The people have spoken. The Pride Society has responded.
After some well-voiced grumblings last year over the lack of accessible, adult-oriented Pride events, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is now poised to pioneer its first-ever Homopalooza–the largest combination queer beer garden, sex expo and musical showcase this city’s community has ever seen.
Not long ago the subject of heated debate, the Plaza of Nations will host this year’s inaugural fest. (The VPS pitched the same site last year for its post-parade festival, and was met with hostility. This year, with the parade and its trappings secure in their traditional spaces, it seems community members are more willing to embrace the Plaza for Homopalooza.)
My very scientific survey of those drinking anise-scented cocktails around me last weekend found that some Joes and Janes on the street were excited about the idea of Pride events getting unstuck from ghetto sites.
“What’s with all the exclusion in the past?” asks Elsa Wyllie, a longtime member of the queer community with AIDS work in Cameroon and a healthy dose of activism under her belt. “You don’t have to box yourself in, you know? It’s about interacting with the larger environment.”
Antoine Bedard, a denizen of the Eastside with a penchant for ghetto-busting, says he’s glad Homopalooza will be “outside the gay village–it’s great that it’s happening outside of the West End.”
Over his shoulder, someone yells: “Maybe next year we’ll take Canada Place!”
John Boychuk, president of the Vancouver Pride Society, is markedly less militant when discussing the upcoming venture. In fact, his demeanor is more business-like and professional than any Pride exec I’ve met in this town.
During our interview he presses the need for financial feasibility and transparency–two qualities that Vancouver Pride has a history of letting slip.
When Pride surveyed the community last year “75 percent of our respondents called for a beer garden,” says Boychuk. “They’ve seen the parade and the community groups; they want something more.”
In Homopalooza “something more” is being subsidized by some corporate sponsorship–The Edgewater Casino, the Plaza itself, Molson’s and Bacardi are all chipping in–to cut the $30,000 price tag in half. That means ticket prices are more accessible than most Pride parties ($10 after July 15).
But something had to give. As always, the performers are the first folks to be asked to volunteer. All 26 acts and four hosts, including musicians, dancers, and performance artists, are donating their time and talent for this year’s seven-hour event.
Like Queer-Coustic before it, Homopalooza will showcase some of the city’s best queer talents. Run out of the Alexandra Park bandstand near English Bay for the last two years, Queer-Coustic was no longer feasible this year after the bandstand was returned to its original form with a closed-in wall that makes it difficult for solo artists to perform.
When the call went out for Homopalooza performers willing to play the Plaza of Nations however, the Pride Society received applications from 60 performers, all of whom put themselves forward as unpaid volunteers.
Still, Boychuk’s vision of Homopalooza isn’t of a grown-up installment of Queer-Coustic. While community performers will dominate Homopalooza’s stage this year, Boychuk says that next year he’ll be looking to create a separate space for those performers, while Homopalooza will use revenues from this year to entice a more commercial lineup.
Not that this year’s lineup looks so unprofessional. Headlining are The Wet Spots’ John Woods and Cass King. The Vancouver-spawned, sex-charged musicians have recently hit the big-time with their 2006 release, Hello Kinky, which is spurred on by the excitement surrounding the Internet video for their breakout single “Do You Take It (In the Ass)?”
“Do You Take It” has been downloaded 800,000 times and was featured on The L-Word.
King explains why The Wet Spots are donating their time to Homo-palooza: “The queer community here has been our most supportive audience–and they’ve brought our music to the most people.”
“I understand there’s still a financial hangover for Pride,” chimes in Wood, adding that he’d like to do his part to remedy the situation.
A bisexual musical couple, Woods and King met each other on an open stage like Homo-palooza’s and didn’t want to miss a chance to be part of Vancouver Pride’s massive musical roundup.
The Wet Spots are currently touring their way through a dozen cities to promote their album. It’s the culmination of three years of work and a testament to the potential that community-based acts have for attracting large audiences. “We’re starting to believe we could really take this worldwide,” says King.
But Homopalooza offers more than a launch pad for musicians and a few cold beers for the audience. The VPS is also turning up the heat, creating a more explicitly sexual scene than ever before with the installation of its Erotic Tent City.
“Go get a massage or a lashing, if you want,” laughs Boychuk. He describes the Tent City as being a space for vendors and community groups to ply their message/wares while remaining open to the beer garden itself.
Like the predominantly straight Everything To Do With Sex Show, then, the Erotic Tent City will offer a fluid mingling of drinks, music, and sex-based shopping. Boychuk is quick to note that Homopalooza will differ markedly from the annual Sex Show, though he surprisingly suggests that as much as 40 percent of attendees could be straight.
The Wet Spots have a tendency to attract both straight and queer libertines “because we can pass–we can sneak in as a boy-girl couple,” says Woods. “It becomes like boxing when you work a straight room. You push them to the edge, then pull back. What you’re doing is giving them permission.”
While this year’s Pride festivities are likely to lose a portion of the queer community to the Outgames and Gay Games, the VPS may be hoping to galvanize and draw out those who remain with their new, large and collaborative event.
Indeed, some of the most interesting queer parties of recent years have been ghetto-busting hodge-podges that splice together elements of different communities. Homopalooza, with its boy-girl headliner and non-ghetto locale, is poised to redefine Vancouver’s Pride scene this year. It’s not Queer-Coustic all grown up; but perhaps we’re witnessing the adolescence of Pride itself.