It was 19 years ago that a few gay men in Montreal decided to throw a great big party where people could take most of their clothes off and dance into the wee hours of the night. It proved such a success that one of those men, public-relations consultant Robert Vezina, would continue running the parties annually.
That party would ultimately happen every year on Thanksgiving weekend, named Black & Blue for its non-enforced dress code. The party has grown exponentially, having evolved into an event attended by more than 10,000 and becoming a festival of culture and parties. Black & Blue is run by the Bad Boy Club Montreal (BBCM), founded and run by Vezina, and has earned its spot as one of the most celebrated parties on the circuit — the web of parties catering to gay men that are held throughout North America, Australia and Europe.
The BBCM’s string of annual parties have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Quebec HIV/AIDS charities. But the parties have also taken their knocks. Some have suggested that rampant drug use at the parties inevitably leads to unsafe sex practices during or after the parties. Vezina has always disagreed, saying his events are safe and that the BBCM has worked with local organizations to promote safer sexual practices and responsible drug usage.
Controversy or not, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the massive success and notoriety the BBCM’s parties have achieved on the circuit, noted as one of the biggest and best by media like The New York Times and The Advocate.
Called the Circuit King by the Montreal press, Vezina has long argued that having a good time by partying all night while raising money for good causes is a marriage made in heaven. He sat down to talk about Black & Blue as the partying began.
Xtra.ca: What’s the theme of this year’s Black & Blue?
Robert Vezina: This year’s Black & Blue Festival will showcase a concept dubbed ‘LITE Switch’… The light immersion concept, intended as the sole backdrop for the dance floor, is designed to create a realm unto itself and an extraordinary experience for participants.
Xtra.ca: You’ve gone to a lot of different circuit parties, and you hold one of the biggest and most famous in the world. What the biggest change you’ve seen in the evolution of the circuit?
Vezina: It really has become a worldwide phenomenon, and not just a North American one. The quality of events has increased, but people are more picky in the selection of events they attend.
Xtra.ca: There was a lot of criticism of the circuit parties as people charged that they were leading to a lot of drug use, and therefore unsafe sex practices as well. Now that criticism seems to have waned. What did the circuit parties do to solve this problem?
Vezina: A lot of events, including the Black & Blue as a leader in special prevention and health promotion messages, have in fact contributed to alerting people on the dangers of drug use and unsafe sex. We decided to bring this problem out in the open instead of hiding from it, and that helped to get people more aware and to be more careful.
Xtra.ca: The BBCM parties are different from a lot of other circuit parties, in that the crowds are often quite mixed. You’ve managed to include straight people in the mix without de-gaying the event or alienating your gay base. What’s the trick to this balancing act?
Vezina: I think it’s all about the event value: the production, the music, the theme, the artists, etc. If it’s a fabulous event, people of all types will come. And in Montreal, we have the chance of having an open-minded, cosmopolitan, gay-friendly crowd that mixes very well. You can feel the love on the dance floor, regardless of sexual orientation.
Xtra.ca: You’ve had a lot of drugs/unsafe sex prevention programs going on during Black & Blue over the years. What would you say has been the most successful program?
Vezina: The special, funny and catchy posters in the bathrooms depicting several bad drug situations to avoid.
Xtra.ca: You’ve raised a lot of money for AIDS charities over the years. What’s been the most gratifying part about creating Black & Blue?
Vezina: It’s a mixture of having a good time, promoting gay culture, being accepted by the corporate world, incorporating ‘straight’ gay-friendly components, and all that for a good cause. It’s the special combination of these elements that make Black & Blue so gratifying.
Xtra.ca: Montreal’s Divers/Cite and the Fierte events have now become two, effectively creating two different summer Pride events in the city. Why has this happened and is there any way you can see to combining the events together?
Vezina: BBCM is not responsible for the actual organization of those two events, but we have decided to support the official Pride weekend and to also present new dance parties in conjunction with Pride. I think the problem comes from Divers/Cité mainly, since they do not want to associate themselves with Pride — and not the other way around.
Xtra.ca: Is it true that Montreal is the sluttiest city in Canada?
Vezina: It’s definitely more relaxed in terms of partying and enjoying life in general. In my opinion, it’s less of a rat race here. I would say Montreal is sexy for sure. But I’m not sure the word ‘sluttiest’ really defines Montreal.
Xtra.ca: The Conservative government has cut your funding, despite the fact that you’ve brought tens of millions of dollars into the local economy through tourism. Do you think there’s a chance you can change their minds about the BBCM through dialogue?
Vezina: No, the Harper government is completely homophobic, even if they will never admit it in public, and we have proof of that on many levels. They will never support us. And they have removed Divers/Cite’s funding as well. They are horrible.
The Black & Blue Festival runs from Oct 7-13. Tickets and info: Bbcm.org.