THE PRIDE IN THE ARTS FESTIVAL 2006
The first ever Pride in the Arts Festival was the long-gestating creation of StoneWall Society Founder Len Rogers. Rogers-- author, activist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist-- has been a tireless fighter for the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered citizens, as well as an ardent supporter and promoter of LGBT artists in the fields of music, poetry, literature, and visual art. Len Rogers was interviewed by Q Television Network about his work in 2005, and he received the "Local Hero Award" from Gay.com and PlanetOut.com. The mission of Rogers' StoneWall Society, founded in 1999, is to promote greater acceptance and tolerance of the LGBT community WITHIN the LGBT community. In other words, it's about respecting and accepting the diversity amongst ourselves. The expansive StoneWall Society website has dozens of links to LGBT artists' websites and politically oriented sites, as well as reviews, photos, news, StoneWall Society merchandise, and just about everything pride-related short of recipes for rainbow-colored pride cookies. For LGBT artists and their supporters, its an invaluable resource as well as a perfect way for any brother-in-arm or sister soldier to reactivate their pride. The annual StoneWall Society Awards are given to artists in who exemplify excellence in four categories (Music Art, Literary Art, Visual Art, and Performance Art), with winners chosen by the artists' supporters and fans. Len Rogers' dream of an annual music and art festival and cumulation of years of hard work was finally realized for the first time on the weekend of June 16th through the 18th, when Long Fork Campgrounds in Walton, West Virginia (about 40 minutes from Charleston, the state capital), served as the host of the event. Mirroring the diversity within the LGBT community, the weekend featured an eclectic variety of acts by over 15 artists, with live music and performances ranging from rock and folk, to spoken word, to... yes, (West) Virginia, even mime! The natural remoteness of Long Fork Campgrounds was a welcome contrast to New York City, where most of the artists who appeared at the Festival were from. True, the country roads were rocky, the bugs were out in full force, and it was hot, hot, hot-- making Long Fork's pool even more inviting! But more importantly, the location was refreshingly free from noise, crowds, traffic, and any drama aside from what was clearly intended by the artists. Picturesque and intimate, Long Fork is the perfect gay getaway. It was quite a thrill to see so many New York City urban trendsters out of their native concrete element. Yep, this was a LONG way, both distance-wise and culturally, from the Gay Apple. The weekend was full of priceless moments, like Georgia native Julia Kelly leading an audience-participation rendition of her instant campfire classic "I Am A Lesbian Now": "I am a lesbian now, I am a lesbian now; my feelings are clear and I sing them out loud; I am a lesbian now..." Or, a shirtless and barefoot Levi Kreis singing the astounding "I Should Go", a song with a story: "I wrote this song about a straight guy that I went a little too far with-- my heart got involved." Or, how about Robert Urban's rock guitar and vocals alongside Baron's spoken word, Julia Kelly collaborating with Georgie Jessup from Baltimore, and-- in a nonmusical moment-- Renaissance man Patrick Arena almost getting booted from Long Fork for skinny-dipping. (In actuality, he was wearing a skimpy, tight, pale gold bathing suit...)
One of the many views of Long Fork Campgrounds Len Rogers
The event kicked off on Friday evening, June 16th, with an Artist Meet 'n' Greet, and an impromptu stage was constructed for poolside performances by Jade Esteban Estrada, Rubberlegs, Terry Christopher, V*I*R*G*O, Baron, Robert Urban, Roger Kuhn, Georgie Jessup, and Doug Allen. As if this lineup of performers wasn't explosive enough, the night also included a fireworks show.
Gordon, Dan, Len (back), & Robert (front) Doug, Roger, Baron, and Robert Jed & Len
Jade Esteban Estrada Robert Urban, Anthony Maulella, & Baron
Robert Urban, Anthony Maulella, & Georgie Jessup Robert, Anthony, & Georgie VIRGO (right) chats with a West
Virginia local boy.
