PrideFest expands stages and programming

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

The organizers of PrideFest Milwaukee say they’ve expanded this year’s event to include a new stage along with a broader array of activities and performances than ever before. 

Last year PrideFest – North America’s largest LGBT music festival – broke 25 years of attendance records, drawing 28,137 people to the Summerfest grounds. Near-perfect weather and a strong lineup of headliners brought the event’s books back into the black after a disappointing turnout in 2011 left PrideFest’s future imperilled, said PrideFest president Scott Gunkel.

This year’s star-studded event promises to be another great success, if Mother Nature cooperates.

Out pop icon Andy Bell of Erasure is the Miller Lite Mainstage headliner on opening night, June 7. He’s the first male, opening-night headliner in the event’s history, according to Gunkel. Other first night performers include Sophie B. Hawkins and ABBA Salute.

On June 8, the legendary duo Indigo Girls hits the mainstage, and on June 9, outspoken LGBT and women’s rights supporter Amanda Palmer closes out the festival. She’ll follow a performance by Dangerous Muse, featuring electro-pop dance sounds and sexy stage theatrics never before seen on the Miller Lite Mainstage, according to a PrideFest press release.

Other artists performing over the weekend include God-Des & She, Beverly McClellan, Big Bad Gina, DJ Grind, Bad Romance, Something to Do, and Wisconsin’s own first lady of rock, Ronnie Nyles. 

The festival’s popular dance pavilion will be enhanced this year with more sophisticated sound and lighting equipment. Gunkel said an additional $60,000 worth of lighting effects will raise the dance experience to a new level of razzle-dazzle.

Numerous events are scheduled throughout the weekend, ranging from fireworks to drag shows to a leather/fetish show.

Last year, PrideFest launched Wom!nz Spot Lounge and Café, a successful new stage area toward the south end of the festival grounds. The venue, which offered poetry readings, acoustic performers, women artists and dancers in a laid-back atmosphere, “was packed all day long,” Gunkel said.

“We trademarked it and we’re bringing it back,” he said, adding that men are welcome to join the wom!n.

It’s another year, and there will be yet another new stage – The Riviera Maya Stage. Sponsored by La Nueva Ritmo, the stage will highlight the multicultural dimension of the LGBT and allied community.

“This multicultural stage is dedicated to presenting musical groups from diverse backgrounds,” board member Francisco Araiza said in a statement. “We wanted a place to showcase different nationalities, ethnicities, languages and religions, and by showcasing our diversity, we hope to find the commonalities that make the fabric that forms one worldwide LGBT and straight community.”

The stage will open on Friday night with oldies from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s spun by Kim from Club 219 and BJ Daniels from The Factory – both iconic DJs from Milwaukee’s disco era. “It’s kind of a reunion thing,” Gunkel said.

Saturday night will feature Latin music acts and DJs, and Sunday the new stage will put hip-hop under the spotlight.

The revitalized Milwaukee LGBT Community Center plans to have a high profile at PrideFest 2013. The group is taking over a two-story structure on the south end of the festival grounds near the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Stage and the Wom!nz Spot.

“We’re sort of taking the community center on the road,” said board secretary Martin Palicki. “Everything you’d find at the center, we’re taking to the grounds.”

Palicki said the center will offer an alternative for attendees who want to spend some time at “a quieter place, where you can talk to people.”

The center will host seminars on such diverse topics as housing, retirement and gardening. There will also be a virtual gallery featuring artwork the center has exhibited and a videographer on site to record visitors’ coming-out stories. 

The center also will host family-friendly activities, including an inflatable slide for kids of all ages. An alcohol-free area for young people ages 13-24 will have a DJ and dancing. 

“There’s been a family explosion at PrideFest,” said board member Denise Cawley. “When we (she and her partner Anne) first had our son, we counted like two babies at PrideFest. Now he’s 6 and there’s been a baby explosion.” 

Cawley’s son Aidan looks forward to PrideFest, where he particularly enjoys the roasted corn, the hot dogs – and having his picture taken with drag queens, he said. 

When purchasing tickets at the gate, PrideFest visitors will be offered the opportunity to add $1 to be donated to the center.

One of the most novel features about PrideFest is that a volunteer, unpaid staff runs the elaborate event, which is the first major festival of the season.

“Every year, these folks come back and dedicate hours and hours of volunteer time to organize, and run this three-day festival,” said festival director Pete Minns. “And every year, it’s a great time.” For more information, go to pridefest.com.