician Lezy Dezy, who’ll blend a mix of acoustic rock, folk and hip hop Sunday evening.
PrideFest’s older features have all gotten mini-facelifts, too. The youth area now expands back into a stage by the basketball court. The always-important health and wellness area remains prominently at the festival entrance, this year offering even more efficient HIV testing than ever, thanks to a new fingerstick test that produces results in 15 minutes. And Sherry says the ever-popular dance pavilion is going to top last year with a more spectacular design and lineup, including a takeover by the DJs of Scarlet Bar in Chicago on Friday and performances by internationally renowned DJs Reid Stefan and Hector Fonseca on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
One other important thing hasn’t changed from last year: the price. That’s thanks in part to the success of last year’s event.
“Every dollar spent at PrideFest is reinvested directly in the festival experience,” Sherry says. “Last year’s attendance allowed us to not only maintain last year’s pricing for our community, but expand in new and innovative directions.”
What direction’s next? The answer very much depends on how this year’s festival goes and which of its new and returning attractions make the Milwaukee LGBT community proudest.