Back to the heart6/3/2015
Now in its 37th year, the Capital City Pride Festival is, according to this year’s theme, going “Back to the Heart.” While it is a sentiment that will mean a number of things depending upon whom you ask, the most obvious manifestation will be in location. After a year on the Locust Street Bridge, Capital City Pride is going back to the heart of the East Village.
“We never took Pride away from the East Village,” Capital City Pride President Kerry Weyers said of last year’s relocation, which was in part due to construction taking place on East Fourth and Fifth streets. “Pride started 37 years ago in the East Village with four people walking up to the capitol, so the East Village community is kind of the stamp on that.
“I think (last year’s) event was successful overall. The location may have made a bit of a difference in the type of participants that came and visited us. A lot of the community didn’t like it out of the East Village. That’s why we’re bringing it back this year.”
To that end, this year’s Pride Festival is less about reinvention and more about continuing to evolve while staying true to what has made Pride the institution it is. In the past, Pride has been a more or less adult-themed event. Last year’s event made inroads toward being more family-friendly, with a “family fun zone” installed at the Brenton Skating Plaza that featured games, musicians and events targeted at a younger audience. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Pride Festival — traditionally held on East Fifth Street in the East Village, in front of legendary institutions like The Blazing Saddle and Buddy’s Corral — has gained a reputation as a more adult-focused event catered to the gay community’s sweet-spot demographic: 20- to 30-year-old singles.
“It can get raunchy at times,” said Des Moines resident Jerome London, a veteran of eight Pride Festivals. “It’s not like you’re not welcome if you’re older or younger or straight or whatever. And I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t had fun there. But the party can get pretty ‘parental advisory’ at times.”
Last year’s event made big strides toward changing that perception, and it is something that Weyers wants to see the event continue to build upon.
“Last year was kind of a stepping stone for us in terms of having a family fun zone,” she said. “This year, you’re going to see a bigger family fun zone area, away from the bars and vendors. Nationwide is going to be the sponsor of our family fun zone this year. We’ve got pony rides, and a lot of the churches are bringing in family activities.
“We want to have that big family zone. We want people to feel comfortable bringing their children down, and we want everyone who visits the festival to have fun.”
“Last year’s event definitely had a different vibe to it,” said Des Moines resident John Gilbert. “I don’t know if it was the change in location or the different events, but it felt a lot more inclusive. It was nice to have the different sections so you could move from stuff that was more traditional for the Festival into something a little ‘safer’ for Grandma or whatever.”
For Gilbert, London and people like them, there’s nothing wrong with the Pride Festival being a celebration. They aren’t opposed to the majority of the festival being an adults-only affair. But much of the gay community has always felt that the Festival was meant to be more inclusive.
“When the sun goes down, all bets are off,” Gilbert said. “It’s a street party. Let your freak flag fly. If you want to walk around on a leash, that’s awesome. But during the parade? When there’s children there? Make them feel welcome, you know?”
“They have always said, ‘Bring your kids, bring your parents,’ ” London agreed. “The parade is supposed to be the most media-friendly, openly accessible part of the fest. The part that we are supposed to be able to show to people who might know nothing about us and say, ‘See? This is really cool.’ It hasn’t always been that easy, but last year was a step in the right direction.”
The Pride Festival hasn’t been a static entity for the past four decades, and last year was not the first time the event has tried something new. Over the years, the event has grown exponentially in size, and various themes and events have come and gone. New ideas are always being floated, with some sticking and others never making it out of the planning stages. But last year marked the first wholesale shift in thinking for the planning of the festival.
Weyers said a lot of the changes that will be seen in this year’s Capital City Pride are the direct result of lessons learned from last year and years past. While everyone involved agrees that last year’s event was a success, there are ways for an event of this size to grow and improve. To that end, a large part of the preparation for this year’s event involved listening to feedback on last year’s.
“Last year we offered surveys,” Weyers explained. “So anyone who stopped by our information booth, we had them fill those out. We had over 150 surveys from people telling us how they liked the new events and what their thoughts were. For example, that’s how we got a lot of the feedback about the community not being happy with the Festival being on the bridge.”
This year, the return to Capital City Pride’s old stomping grounds will be the first and most obvious change that Pride-goers will notice. But it will be far from the only change. Returning to the streets of the East Village required a couple of compromises on behalf of Capital City Pride. First, the event location is altered from its traditional East Village layout to better accommodate the new shops on East Locust. Most dramatically, however, this marks the first year that the Pride Festival will be free to attend. Previous iterations of the celebration have been gated, with paid attendance granting attendees a wristband and entry to all of the events and vendors. This year’s event will be completely open to anyone who wishes to drop by, with additional premium events being available for an added fee. For example, festival headlining musical act Belinda Carlisle’s performance at The Garden will be $10, with tickets available at a number of shops and locations throughout the Pride Festival grounds.
Additionally, this year’s Pride Festival will feature more events aimed at education and improvement of the community as a whole.
