PrideFest on the Lakefront
Explore Wisconsin’s Largest LGBT Festival
"There is a movement across the country to become a tourist in your own hometown pride festival, to explore your local LGBT cultures," says Michail Takach, PrideFest public relations and social media director. Kate Sherry, communications director, noted that many attend the festival simply to see friends and savor the sense of family it fosters.
The largest open LGBT festival in Wisconsin is also one of the year’s best entertainment values. A $30 weekend pass—available at the gate all day Friday, June 7, and online—provides unlimited three-day access including all headliners. A single day’s admission is $13 in advance or $16 at the gate with an option to add $1 to support the LGBT Community Center.
Opening Ceremonies are at 6:15 p.m. on Friday but this year the celebration actually starts at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 6 with the Big Gay 5K Run/Walk to raise funds for the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin, followed by dancing in the newly upgraded Dance Pavilion until 11 p.m. Gates reopen at 3:30 p.m. on Friday for the 4 p.m. Wisconsin Royalty Drag show on the Miller Lite Mainstage.
BJ Daniels is the PrideFest emcee. Daniels, a star and mainstay at Club 219 in the golden days when gender performance achieved the status of an art form, is making a comeback after 18 years in retirement. The BJ Daniels Revue featuring top impersonators and backup dancers—an annual highlight during PrideFest's formative years—returns to the Mainstage at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.
On Friday night, Daniels will join another legend, DJ Kimberly Ann of The Factory and Club 219, for a night of music from the ’70s and ’80s at the new Riviera Maya Stage east of the food buildings. On Saturday night, the Riviera Maya Stage will feature hip-hop from DJ Rocboi of Unyon Entertainment. Sunday will be all Latin American music with singers Adres Adan and JC Munguia, Mateo y los Bachateros and Milwaukee's Latin pop and jazz band Bachata414.
The LGBT Community Center has a new stage in the Harley area. Nearby, the Wom!nz Spot Cafe and Lounge, a huge hit last year, will again showcase women artists. The Arts and Culture stage presents daily performances by the Astor Street Dance Studio, Brody Hess, The Way She, Mallori Reichenberger and the Coffee House All-Stars, and Dora Diamond's Gay Cabaret. An expanded Youth Area features a Saturday dance contest and a Sunday talent contest.
The Dance Pavilion's attractions are, as Takach says, “new and now.” The Children and Family Stage has magic, music and storytelling. The Health and Wellness Area offers a smorgasbord of information. The Stonewall Stage has everything from the Miltown Kings drag demonstration and the Funkin’ Wassels improv comedy on Saturday, to Sunday's Celebration of our Relationships, the annual clergy-led blessing for couples.
All the food vendors will return along with vegetarian choices from new vendors Screaming Tuna and Verdura. A limited edition of T-shirts with this year’s winning design is on sale.
Friday's Mainstage headliners include an ABBA Salute, singer/songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins and singer Andy Bell of the English synth-pop duo Erasure. Bell enjoys a solid solo career and is one of PrideFest's first male headliners.
Saturday's big events include Bad Romance, a large-scale all-live music theatre production with a storyline created entirely from Lady Gaga's music, presented in the Dance Pavilion. On the Mainstage, the iconic Indigo Girls will follow the fireworks.
"People will be upset if they miss Amanda Palmer on Sunday," Sherry warns. This punk cabaret performance artist, formerly of the Dresden Dolls, may be this year's most exciting headliner. Dangerous Muse, a male electronic pop duo with a reputation for shirtless performances, precedes her on the Mainstage.
PrideFest runs June 7-9 at the Henry Maier Festival Park. For more information, visit pridefest.com.