Woobie Bear Music Terry Christopher & Levi Kreis Mike Rickard cools off with some native guys
The next day, the action moved to the Main Stage, located in a remote meadow surrounded by nothing but acres and acres of green. Anyone staying in the campground didn't need a wake up call that morning; the music started bright and early and echoed through the hills. Performers that day included Ray "Musicbear" Baker, Rubberlegs, Mike Rickard, Robert Urban, Levi Kreis, Julia Kelly, Judith Avers, Georgie Jessup, Patrick Arena, Roger Kuhn, and Terry Christopher. Perhaps influenced by the hit Pixar movie of the same name, New York City based alt.tronica band Rubberlegs kicked off their set with the Top 10 1979 Gary Numan Hit "Cars" (You know the one: "Here in my car..."), then launched into one of their classic Rubberlegs tracks, "China Too"-- while Doug Allen, another New York City boy, performed mime. Rubberlegs also gave the audience two tracks from their Outmusic Award-nominated album "The Timinator: Boyfriends, Vol I": "Bound and Gagged", and the title track, "The Timinator". Thomas "Bunny Lake" Rolanti took the lead vocals for a Rubber-ized version of Iggy Pop's "Five Foot One" ("I wish life could be Swedish magazines; I wish life could be; Yeah, I wish life could be; Oooooooooohhh!... I won't grow anymore; Anymore, anymore, anymore, anymore, anymore; I'm only five foot one!"), and then the band gave us the mix which they call "Dancing Sedated", featuring the frenetic Ramones classic "I Wanna Be Sedated" morphing into Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself". For a finale, the trio left the audience with "People Who Talk in Elevators", my personal favorite Rubberlegs song, which perfectly captures the band's quirky adrenaline-infused charms. Next up was V*I*R*G*O (whose hair mysteriously changed colors from ash brown to blue between Friday and Saturday...) from who gave us, in his own words, an "experimental" version of the oft-reworked "Strange Fruit". The song-- written about lynchings in the Deep South at the height of racial tension-- has been covered plenty of times before, most notably by Billie Holiday in 1939, and Nina Simone, and even Siouxsie & the Banshees in 1990. In V*I*R*G*O's rendition, the song never sounded more appropriately haunting. Mike Rickard, an easy-on-the-eyes singer/songwriter from Atlanta, Georgia, gave the audience a trio of stripped-down, heartfelt songs-- experimenting with some blues-style music. His album is "Stirred, Not Shaken", and it was nominated for an Outmusic Award in 2005 for "Outstanding Debut Recording, Male". The dynamic, lively "Who I Am", influenced by his Church upbringing, was a real crowd-pleaser, with lyrics like "I'm sane, I'm crazy, passionate but lazy; I'm sexual, I'm a prude, I'm sensitive, but I'm rude; I'm clean, I'm dirty, I've just begun, I'm over thirty; I'm insecure, I'm arrogant, I can do it all, but I can't; I'm stupid, I know a lot, I have what I want, Don't want what I've got; I'm brave, afraid to try, I'm schizophrenic, and so am I...". We also heard a provocative new song ostensibly entitled "Big Man on Campus". Rickard and his petit ami were then back on the road, the next stop being to see Madonna in concert. (Oh boy... it looks like some afflictions of the gay male community still can't be purged even through touring and writing your own lyrics!)
Georgie Jessup Julia Kelly & Georgie Jessup
Volunteers from The Charleston AIDS Network Terry Christopher Musicbear
Another standout performer was the endearing Julia Kelly, also from Georgia. Two of her songs, "Grandma's Arms" and "Forever Lovin' You", received honorable mention at the Billboard Songwriting Contest 2001. She was Recipient of the Pride Music 2002 "Female/Lesbian Favorite" Award by the StoneWall Society.
"Thank you for popping my Pride Event cherry!" declared Baron, a self-proclaimed spoken word artist from New York City who is destined to change the image of that particular genre of performance for good! Spoken word sometimes has the reputation of being staid, inaccessible to the audience, or even a bit pretentious-- but here's one artist who really knows how to captivate his audience. Baron had to deal with some sound difficulties on stage, but he handled them with humor and grace. One audience member joked, "This is not your day!" to which Baron retorted, spreading his unyieldingly positive energy, "Yeah, but it's a beautiful day anyway!" One provocative, complex piece was about his mother, while another was a very shrewd and moving observation on the sometimes challenging relationships between gay men and our straight male and female peers. Then came a superb number with Baron's spoken word joining forces with friend Robert Urban's guitar and haunting cries of "I don't know why I love you-- but I do!" Just perfection. Baron closed with "Fever", the ultimate song about getting all hot 'n' bothered in a good way: "Never know how much I love you, never know how much I care; When you put your arms around me, I get a fever that's so hard to bear-- You give me fever!" This was one classic song perfectly sited to Baron's combination of soul and sensuality. Robert Urban, recently and deservedly crowned "Outmusician of the Year" after being nominated three years in a row, took the stage four for songs, three of which were from his ageless 1997 CD "Godless". He dedicated "The Waiting Song" (Winner of the 2003 StoneWall Society's Pride Song of the Year) to Len Rogers, then went into "The Meateaters' Song", an unabashed "anti-religion" song. Next up was "The Courtship of Europa" dedicated to "all native peoples, especially Native Americans". These lyrics show why Urban deserves gets as much praise for poetry as much as performing:
"Your merchants stole through darkest Africa for ivory, slaves and skins
They even sought out the Font of Youth to sate Your Faustian sin
>From tombs of old they gathered gold - in Montezuma's land
they melted down all the Aztec gods to forge Your wedding bond
And by this troth the Earth was raped with avarice unconcealed
In days when fair Europa wed the modern mans ideal."
