Capital Pride: Music to My Ears

10 07 2013
Justin Utley tunes his guitar before performing at Capital Pride DC.

Justin Utley tunes his guitar before performing at Capital Pride DC.

While pride festivals are mostly about parades and vendors, I find my favorite aspect is the entertainment.  Now I’m not talking about the washed up has been artists that always seem to show up at gay events.  You know, they had one dance hit in the 80’s and for some reason gay culture has latched onto them like goddesses.  No, I’m talking about the gay independent artists.  The ones who are self funded and working the stage because they love and believe in what they are doing.  They write most of their own music, pay for studio time out of pocket, and typically have to keep a full-time job to support their passion.  Yes, they are the ones that impress me.  Each of them have a level of honesty that make their music and performances genuine.

While on this trip I was fortunate enough to meet three such perfumers at Capital Pride in DC.  Two were performing and the third was a chance meeting at a bar later that night.  I can honestly say that I was in gay indie music heaven.

Justin Utley performs on the Capital Pride main stage.

Justin Utley performs on the Capital Pride main stage.

First and foremost, my friend Justin Utley happened to be playing DC pride (the one year I was also going to be there), I was thrilled to see him perform again.  Justin is an ex mormon who has risen out of gay reparative therapy to become an inspiring voice in the indie gay scene.  His music could be called country but I prefer singer/songwriter.  Escaping his home state of Utah, he now resides in NYC with his boyfriend of 3 years.  Justin’s most recent release was nearly 20 months ago in the form of his album “Nothing This Real”.  This release is a culmination of personal experiences from love to questioning the Mormon culture he came out of.  It’s a record that’s as enjoyable today as it was 20 months ago when he put it out.  Some songs like “Great Escape” always manage to land on my ‘favs’ playlist.  Since it’s been a while, I asked him what’s next.  He assured me there is a new music project on the horizon along with a music video for his award winning song “Stand For Something”.  I have heard some clips of a new track he’s working on and can honestly tell you that I can’t wait for the finished product.  I am also working on an interview with Justin, but because of his busy performance schedule, I have put it on hold until he has more time.  In the indie music scene, being busy is a good thing, so I’ll cut him some slack.

Eric Himan and the Soultre' Singers headline the Dupont stage.

Eric Himan and the Soultre’ Singers headline the Dupont stage.

The second performer I was thrilled to see and meet was Eric Himan.  Now this was funny.  I have listened to Eric’s music for a while now, but when Justin introduced me to him backstage, I was so distracted that it didn’t click with me who he was.  Awkward to say the least, but  once I came to my senses, I rushed back over to Eric and we chatted for a bit.  However, if my introduction to him was awkward, his performance certainly wasn’t.  Eric has a very soulful voice that really  allows him to take command of some great vocal notes.  Accompanied by the Soultre’ Singers, they belted out several of his best songs.  They also performed a couple songs from his upcoming release “Gracefully” named after his recently deceased grandmother Grace.  Now the CD has been released, I am telling you that it is a must have!  One particular song stands out to me above all the others, “Waiting For The Thunder (Malala)”.  This track is his tribute to the young girl who survived an attack by the Taliban simply for wanting an education.  It strikes a very powerful tone and image of this brave young girl.  This song will resonate with you!  Bringing together his voice, writing, and raw talent, Eric Himan’s “Gracefully” deserves a listen, you won’t regret it.

Eric Himan autographs CDs for fans after his set.

Eric Himan autographs CDs for fans after his set.

The last performer wasn’t even performing at pride, but I was fortunate enough to meet Tom Goss at the Green Lantern later that Sunday night.  I recognized Tom when he greeted a mutual friend who then introduced me.  Wow, this was a trifecta of artists I couldn’t have imagined.  I must say though, of the three men, I was actually a little starstruck by Tom.  I mean, I wasn’t expecting this meeting, so I didn’t have a chance to think it through.  I asked for a pic with him and proceeded to avoid staring at him while I attempted my best moves on the dance floor hoping he’d notice.  Silly, yes I know, but he’s really cute!  I discovered Tom only recently with the release of the video for his single “Make Believe”.  A fun video where he is body painted in the nude (nothing exposed) while being filmed in time-lapse.  You gotta love the story being told on his body.  Tom’s most recent production is the video and single “Bears”.  You see, Tom has an affinity for Bears.  He loves a big burly man, and boy would I love to be that man.  Sadly for me, he has already found his bear and is happily married.  Regardless, it was still a treat to meet Tom and try my best to impress him with my dancing.  I messaged him on Facebook after I got home from DC thanking him for the picture and recounting our chance meeting, this is the reply I got, “Yay! It was fun. You’re a great dancer too! Thanks for rocking the dance floor so hard.”  OMG, he noticed!

