There were maybe 150-200 people meandering through the streets of downtown Asheville; the crowd ended up in front of the old City/County Plaza, now called Pack Square Park. It was the early ‘90s. The event was one of the first “Pride Celebrations” the town had witnessed.
People holding signs that read “Fagits Go Home” met the parade at the courthouse. The marchers chanted back “F-A-G-G-O-T-S,” correcting the misspelled insult.
There’s a new celebration coming, and there will probably be more than 200 people there. On Saturday, Oct. 2, Lexington Avenue will be the scene of the second annual LGBTQ Blue Ridge Pride festival.
Everyone is welcome at this event — even people who don’t know that LGBTQ are initials for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (some people refer to the Q as Questioning) — as long as you come in peace.
The outdoor street festival is the culmination of a week’s worth of events; it will feature musicians, entertainers, educational workshops and local and regional vendors. State and local LGBTQ organizations will participate as well.
According to Amy Huntsman, one of the event’s organizers, this event is far different from the Pride celebrations of earlier decades.
Huntsman, a native to Asheville, explains that “a very dedicated group of people — all volunteers — came together in 2009 to establish a nonprofit festival, striving to include all LGBTQ populations, families and friends to create an exciting day that will educate, support awareness and celebrate the overall community at large.”
Hence the theme: “One Heart, One World, One Pride.”
Last year’s event was held at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, just on the edge of downtown. Festival-goers told the organizers they wanted the event to be more in the heart of the downtown, so organizers made it happen. Huntsman and other Blue Ridge Pride planning members decided to move the festival into the heart of downtown. “We received a lot of compliments on the festival last year, but people wanted it to be more visible and easily accessible,” she says. “Thanks to the support from the city of Asheville, we are able to move the festival to Lexington Avenue this year.
“We are an ever-changing and continuously growing group,” Huntsman says. “We are always looking for feedback and new people to volunteer and help keep the organization and events interesting to everyone.”
Not an easy task. But they sure are trying. “It’s virtually impossible to have something that all LGBTQ people will love. We’ve looked for that middle ground and we’ll probably make changes again next year,” Huntsman says. Saturday’s festival is reaching out to families with children, offering art activities, child performers, face painters, balloon artists and maybe even a surprise or two.
Everyone — families, singles, couples, club-goers, non-club goers and “straight allies” — can enjoy local female performances by Natalie Small Productions and the chorus numbers from Cantaria of Asheville, an ensemble organized to provide the opportunity for gay and gay-supportive men to sing together. Let’s not forget the magnificent voices in three-part harmony by local female group, The Swayback Sisters.
Out-of-town entertainers include:
• Mia Borders, a funk-rock and soul band out of New Orleans. In early 2006, Mia and a few talented friends joined forces as a funk-rock and soul group that was hailed as “New Orleans’ hottest buzz band” by the city’s own Where Y’at Magazine.
• Crys Matthews, who describes herself and her music this way: "Imagine Jill Scott and Otis Redding had a daughter and Tracy Chapman was her godmother … now imagine she spent summers teaching herself piano in Chicago and guitar in the mountains of North Carolina … that would probably sound something like the music I am fortunate enough to call my own.”
• Durham's Blondie tribute band, Heart of Glass.
While the festival is definitely a celebration, Blue Ridge Pride also wants people to know the group is around all-year long, offering LGBTQ resources, crisis services and general networking.
The organization will donate 10 percent of net proceeds from the festival to WNC YouthOUTRight, a youth advocacy and leadership program.
“There a lot of people out there (in the LGBTQ community) that don’t even know we exist. They have their own sub-groups. We want to be a catalyst group for everyone,” Huntsman says. “We want to do more than just a ‘Pride Celebration Day.’ We’re trying to do something different; we want everyone to come together.”
Other Official Blue Ridge Pride Events:
Wednesday, Sept. 29: Ice Cream Social benefitting Loving Food Resources at The Hop, Merrimon Ave., 6:30 p.m. Bring in five canned goods for free ice cream.
Thursday, Sept. 30: Comedy Night featuring local comedians at Tressa’s Downtown Blues and Jazz, 9 p.m., $5.
Saturday, Oct. 2: Official After Party at O'Henry's/Straps/LaRues featuring live music, Natalie Small Productions and a WNC Leathermen party, 8 p.m., $5.
— Tracy D. Hyorth is a freelance writer and owner of outnabout asheville. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: 2nd Annual Blue Ridge Pride Festival
where: Lexington Avenue, downtown Asheville
when: Saturday, Oct. 2 (noon – 8 p.m. blueridgepride.com)