Not coincidentally, two of Urban's friends and musical collaborators of the Festival, Georgie Jessup and Roger Kuhn, both celebrate their Native American heritage through their music. Georgie Jessup's CD "American Holocaust" addresses the genocide aimed at Native Americans. Roger Kuhn's stunning "Two Nations", possibly his most personal song, hits right at the heart of identity. Roger joined Robert Urban on stage for "Cubes of Light"-- a song whose title is a metaphor about the daily grind of the office day job which so many of us, sadly, would have to go back to on Monday.
A real treat came with Levi Kreis, from East Tennessee, in a graduating class of five (Really!). His life story is as intriguing as his persona and his music. Already one of the busiest guys in showbiz, Kreis has made a splash on TV ("The Apprentice"), film ("Frailty"), and stage ("Southern Baptist Sissies", "Rent" on tour), before releasing his current album, "One of the Ones". The CD was nominated by Outmusic for the 2006 "Outstanding New Recording, Male" Award. But hey, deep inside, Levi's just a good old southern boy... who was in an exceptionally frisky mood that night! One of his earliest tracks, "Queer Boy", was a song that he written when "I had to sing about the subject somehow"-- on his pathway to eventually coming out of the closet. In an interview with Queer Music Heritage's JD Doyle, Levi has said about the song, "Yeah, yeah…a few minutes ago when I was talking about (coming out) just occurring to me in thought but not in practice, my path would be to be an openly gay artist, 'Queer Boy' was my way to play with it. I thought it would be kind of fun to write a song from a straight guy's perspective who basically was frustrated by not getting any from the women, you know, and the gay guys are always best friends with the girls. He comes to this gay guy and says, 'Look, you know, you got to help me get an in here.' I wanted to play with it and raise an eyebrow and do it in a comical way." Aside from his voice and his looks, Kreis has a very envied commodity: a large and loyal fan base. As evidence, the phenomenal "I Should Go" has received 8,672 hits on Levi's MySpace page... where, incidentally, you can hear his song from "The Apprentice", "Nothing Can Be Everything"
New York City's Roger Kuhn was next, performing some numbers from his long-anticipated new CD "Proof". He opened with "My Reality", then went into "Why Can't I Quit You?", which was inspired by the the love story of "Brokeback Mountain". Then came "Two Nations", and then the feverishly romantic love song, "Beautiful You". With the more lighthearted "John", Kuhn showing an impressive vocal range and some intricate guitar work. How fortunate that there was actually not one but two guys named John in the audience! Another dedication, this one for a guy named "Dan the Man", followed... and at the request of one of the ladies in the audience, Roger did a cover of Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window" which, needless to say, was a big crowd-pleaser-- even though Roger admitted to an FOM ("friend of Melissa") in the audience that he only played the song in his apartment before bringing it to the masses. Roger also did "I Drove All Night", a song which was originally performed by Roy Orbison and reworked by Cyndi Lauper in the '80's. (The tune was also more recently used by Celine Dion for a Chrysler ad, but we won't talk about that version...) After Roger Kuhn was another New Yorker, Terry Christopher. Loaded with energy, this Outmusician can sing, he can move-- and he can definitely get the crowd going as well. Terry later cooked dinner for everyone at the Fest. (All that and culinary abilities too!) The same way Jesus fed 5,000 people with a can of tuna and a few loaves of bread a few years ago, Terry managed to feed all of Long Fork with a few boxes of pasta and a loaf of Italian bread. Wow! And who says miracles don't happen every day?