So my pride adventure in DC came to a fun and unexpected close.  I have to say that it was one of the best times I’ve had at pride in a long time.  I will also say that when you find yourself going to a pride event, keep an eyes and ears on the indie artists.  They are often better than the headliners.  These performers are the real deal, talented, raw, and most of all, they are accessible.  Say hello, they appreciate every fan and won’t take you for granted.

Here’s a small gallery of Justin performing at Capital Pride DC 2013.


Capital Pride: A Photographic Journal

18 06 2013

Here are my favorite shots.  I believe these 30 plus images captured the essence of Capital Pride in DC.  As you can see, this year was a super hero theme and a plethora of hero costumes.  I hope you enjoy this look at the Family, friends, and supporters of the LGBT community in DC as seen through my lens.

Stay tuned for my next posting on the Capital Pride entertainment.  This will include an exclusive interview with  singer/songwriter Justin Utley!

Capital Pride in Washington D.C.

12 06 2013
Rainbows decorate P Street along the parade route.

Rainbows decorate P Street along the parade route.

It’s June, the month where gay pride festivals pop up in cities and towns all over the United States.  Why June?  Well, on June 28th, 1969 the Stonewall Riots occurred in New York City.  This was the impetus of the gay rights movement in the US and thus June has become the month we celebrate our diversity and culture. This year, I decided to travel to DC and join the party there.  Washington DC is not new to me.  I have made made annual visits four times now, but one item I have not attended is Capital Pride.  So, this was the year I took a gay-cation to my nation’s capital city.

Over the past visits I have made a number of great friends in the area.  This means I have no need to fret about hotels or finding my way around.  I’m not ignorant of public transportation in DC, but one can focus more on the sights and sounds when not having to constantly orient yourself to the nearest bus or metro stop.  Let’s just say that this blog entry will be more about pride than the logistics of travel in and around DC.

Like most gay pride events, Capital Pride is a week-long affair that starts on a Monday and slowly builds to a climax on Sunday evening (pun intended).  I did not arrive until Friday, but I was able to participate in the main events on Saturday and Sunday.

Peace Corps contingent marching in the parade.

Peace Corps contingent marching in the parade.

Saturday was parade day and my friends and I staked out a shady spot along the route about 30 minutes prior to the start time.  It was a sticky hot and humid day, but everyone was in good spirits.  The streets were closed off by the police and so began a mile long swath of colorful floats, marching bands, dancers, and more glitter than a RuPaul gown all weaved through the famously gay Dupont neighborhood.  It seemed that almost everyone was represented.  Participants ranged from the British Embassy, The Peace Corps, many of the local inclusive churches, gay friendly businesses, most of the local clubs and bars, and gay social clubs.  However, one of the highlights for myself was the Grand Marshal Lynda Carter.

Lynda Carter waves to the crowd.

Lynda Carter waves to the crowd.

Yes, Wonder Woman had us all in a big gay tizzy!  We couldn’t get that theme song out of our heads all day.  She looked fantastic flanked by women in Wonder Woman costumes as she rode past us in a pink Ford Thunderbird convertible.  Then after 2 hours and just as suddenly as it began, the last float went by, and the streets were reopened as the hoards of revelers vanished into the many nearby eateries for dinner.  Parades are not something I see very often, but I found this one particularly fun.  Maybe it’s the fact I haven’t done this in several years, or I am in a different mindset now.  Either way, it was an enjoyable and memorable time.

A group performs with flags behind a marching band.

A group performs with flags behind a marching band.

Sunday morning arrived with an overcast sky that I knew wouldn’t last, but gave me hope that the Pride Festival would not be a scorching affair.  You see, the festival on Sunday is held on Pennsylvania Ave, not in a park.  That means hot pavement.  It would be my only complaint regarding the festival.  So with sunscreen applied, camera in hand, and friends in tow, we set out for a day of festivities.

A swarming crowd descends on Pennsylvania Ave for Capital Pride.

A swarming crowd descends on Pennsylvania Ave for Capital Pride.