“This year, we’re incorporating a couple of new educational pieces centered around the theme of ‘Is Pride Just Our Past?’ ” Weyers explained. “We’ve been wanting to get a panel together to discuss the importance of Pride. That’s something that we’ve incorporated this year.”
In addition to the panel on “The Relevance of Pride and Pride History,” the Meredith Corporation will also host an event on “Financial Planning For the LGBTQ Community” to help educate people on the unique challenges faced within the community in terms of retirement and estate planning, sharing of investments and tax questions.
“We’re not just a party,” Weyers added. “We’re an organization that’s trying to make the LGBT community grow.”
But, of course, the heart of the Pride Festival is the entertainment. And to that end, this year’s event lives up to expectations. In addition to returning acts like Madison Ray and the family-friendly tribute act Pop ROCKS, Capital City Pride is bringing in Carlisle, as well as cover act Pie in the Sky and local bands, to help rock your night away.
“The music at Pride has always been one of the highlights for me,” said Pleasant Hill resident Keith Landis. “They have always done a really good job of bringing in bands that appeal to a wide range of people.”
“I really enjoy Pride Fest,” said performer Madison Ray, for whom 2015 will mark his second time playing the festival. “For events this size, you hear people talk about the usual suspects (like the Des Moines Social Club and Des Moines Music Coalition). But here’s a big event that has nothing to do with them. I like the fact that here’s an event that can pull just as many people as some of the DMMC’s festivals for three days but without the same level of money behind it.
“For any city to have a vibrant community, you need people with big ideas doing big things. Pride Fest gives Des Moines a little bit of that diversity and gives a stage to acts that might feel a little left out by the DMMC.”
Last year’s event received a lot of positive feedback for the Minneapolis-based Pop ROCKS as well, prompting its return to the stage this year.
“It’s a high-energy act, and it’s a very PG-rated show,” said Des Moines resident Greg Duncan. “They dress up like the various bands they’re covering, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Whether everyone involved with the carrying out of the Pride Festival admits it or not — hell, whether everyone who goes to the Pride Festival admits it or not — the festival is the most aggressively public face for the LGBT community. It’s the annual chance to show the rest of the state exactly what the gay community is all about. That’s not something unique to the Pride Festival. Every festival or street party that caters to a specific demographic serves, involuntarily or not, as the poster child for that demographic. Some acquit themselves well. Indie music lovers take pride in the fact that 80/35 has gone off without a hitch or complaint for seven years. Others have less desirable reputations. For example, negative press and a series of public disturbances and arrests combined to finally drive a stake through the heart of VEISHEA in Ames, though Iowa State University promises some sort of festival to take its place.
The Pride Festival, for its part, has maintained a sterling reputation within the city, and the Capital City Pride Committee plans on maintaining that going forward. But now the committee is turning the event’s eyes toward the goal of greater education and improvement of its own community in addition to serving as a palatable welcome mat to the rest of Des Moines’ residents. Committee members understand that furthering the Festival’s goal of community unity will be best accomplished through the combination of inclusion and education.
“I’m excited for all of it,” said Indianola resident Amanda Acton. “I’ve brought my children to Pride in the past. It’s fun to be able to talk to them about it this year and have things for them to get excited about.”
“I don’t feel like it’s got anything to do with some desire to be deemed ‘more acceptable’ by the straight community,” added Ankeny’s Ryan Billings. “To me, all of last year’s changes were just a way of acknowledging that there’s no hard-and-fast truth about what the gay community likes. Some of us love to party and drink and dance, and some of us really like taking our kids to shows and eating corn dogs. And I know it sounds crazy, but some of us even like both of those things. So, if I can drink and have a good time at Pride in the evenings, but still take my kid to the parade in the morning, it’s a great thing. I’m looking forward to seeing this year’s events.”
More than any one thing about the Pride Festival, it is the parade that people hold most dear. The vast majority of Pride-goers love a good street party, and the music stages are immensely popular, but the parade has always been Pride’s symbol. Two years ago, the Pride parade made a small but dramatic adjustment to its route, turning off of Grand Avenue at East Seventh Street before turning right at Locust and continuing toward downtown with the State Capitol building directly at its back. The image is one that’s both symbolically powerful and aesthetically beautiful, and it’s one that Capital City Pride has brought back again this year. Great strides have been made in the past couple years to make the parade bigger, more fun for children, and a stronger image of unity and acceptance. For many people, the parade, more than any other event of the Festival, remains the only event that cannot be missed.
“It’s tradition,” said Urbandale resident Mark Williams. “Every year, there it is. It’s genuinely beautiful at times, and I think it really does live up to the core concept: Pride.”
And that is what the whole event is really all about. Acceptance. Love. Pride.
“I think it just means community,” Weyers said, speaking of what the event means to her. “In the long run, it’s a safe place to come down to, be ourselves and bring our family. The layout this year is in kind of a ‘U’ shape, so I think Unity really fits. Capital City Pride celebrates all of our history and everything that’s happened.” CV