Also at the Pride in the Arts Festival: Woobie Bear Music, Rainbow Pride of West Virginia, The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (who gave out "Power Is Sexy" T-shirts), and the men from The Charleston AIDS Network, handing out condoms and free literature. By nightfall, the party moved to the pool area, and what followed was a drag show. Amanda Williams, Miss Gay Pride West Virginia, gave us a classic disco nights flashback with the 1976 hit "Car Wash". One of the queens was quoted as saying, "I'm a West Virginia girl, but doing these hills in high heels just ain't my cup of tea!" More guilty pleasures followed, including Bridgette Nichols doing "When You Good to Mama", the lesbian-flavored number from "Chicago".
Ezra from The Task Force The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Of course, mirroring one of the goals of The StoneWall Society, Len Rogers reminded all of the attendees at the Festival that artistry and activism go hand and hand. Len told the true story about his friend, a bar owner in Jacksonville, Florida, who promised a free drink to every registered voter. For several years, she never gave away one drink! This, ahem, sobering story made me hope that with the increased visibility of our community and gay politics going mainstream, the situation will improve. With that, I leave you with the words of Ezra from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Opening with "Happy Pride everybody! Is everybody having a good time?", Ezra went on to give the audience this inspiring speech, which I've reprinted with permission:
"I'm thrilled to be out here in West Virginia to celebrate Pride with you this year. My name is Ezra, and I'm from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. At the Task Force, we know how important it is to work with people like you, out here in states like West Virginia, where there is still so much work to be done. Out here where it's still an act of courage in many cases to be out of the closet. Out here where people are still losing their jobs because they happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Out here where people are sometimes even denied health care because of their sexual orientation By being out-- and by being proud-- you truly are changing our community, every day. It's an honor for me to stand here with you.
There's a new day coming in America for LGBT people. As more and more of us come out of the closet, the rest of the country starts to understand that it knows and cares about queer people. And rather than just "tolerate" us, some are starting to get it: that discrimination-- in any way, time, or place-- is immoral. It's wrong. And people of good will have to stand up and do something about it.
Change is happening everywhere-- it's pretty damn exciting. I come from our Washington office, and being that close to George Bush might lead some to think I'd be pretty depressed most of the time. But the fact of the matter is, even in Washington, things are getting better for queer people. Last week, we beat back the Federal Marriage Amendment. We even got two Republicans to switch their votes from two years ago, and stand with us and against Karl Rove wedge politics. How'd we do it? Sure, we had thousands of Task Force members writing their Senators and making phone calls. But we also had something we didn't have last time-- thousands of clergy from across the country, standing up and saying discrimination against same-sex couples is immoral. Clergy flew to Washington, DC to meet with their Senators: clergy that preached from the pulpit about the immorality of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Let me tell you something: I know how far we're coming when religious leaders are outraged when we're not treated equally.
While we had a great week in Washington last week, there are of course still challenges in DC. But I look out at all the states we're working in at The Task Force, and I see more victories. In Washington State, right-wing forces were trying to gather enough signatures to repeal a nondiscrimination law that was just passed by their legislator. Despite an all-out media campaign, and despite spending a lot of money, they came up short. We beat them before the measure even came to the ballot. In Ohio, right-wing legislators floated a proposal that would ban LGBT people from adopting. In Indiana, a similar bill would have even prevented us from having access to reproductive health care. The right wing thought it could capitalize on their momentum from winning anti-gay marriage ballot measures in 2004. But it couldn't. Other legislators saw these bills for what they were: hateful attempts to divide their state-- and said they were going too far. We beat them before a bill even came to a vote.
I don't mean to stand here today and tell you that everything is hunky-dory. Of course, we sill have tons of work to do. It's only by doing the hard work of being out, and being proud of who we are, every day, that we start to change the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. But I do mean to stand here today and tell you that when we take that stand, we get noticed. And things start to change. I see it happening all across the country.
Thank you for inviting the Task Force to be a part of our pride celebration here in West Virginia. Keep having fun, and stay proud!"
A view of the stage Rubberlegs with Doug Allen (forefront)
Roger Kuhn & Robert Urban
Robert Urban Baron
NOW, DIVE INTO THE POOL (LET'S GET SOAKIN' WET!)
The 2006 Pride in the Arts Festival was a great success. For one weekend in June, the hills in the Mountain State were definitely alive with the sound of pride, from the first guitar strum to the "Last Dance", courtesy of twirling drag diva Marina Desiree.. And for anyone in attendance at the Festival, the effects should last... well, until Pride In the Arts 2007! Can't wait! Special thanks to Len Rogers, the performers, and all the staff of Long Fork Campgrounds.
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