Entering the event you must go through a gauntlet of people with buckets asking for donations.  I really didn’t mind this since the festival is run on donations and sponsorships.  I dropped my donation in one of them and proceeded to explore the many rainbow clad booths lined up the avenue.  Once again, it seemed everyone was represented.  From the PFLAG guy holding the sign offering “Free Hugs” to the gay rugby team tossing around a ball in the street, it seemed all were there to have a great time and celebrate.  This festival is not unlike many others you’ll see around the country, lots of color, people dressed in costumes and others dressed in their normal attire.  Families pushing strollers and plenty of dogs wearing rainbow bandanas were walked up and down the festival grounds.  Two performance stages provided a plethora of entertainment options.  Everything from folk/country musicians, dance troops, drag, pop, and rock echoed in the background through the entire day from the huge stage speakers.  The festival runs from noon until 8pm when the headliners finish their set.  And just like the ending of the parade, everyone dispersed into the city high on pride.

I would not say DC has the biggest pride, that honor goes to San Francisco and New York, but I will say it was just about right for me.  Good crowds and a great mix of people made it fun without being overwhelming.  It wasn’t as risqué as I have seen at San Fran Pride years ago. Nobody walked around completely naked and there were no porn star booths.  It was more subtle and celebratory than shocking.  I would definitely attend again.

Who would say no to a free hug?

Who would say no to a free hug?

Vamos a Hablar de España

27 05 2013

When I look at a map of Europe there are a number of places I have not been, but none stand out quite like Spain.  I really can’t say why I never made there.  Spain definitely has its charms, historical relevance, big cities, and a cuisine worthy of attention, yet somehow it was never on my radar.  That is until a few months ago when I began pondering my Autumn 2013 destination.  So I decided this would be the year I would explore the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid.

Like I said, I started to float the idea a few months ago.  It began with my typical pattern of researching flights, hotels, and attractions, but one thing I didn’t plan for was having a companion along for the journey.  As a solo traveler, I have become accustomed to going it alone.  My friends here have lives that prevent the kind of travel I am fortunate to do.  Be it work, college, or family, most of them just don’t have the ability to tag along with me.  Well this changed in a big way when my friend Alex assured me he was joining this trip.

Alex and I enjoying tapas and sangria in Denver while plotting Spain.

Alex and I celebrate our booking over tapas and sangria in Denver.

Now to say I’m not a little nervous at the idea would be a lie.  We are great friends, but my penchant to go off trail and avoid scripting could prove to be a struggle for any travel companion.  So, before we booked anything, we talked and researched.  I shared my stories from past trips and my philosophy.  Luckily, he is easy going and agreed to much of it.  Aslo, I have one other aspect of this trip I am excited about, I have a friend who lives in Barcelona.  David will be a huge asset that I have not been afforded in the past.  A local’s perspective is always a bonus.  I am certain we will be able to find and do things with far less effort by having him show us around.

In the early stages of planning I discovered the only thing I wasn’t pleased about with traveling to Spain, the cost.  Yep, Spain is a bit pricey.  I searched and delayed, I even went beyond my rule of booking 6 months early.  The flights are just going to cost more when flying from Denver to Spain, I just had to accept it.  Our plan is to fly from Denver to Barcelona and return via Madrid to Denver.  When I first started to search the prices were about $1250 each (I know, yikes…my entire flight and hotel package to Istanbul was only $1420), but after a few weeks they dipped to $1145 and stayed there for a few weeks.  Since it is now only 4 months away, I finally got the itch and we decided to just book our tickets before they jumped back up.

One important detail Alex and I had to discuss was the sleeping arrangement.  We might be close friends, but we both want space.  Two hotel rooms would be a little exorbitant for us, and the idea of a twin or double room didn’t appeal either.  This is where we decided to book an apartment through Airbnb (a site that provides an avenue for homeowners to rent out an empty guest room, apartment, or entire home to travelers).

For information on Airbnb click HERE

For information on Airbnb click HERE

Airbnb has a good structure for reviews with pictures of both hosts and their property.  That provided for some confidence even though the concept is quite foreign to us.  We must have spent weeks looking at different apartments before we finally settled on a Barcelona and a Madrid location we could agree on.  In the end, I believe what we booked will make for fantastic stays in both cities.  Our place in Barcelona is a high floor 2 bedroom apartment with a massive patio that affords an amazing view of nearly the entire city.  Our cost for this apartment is $960.  In Madrid it seems everything was less expensive.  We found a nice 2 bedroom place in the heart of the Grand Via neighborhood for $445.  Both of these locations will give us the space and location we desire.  Alex and I couldn’t be more excited.

The final part of the trip still to be booked is the train from Barcelona to Madrid.  The tickets can’t be bought this early, but I already know they will be about $120-140 each depending on the exchange rate at the time of purchase.  With the train tickets included, that brings our total cost for transportation and lodging in Spain to $3960 (roughly $1980 each).  Ouch, I told you Spain was pricey.  All I can say is that I’ll take the bargains when I can, but this one definitely would have been much more expensive without Airbnb.

