DOWNTOWN — A new music festival happening in Grant Park this June is bringing big name performers to the city during its 50th annual Pride weekend. While organizers expected the announcement to thrill the city’s LGBTQ community, some locals are feeling left out.
“Pride in the Park,” a one-day music festival featuring Iggy Azalea and Steve Aoki as headliners, will happen June 29 in Grant Park’s Butler Field, drawing inspiration from Lollapalooza and electronic music festivals. The festival is produced by Dreambrite, a special event planning company co-founded by Dusty Carpenter, director of operations at Another Round Hospitality Group, and Ramesh Ariyanayakam, co-owner of the Kit Kat Supper Club and Lark Restaurant Bar in Boystown.
“For years we’ve had Pride Fest, which is an amazing event one weekend, but then a dead period until the parade next weekend,” Carpenter said. “I’ve also heard people complain about Chicago never getting big talent for Pride. So I got the idea to help Chicago put on our Pride Month at the level of Pride in New York and San Francisco.”
Representing Chicago in the lineup are drag queen Shea Couleé, rapper KC Ortiz and Miss DJ Meg. Other performers include singers Tamar Braxton, Taylor Dayne, Todrick Hall, Kathy Sledge and Gia Woods, as well as “Rupaul’s Drag Race” queens Alexis Michelle and Coco Montrese.
Tickets start at $50 for general admission and $100 for VIP packages. According to Carpenter, at least $1 for every ticket sold will be donated to the Center on Halsted, but the final donation could increase depending on how many tickets are sold. The festival is also partnering with Stonewall Sports Chicago to raise money for Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Although Carpenter said he created the festival partly to address complaints that Chicago’s Pride celebrations aren’t as big as other cities’, some LGBTQ community members aren’t happy with the new event.
An April 4 editorial in the Chicago Reader lambasted the festival as “pink capitalism,” claiming its $50–$100 ticket fee and non-LGBTQ-identifying headliners alienate portions of the LGBTQ community. Other local LGBTQ people echoed these concerns on social media.
Karastin Savage, an LGBTQ event promoter who organizes Pure Passion Chicago, an annual lineup of Pride events for women, said the price tag attached to Pride in the Park could prevent many people from attending.
“Pride is supposed to be for everybody, but with those ticket fares, the festival isn’t for everybody,” Savage said. “The underprivileged in our community won’t be able to drop $50 or $100 on a ticket.”
Savage said tickets could be cheaper and people would be more willing to buy them if the event featured more local LGBTQ talent.
“The reason the price tag is so high is because they had people like Iggy Azalea and Steve Aoki, who aren’t really part of the community,” Savage said. “There are a lot of local queer artists they could have booked and had lower ticket prices. I’d rather put my money in their pockets and keep it in the family.”
Addressing these concerns, Carpenter announced he would give tickets to the Center on Halsted, which can distribute them to underprivileged youth and families who can’t afford tickets. He also pointed out that Pride celebrations in other major cities are often ticketed events too. Tickets for Pride Island in New York start at $125.
Savage also argued the festival alienates intersex members of the LGBTQ community by raising money for Lurie Children’s Hospital. Activists have been protesting the hospital because it still performs medically unnecessary surgeries on children born intersex, having sexual characteristics that don’t fit binary notions of male or female.
“There are so many other places they could have donated to instead of Lurie Children’s Hospital,” Savage said. “Intersex people are a part of our community and intersex people should be allowed to determine if they want surgery or not.”
According to Carpenter, the Stonewall Sports League, whose members will work the beer booth and other volunteer positions, selected Lurie Children’s Hospital as the charity. The league will collect tips and donate money raised to the hospital, Carpenter said.
Representatives for Stonewall Sports Chicago and Lurie Children’s Hospital did not respond to requests for comment.
Drag queen Mikki Miraj said she was disappointed that the festival booked straight allies as headliners instead of LGBTQ-identifying artists.
“I recognize that Pride in the Park is addressing criticism that Chicago hasn’t been on the map in terms of bringing big, A-list celebrities to Pride events, but I was shocked to see the people chosen to represent Pride,” Miraj said. “We have incredible artists like Shea Coulee, KC Ortiz and Miss DJ Meg in the setlist who are local and representative of queer values and excellence, but when you take those few names away, it’s a completely different festival.”
Miraj said Azalea hasn’t fully reckoned with her racist and homophobic tweets that surfaced in 2015 or her history of cultural appropriation. Other rappers have criticized Azalea for rapping in a “blaccent” or “figurative blackface,” and the rapper referred to herself as a “runaway slave master” in her 2011 song “D.R.U.G.S.”
Azalea has since apologized, but Miraj said the rapper hasn’t proven herself to be an ally, except for “showing up for the check at LGBT events.”
“It seems that this event is being marketed to an exclusionary group of people that only represents a small fraction of the LGBTQ community,” Miraj said. “Using Pride as a marketing tool or angle should come with a responsibility for the event to accommodate the entire community.”
Carpenter said he couldn’t start booking talent until he secured the venue, which concluded in December 2018. By that time, many of the prominent LGBTQ artists he tried to book, such as Janelle Monae, Troye Sivan and Years & Years, were already booked for other events.
According to Carpenter, more local LGBTQ artists will be added to the festival when he announces its hosts who will entertain the crowd between sets. He also said he would love to add a second stage next year that could feature more local talent.
“I do think having queer artists as headliners is extremely important, but with timing things sometimes fall through,” Carpenter said. “But I’m very happy with the lineup we have. I made sure every demographic of the community was represented.”
Pride in the Park kicks off on June 29 at 2:00 p.m. in Grant Park, 280 S. Columbus Drive. Click here for tickets or more information. The 50th annual Pride Parade begins at noon on Sunday, June 30.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.