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Jam Fest is intentionally local and adored by its Queer performers

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S A M and The Shanghai Pearl at Jam Fest — Photo courtesy of Wing Luke Museum
S A M and The Shanghai Pearl at Jam Fest — Photo courtesy of Wing Luke Museum

On historic Canton Alley and Maynard Alley, there's a free festival with lines of tabling organizations, local music, and art. Organized by the Wing Luke Museum and its community advisory committee, Jam Fest started in 2010 and used to occur multiple times a year. COVID limited that frequency but did not put a damper in festivities, and now it takes place annually in July.

July 13 was the date for this year's Jam Fest, the second after COVID. The festival's turnout doubled to 700 attendees.

Le-Vy Nguyen Craig, the events coordinator at the Wing Luke Museum, originally became involved with the institution by being a performer at Jam Fest. She says she fell in love with it and kept coming back, eventually becoming a volunteer and getting a museum studies certificate during the pandemic-era rise in anti-Asian hate. Ultimately, she was hired there.

Her next goals for the festival include growing the physical space it occupies, because Canton and Maynard Alleys are not sufficient.

"We are an adventurous staff. I love to make things bigger and better," Nguyen Craig said.

Following the museum's mission to tell the history of the CID and share the culture of the neighborhood, Nguyen Craig emphasized the importance of activating the local community.

"We don't bring in outside food vendors, because we want our guests to get to know our tabling partners, enjoy the show, enjoy a restaurant, or get some boba in the neighborhood," she said. "I always try to focus on uplifting a different performer or tabling partner every year."

That effort has not gone unnoticed by performers at the event. Chiku Nance, an indie artist who has worked with the Wing Luke Museum in the past, said they appreciate the inclusion of other nonprofit organizations.

"They always really incorporate the neighborhood into their festival. They're not just having it at the Chinatown International District — they're having a festival for the community as well. They're inviting people from the community to table and having people interact with them in a way that they wouldn't normally," Chiku Nance said.

Viper Fengz, a drag artist who performed at the festival, said they like how raw and local Jam Fest is, adding that other festivals usually book a big headliner to bring in a large audience: "Usually what happens is all that work, all that money, goes to this one incredible artist, and all that's left goes to the local talent."

All three artists the SGN interviewed said they felt supported by the community and organizers during the event, and all three praised its meticulous organization.

"Everything that I've done through Wing Luke Museum, they've been able to garner a really solid audience for it. Not only that, the community is always looking for an opportunity to support," Viper Fengz said. "I'm a Virgo. I love a clean show."

S A M, a drag performer at the fest, went as far to say it was one of their best gigs. They were contacted by the Wing Luke Museum in the later stages of planning. The museum couldn't fit in another performance, but S A M was invited to wander the alleys in a colorful jellyfish drag costume they had posted on their Instagram. Usually a stage-oriented performer, S A M found the audience was a little different from their usual events.

"It was really nice to feel a little bit like a Disney princess, with all the kids," S A M said.

There were special moments for other performers, too. Chiku Nance's favorite part was when a friend brought strawberry ice cream to pass out during the set to celebrate an upcoming song of theirs, "Strawberry Ice Cream."

The festival follows an emotionally taxing year of anti-Trans legislation and drag bans throughout the country, but Nguyen Craig described it as one of joy and care.

"[Queer performers] just brought so much sparkle and joy to the event. It was an honor to include them in the lineup," she said.

The artists can be followed on Instagram: S A M @aahmedsam, Chiku Nance @chikunance, and Viper Fengz @viperfengz