PrideFest Capitol Hill comes back in a big way

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Photo by Nate Gowdy
Photo by Nate Gowdy

After a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, PrideFest Capitol Hill was back this Labor Day weekend in a big way. Over 22,000 people took part in the two-day event, held along five blocks of Broadway. One hundred vendors and sponsors were also on-site for the festivities.

"Honestly, being able to spend time with my community again face-to-face — it's been a very long time," Oliver Webb, the Alliance of the Puget Sound's board chairperson, told the SGN on Saturday from his booth.

"We've missed two full Pride seasons at this point — a time when queer individuals around the world can take a second to celebrate who we are and to stand together as one," he added. "As someone who has participated and volunteered for PrideFest for many years, it was absolutely a different experience than years past, but the heart of the festival was still there. PrideFest worked to keep us as safe as possible while still working to give us Pride."

Historically, PrideFest Capitol Hill and PrideFest Seattle Center have been held in June. However, the City of Seattle's Special Events Committee did not approve a preliminary permit for an in-person event in September until June 25, leaving organizers just a little over two months to produce it.

"In my 15 years doing this, I can't remember a harder process. We had two months to create an event that normally takes nine months," said Seattle PrideFest Executive Director Egan Orion. "We'd been pushing to create this event since last February, but because of COVID didn't get approval until late June. When you are doing something as expensive and complicated as a festival is, working from a place of uncertainty is far from ideal, and so it was for our performers, sponsors, vendors, and community partners alike. The Delta variant added more doubt into the planning process."

Orion added that it was "challenging" to promote the festival on a "shoestring promotional budget." "That was the part I worried most about in the weeks before the event. We knew we'd created a great event, we just didn't know if people would show up for it," he said.

"I was thrilled just to see people gathering in person, connecting with the community in such a meaningful way. I loved seeing people taking photos with the rainbow PRIDE letters at the entrance, and watching them imitate the inflatable dancers brought me joy. These are such simple things, but as an event producer, I haven't played a part in creating space for that sort of joy for over two years."

Diverse co-directors
PrideFest is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has been putting on the Seattle Pride Festival since 2007. The organization recently changed its logo to reflect its intention to be inclusive of Black and Trans people in Seattle's LGBTQIA+ community.

This year PrideFest had nine festival co-directors, which it said was "a distributed model creating more opportunity for Queer, Trans, gender-expansive, and BIPOC artist curators and the communities they represent, for a more inclusive representation at all of PrideFest's stages."

"I'm glad that for us curators, we were able to book our times the way we wanted to," Adra Boo, festival co-director for the #BlackHotSunday showcase on the main stage, wrote in an email to the SGN this week. "It was also nice to return to [Capitol] Hill... and hopefully, Black and Indigenous representation remains prevalent: folx of color seeing themselves in every way. I think it went really well. I know the caliber of talent [of] the artists I showcased, and they all did what needed to be done. Each performer brought something different, and the blackity-blackness was everything.

"There's still some folx I wished to have seen more of [at PrideFest], but it was still good in my opinion. I know I enjoyed myself and was happy to see the showcases I caught."

Orion said each co-director put an "incredible amount of energy and talent into creating individual shows." In addition to Boo, he credited the following co-directors for the event's success: Anita Spritzer/KDJE, Hailey Tayathy, Jack Mozie/Ruth Soto, BeautyBoiz, Eric Blu, Aleksa Manila, Tinashea Monét, and the Dyke March Organizers.

Dyke March Rally
The Dyke March Rally closed the programming on the main stage on Saturday. In addition to speeches, the showcase included Haley Graves, Grae Violett, and a string of first-name performers such as Jayden and Delphine. In the past, the Seattle Dyke March has held its stand-alone march and rally in June.

The Dyke March organizers, which included seven people, provided a statement to the SGN:

"The Dyke March pivoted to meet the moment and had more of a showcase than our traditional rally. The showcase and ability to highlight the incredible talent in our community felt like the embodiment of a love letter to our community," the organizers wrote, including Co-Chairs Jill Mullins and Katie Kephart. "We were energized by the creativity and passion of the performers we had on our stage and inspired by the longtime work and words of our speaker. And we definitely want to give a huge shout-out to the organizers of PrideFest, specifically Egan Orion, who invited us to take over the stage and all [the] efforts to help the entire show go so smoothly.

"The Seattle Dyke March was so thrilled to be at PrideFest this year. Community is so important to us, and now more than ever, when we've needed to prioritize safety over togetherness for so long, there was this feeling all weekend of being grateful to be together for Pride. We were also very happy to see the many masked, vaxxed, and socially distanced attendees who wanted to experience Pride while maintaining the safety of our community."

Pandemic precautions
Notably different from past PrideFest events was the presence of face masks. Likewise, the beer gardens required attendees to show proof of vaccination for entry. However, mask enforcement appeared to be lax on Saturday and again on Sunday. Most vendors were wearing them, and about half of the attendees donned them as well. Masks could also be seen dangling from one ear or poking out of purses or pockets.
"If people want to gather again like we did in the before-times, they have to get vaccinated and mask up where necessary," said Orion. "We have all the tools to end this pandemic and protect each other. Do that, and Pride 2022 will be beyond anything people have experienced before."