Every year, PrideFest continues to grow in popularity and size. Last year’s PrideFest — the 30th annual celebration — was declared the largest and best-attended yet. As a result of the festival’s growth, bigger and more renowned acts are brought in as headliners. One of this year’s big acts — The B-52s — has been at the top of the festival’s wish list for years.
While it’s important to bring in national acts like The B-52s to attract festival goers from all over the country and to ensure the festival’s growth in terms of economics and popularity, it’s just as important for the festival to accurately represent the “Milwaukee” in PrideFest Milwaukee.
The Miller Lite Main Stage does a great job of combining the larger national acts with local favorites — such as Lex Allen and Reyna. But venture over to The Milwaukee Record Stage — normally the Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater — and you’ll find a tiny stage with a ton of heart.
The Milwaukee Record Stage has been giving some lesser-known acts the opportunity to be a part of PrideFest. This year marks the stage’s third run.
Milwaukee Record — a snarky local music publication started by ex-A.V. Club Milwaukee editor Matt Wild and Milwaukee writing veteran Tyler Maas — was asked to be a part of PrideFest only two years after the publication’s inception in 2014.
“The fact that one of the oldest and largest Pride festivals in the country — if not the world — allows our upstart publication the ability to have our name and fingerprint anywhere near this festival season mainstay is not lost on me,” says Maas, who handles most of the booking for the stage.
Mass is given the creative freedom every year to book whom he pleases. Lineups for the stage include mostly local musicians, but also feature local podcasts and standup comedians.
“It’s part picking stuff people might not know about — but will love — and part giving people with an interest to play a platform,” Maas says.
This year’s lineup is focusing less on comedy and podcasts and mostly on local music. Gracing The Milwaukee Record Stage for the third time is glam-rock band Tigernite, who just recently released their second full-length album Sublunary.
“We’ve been to other Pride festivals around the country and it’s just not the same,” says Tigernite vocalist Molly Roberts. “You want to talk about a place where you can really let your hair down and really be vulnerable and really be met by people, this is the place.”
Also returning for her third time is Abby Jeanne, the soul-rock singer-songwriter who has been making waves on the Milwaukee music scene.
Rocket Paloma —seemingly the busiest band in Milwaukee, with its name popping on almost every local festival lineup — will add PrideFest to its impressive list of scheduled summer performances.
“PrideFest feels like a home for everyone,” says Bob Schaab, drummer for Rocket Paloma. “It’s a hub of artistic expression. PrideFest has been and continues to be a vital part of growth and social acceptance in this city.”
One group that particularly stands out in the lineup is Buffalo Gospel — a classic country band. The band released its latest full-length album On the First Bell in May.
It’s the only country act to perform on The Milwaukee Record Stage this year, and Maas notes that he is “excited to see how Buffalo Gospel is received on the grounds.”
The band also stands out as being the only group made up entirely of men. With a lineup that comprises almost entirely female-fronted groups, Maas has managed to avoid turning his stage into a boy’s club — an all-too-easy trap to fall into that overshadows inclusivity in music.
“Most festivals do their best to include a wide variety of different musical styles, voices and representation, but there are always gaps in lineups — including our stage’s lineup this year and every year,” Maas says. “In terms of inclusivity in Milwaukee music, we’re still not there. It’s gotten a lot better, but ‘better’ isn’t good enough.”
Maas notes that people have been particularly excited about Pants Off Dance Off, an inclusive underwear dance party typically held at the Riverwest Public House and hosted by DJs Claire Dactyl and Jackson Fothergill. The popular shows are known for spreading a message of body positivity and welcoming people of all identities and body types — with a strict no-discrimination policy. PrideFest marks the duo’s return after a year-long hiatus.
"Honestly this has been a dream gig for us since the early days of Pants Off Dance Off," says Cortright. "It's always a good reminder of just how big and diverse our community is, and it gives us an opportunity to come together and support each other's work."
On the final day of PrideFest, Maas has booked two local comedy acts to warm festival-goers up for the absurdity that The B-52s will undoubtedly bring. Subjective — an art-gallery inspired comedy showcase — gives comedians the chance to talk with the audience about their comedy routines, elevating their jokes into art. Hellcat Amazons showcases female comedians — with a community-benefitting mission statement — closing out the night and wrapping up another year of The Milwaukee Record Stage at PrideFest.
With such a large festival and only so much time and space to work with, it’s extremely difficult to capture the “Milwaukee” in PrideFest Milwaukee. But Maas continues to return each year and gives it his all — not just with the lineup, but as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community as well.
“Pride is one of the only Milwaukee summer festivals that carries some societal weight in addition to the celebratory spirit,” Mass says. “In exceedingly trying and uncertain times for LGBTQ+ folks, that’s crucial. As an ally, it’s important for me to let anyone and everyone on the grounds know that both myself and Milwaukee Record as a whole will stand beside them and do whatever we can to help.”
For a complete music lineup for PrideFest, visit www.pridefest.com/lineup.