So now the long months of anticipation and planning begin.  I can’t wait to explore the Gaudí structures of Barcelona, browse the Picasso museum, and photograph the many plazas of Madrid.  This should be an incredible trip.  This will also be the first trip I won’t see alone!

Accidentally Gay in Istanbul

20 05 2013

For My final post on Istanbul I want to cover a more personal topic, homosexuality in Turkey.  When it comes to travel, I am a tourist first and gay second.  The idea of going on a trip simply for gay tourism is rare in my case.  So when I booked my trip to Istanbul it didn’t even occur to me that there might be an opportunity to discover any gay culture in Turkey.  I’m certain that part of this was due to my own predisposed thoughts on the added stigma of being gay in a Muslim country.  Now that stigma isn’t unique to Islam, I have been spurned by Christians many times.  I just didn’t figure there would be much to discover in this arena in Turkey.  Also, I wasn’t sure how safe it would be even if I had found something.  Is that stereotyping?  Probably, but when you are a member of an often denigrated group, you must consider these things.

While doing some web browsing a couple months before my trip I came across an article that listed the top 10 gay travel destinations for 2013.  I was shocked to see Istanbul listed as #1.  Really?  Intrigued, I read through it and discovered that purely by accident I was going to be in Istanbul during the spring IstanBear Fest!  What a crazy coincidence, and thus began a series of web searches looking into the event.  Would I be able to squeeze this in among my other touring desires?  Yep, since I refuse to be structured, I looked at this as something of fate.  I immediately registered for the event.

Istanbul Bears is a relatively small club compared to those in the US, but they are a very close knit group bound out of years of struggle.  The gay community as a whole in Istanbul is somewhat of a fledgling movement when compared to the more progressive Europe, but they are becoming an increasingly more visible group.  There are many gay clubs in Beyoğlu that are becoming quite popular with tourists, but my time was spent with the bears so that is what I will discuss.

A banner hangs at the IstanBear Fest host bar.

A banner hangs at the festival’s host bar.

IstanBear Fest isn’t that much different than other bear festivals I have attended.  It’s an event that is attended by a very international crowd of bears who travel to Istanbul to meet and make friends.  There were nightly parties at the host bar, group gatherings, events at various places around town, and plenty of socializing with lots of drinking.  I met many wonderful people from all over the region.  However, with this event, the difference was subtle but fairly obvious to me.  Sadly, not all of these guys are able to be openly gay in public.  I think too many of us take our ability to be open in public for granted.  Many of these events were in places where the general public would not see them, and a number of guys asked not to have their picture taken and/or requested their faces be blurred out of group pics.  It was a far cry from the open hand holding and kissing that happened when I attended Bears on Ice in Reykjavik last September.  But behind closed doors and away from the prying eyes of those who would hate, these men were wonderfully warm, friendly, and caring.  Those who were fortunate enough to be “out” in Turkey were confident and understanding of those who could not.

Tragically, their history includes the story of a man who has become something of a bear community martyr.  Ahmet Yildiz embraced his homosexuality and even represented his country at a gay scientist at an event in the US.  He was proud to be himself, but this was not something his family would tolerate.  He received multiple death threats from family  members.  His refusal to seek a “cure” for his homosexuality led to his murder at the hand of his father.  They’d rather have him dead than gay.  Here is a more detailed article on Ahmet.  This event galvanized the gay community in Istanbul, and has only served to create a stronger movement towards acceptance.  It’s going to take time, but I believe they are on a solid path.  The struggle in America was brought to the forefront by the Stonewall Riots in 1969, in Turkey it was brought out by the 2008 honor killing of Ahmet Yildiz.  Like American gays in 1969, Istanbul gays still have a long way to go. As members of the LGBT community we can do our part by increasing the gay presence in Istanbul, visiting and spending our money at gay friendly businesses in and around the city.  This will go a long way to help their cause.

I am glad I was able to experience gay Istanbul despite it not being part of my original plan.  Travel is about culture for me and this made my visit much more fulfilling.  Gays do exist in the Muslim world, and regardless of what anyone thinks, they will not fade away or be bullied into deeper hiding.  Killing gays will only serve the opposite effect, we only become stronger through oppression.  We are human, we are brothers, sisters, friends, and loving contributors to society.  We deserve respect and acceptance like everyone else regardless of religion, culture, or race.