The return of summer has a way of bringing new life to OC–as well as plenty of color of the rainbow variety. As Pride Month sweeps through downtown streets across the US, it’s more than just symbolic greatness to see the colors of the LGBTQ community represented in the heart of in Santa Ana where OC Pride kicks off its 9th annual parade and festival celebration. From the floats and flags to the confetti and booming bass emitting from bars and clubs throughout the city, it’s a scene that says a lot about how far OC has come since we got our own Pride festival back in 2009 after being dormant for decades following the first festival in 1989.
Since then, it’s resurged not only as a one-weekend event but a year round process of making our celebration and acceptance of gay culture one of the highlights of summer in OC.
“You never would’ve thought that this extremely Republican county would ever swing this way, but it is,” says OC Pride President Jeremy Huntington. “And it’s nice to see that for the youth because they need those open arms and they weren’t getting it here and they are and that’s the biggest thing.”
Since he took over as OC Pride President four years ago, Huntington’s been in charge of expanding the festival into a full week of events in various spots around OC designed to get the excitement going early for the main festival. Things kicked off last week with events like a queer-centric Roller Rendezvous night at Holiday Skate in Orange, Wine and Paint Night in Anaheim and tomorrow’s Party Monster Tribute at the Tin Lizzie Saloon in Costa Mesa.
It all leads up to the parade and festival on June 23 where this year’s theme “Be You” will be in full effect. Dozens of local and national acts will perform across the stages at the mainstage at the Yost, the Latin Stage and the T.A.N.G. stage–Transgender, Androgynous, Non Conforming Gender. It’s the first year that the festival has created a stage specifically for transgender performers.
“That way we could give a stage to artists who are usually even at Prides and LGBT festivals are overlooked,” Huntington says. “We’ve got a lot of local artists on that stage and we realize they need a lot of support and they’ve got a lot of talent.”
Like any event in the festival landscape, the desire to grow and include more and more people is always part of the fabric of OC Pride. However, one of the things that separates OC Pride from some others across the country, including LA and Long Beach, is the bigger emphasis on highlighting local talent over big-name acts.
“We aren’t one of those huge Prides that are centered around being a music festival where all the money is spent on top name artists where we have to charge $30 to even get into the festival,” Huntington says. “Ours has always been free and that’s something that’s something very passionate to our board.”
It’s also inevitable that focusing on our local scene will create a vibe that is undeniably influenced by the sound of our streets, bars and clubs. “There’s just a sense of the music that comes out, whether it’s the Latin, or the Beach, there’s this underlying feeling of Orange County that comes out here and everyone does come says they feel it in the music and they feel a sense of welcome,” Huntington says.
But even though you won’t be seeing Lady Gaga on the bill of OC Pride, there’s no way the festival would rob OC’s Little Monsters of her essence. Thankfully, one of the festival’s mainstage performers, Erika Gaga, has what it takes to deliver this crucial element of celebration worthy of applause. Performing all the hits (and actually singing and playing piano) is only one aspect of the Gaga machine that the actor Erika Moul immerses herself in to get the crowd going. Nailing her enigmatic look and her connection to the crowd is a reminder that it takes an ultimate level of self confidence to portray someone else.
“The theme of the event is ‘Be You’, for me that’s hilarious because I’m going out as someone else,” Moul says. “But that’s the point I’m trying to make with my show…For me ‘Be You’ is a perfect theme because it’s a way to say hey this is me being someone else but I am myself but just a version of someone else…it’s my own glitter on top of a painting. “
For LA-based pop act Madyx, that sense of welcome for artists and people from all over the social and sexual spectrum is something that never gets stale. When she started performing under her current moniker four years ago, the dyed-mohawked singer born Michelle Blanchard knew she wanted to show people exactly who she was through her music. And its paid off big for her and backing bandmates Pablo Martins and Dakota Issacson. From tours at high schools and big events across the country and Europe and opportunities to get her songs on an upcoming movie soundtrack, she’s seen her career take off as a result of embracing her identity to the fullest.
“I’ve been openly gay since I was 13 years old but it wasn’t until the last four years where I said ‘I’m really gay, I wanna chop off my hair and I want to stick out,’” Madyx says. “We played a lot of high school shows years ago and a lot of the gay kids who were blurring the lines of what gender is were drawn to me and my music.”
Taking hints from artists as wide ranging as Pink, Brody Dalle of the Distillers and Melissa Ethridge, Madyx’s style is refreshing enough to speak to the youth as well as anyone looking for songs about love of all sorts–in other words, the perfect original soundtrack to OC Pride.
“The festival is all about is being around people who aren’t gonna judge you and love you for being you,” she says. “You go to Pride and people are wearing whatever the fuck they want and they’re not in fear of being judged. I always tell people to go where the love is, not where it’s supposed to be and when you go to Pride, that’s where the love is.”
OC Pride on June 23 in Downtown Santa Ana starts with the parade at 10:30 a.m. followed by the festival from 12p.m.-10 p.m. Main Stage acts go from 12p.m.-2 a.m. For a full list of locations, performers and activities, visit https://www.prideoc.com