Pride Issue 2018 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

May 30, 2018 News » Cover Story

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    • Courtesy Shea Freedom

    Intentional Representation
    This year's Pride Festival entertainment lineup tightens its focus on locals.

    By Nick McGregor

    This year's Utah Pride Festival entertainment lineup features an embarrassment of riches across its three stages. What's surprising, however, is that new entertainment director Hillary McDaniel booked two full days and nights of creative, representative fun while spending just half of last year's budget. The secret? A deliberate focus on local performers.

    "Bringing in national acts is very expensive," McDaniel says. "We wanted to spend a lot less on entertainment this year—not because we're hurting or don't have the budget, but because every dollar that we don't spend on entertainment is money that can be used at the Utah Pride Center for lifesaving programs and youth services. It was very intentional to have more local representation this year."

    McDaniel says all of that local talent is comprised either of fierce allies or members of the LGBTQ community. "I want people who have never heard of these bands to know they're living and working here in Salt Lake City," McDaniel says. "Take SUNNEI, for example: if you listen to their music, you may not realize they're gender fluid, or that you can see them regularly at venues like Urban Lounge. After the festival is over, I want fans of their music to continue to support them as they build their career."

    A wide variety of genres are represented across the Utah Pride Festival's trio of stages (the Main Stage, Red Rock Stage, and DJ/Spoken Word Stage): electronica, samba, dance-pop, indie rock, folk, rap, glam-metal, even blues. Long-running all-female band Sister Wives might turn heads, McDaniel laughs: "Usually when you think of lesbians, you don't think of blues music, right?"

    Local favorites Talia Keys and The Love also do a good job dispelling expectations, McDaniel says. Keys packs a lot of Michael Franti-esque soul and R&B grooves into her infectious tunes, and though "it's not dance music," McDaniel clarifies, "Talia will absolutely make you dance. Lyrically, her music is extremely political, too, talking about control and power—and taking that power back. It's really good for people to hear that message coming from someone in the community who's been marginalized."

    Hearing authentic voices talk about authentic experiences is part of what makes the lineup so powerful. This year's theme is "Get Salty," emphasizing the fact that while some battles have been won by the LGBTQ community, many more are still left to fight. "Yes, we've legalized gay marriage, but we still have transgender people dying everyday," McDaniel says. "There's still a very big lack of representation in the media for transgender and non-binary artists—even more so with people of color."

    Shireen Ghorbani, an Iranian-American woman from North Dakota who works at the University of Utah, spins under the name DJ Legs and will close out the weekend on the DJ/Spoken Word Stage. You might have seen her name around town—she's running for Congress in Utah's 2nd District. "Shireen offered to donate her time," McDaniel says, "which is great because she can show people that there's another side of her. A lot of our performers are complex individuals who have complicated and intersectional identities. Letting them speak for themselves is a powerful way to make change."

    Two more acts that McDaniel pinpoints as important to that cause are local band Fists in the Wind, who recently released a single about the 53 percent of white women who voted for Donald Trump, and California's Shea Freedom (pictured above), a transgender man who grew up in the foster care system. "Shea spent 18 years of his life moving from home to home while struggling with gender dysphoria, and that message stands out in his music," McDaniel says. "Seeing somebody on stage like that—someone you identify with and whose music you can dance to, but who is also such a strong ally of the queer community—can be very inspirational and make you want to do more as an activist. That kind of representation can really change the way our community is treated and shift the way we have conversations about LGBTQ issues."

    That hard work is highlighted thanks to appearances by Salt Lake Men's Choir, Salt Lake Acting Co., Music and Art Collective, Cheer Salt Lake, The Performer Studio, Wasatch Wordsmiths, and When She Speaks I Hear Revolution, all of which will offer locals the chance to get involved after the festival ends. The Miss City Weekly Pageant winners and Utah Vaudeville and Burlesque Collective also add a glamorous touch to the weekend, while a plethora of other intriguing acts pack the Saturday-Sunday lineup. There's even a Youth Pride Dance led by RuPaul's Drag Race alum Kimora Blac on Friday.

    "Queer people have historically worked behind the scenes in the entertainment industry," McDaniel says, "but having all these queer voices spotlighted on center stage is important. Even though the budget was halved this year, I took that as a good challenge to make sure every dime we spend was done so intentionally and that every creative act chosen to perform could have an impact."

    Taking a breath, McDaniel, who's spent several years doing just that kind of work with Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls Salt Lake City and the Women's Redrock Music Festival in Torrey, admits, "I'm pretty proud of what we were able to accomplish."

    Utah Pride Festival
    Washington Square, downtown
    $7 daily tickets
    $75 Pride Week Get Salty Pass


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