Nightlife

‘Rogue’ party uproar shows tech, journalism’s COVID-19 limits

An alcove inside 251 Cocktail Club

As unpleasant as it is to find out that swans are not in fact mating-for-life in Venetian canals next to frolicking dolphins, it’s doubly frustrating to hear that people are blowing off government-imposed social isolation to have fun without you.

Earlier this week, you may have read that a party promoter had chosen to throw an “underground” party at newish venue 251 Cocktail Club at 251 Rhode Island Street. on Friday night. News of the party, presented by well-established techno promotion crew SET and featuring Venetian DJ Lehar, generated a huge uproar online—especially through a viral article by CBS Local, which characterized the affair as a “rogue party” and invoked some of the outdated, mainstream anti-rave hysteria that accompanied news of the Ghost Ship fire.

Social media was flooded with understandable vitriol against these dangerous scofflaws of social distancing and nightclub shutdown regulations. Virtual torches were lit, pitchforks were verbally polished, the sequestered villagers were assembled for an online march on the castle. The City Attorney’s office even got word of it and put the promoters and venue on blast with a strongly worded letter to the landlord.

Except the whole incident appears to be an overblown error, revealing not only technology’s (and journalism’s) failure to catch up with the coronavirus shutdown, but the extend of the disease’s effects in the Bay Area as well.

The whole imbroglio was a combination of overzealousness, technical snafus, and COVID-19. Both the venue and the promoter had actually canceled the Lehar show on March 14, just after the state announced that all nightclubs were to be shut down indefinitely. However, due to the way that events are announced and tickets sold online—mostly via Facebook and Eventbrite—the word was slow to get out, and the party appeared to still be happening.

On top of all this, the kerfuffle took on a tragic edge, as it was revealed that SET’s founder, Christian Pineiro, has actually been seriously ill with coronavirus (as he revealed in a Facebook post) and was therefore unable to respond to the growing discontent. 251 Cocktail Club owner Spensur Husen quickly followed up Pineiro’s post with confirmation of the situation.

Dear Friends, I am with Corona Virus, I contracted the virus on Sunday, March 15th and been fighting it on self…

Posted by Christian Set on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It was Comment Section Heaven for a hot second, though, wasn’t it? Imagine: 200 sweaty revelers, some of them probably wearing Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin costumes, pulsating to the beat, while outside a plague raged and the rest of us stewed six feet apart from one another. You think people are boiling alive just peering through their blinds to judge the parents of small children who are playing in the park? This was like the Fyre Festival raised to the power of The Masque of the Red Death.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office thought so, claiming that tickets were being sold through Eventbrite and through Pineiro’s personal site until Wednesday, March 25. However, Pineiro says that a technological foul-up was to blame. He created a Facebook event through Eventbrite, but once the owner of 251 Cocktail Club deleted the initial Eventbrite posting, there was effectively no way for Pineiro to delete the now-orphaned Facebook post.

There are currently several events on Eventbrite promoting parties this week that have yet to indicate clearly that they are cancelled or postponed. Advertisements for cancelled arts and music events and parties are still confusingly appearing in many peoples’ Facebook feeds, perhaps a result of Facebook sending thousands of content moderators home.

“Four days ago, I reached out to Eventbrite and said, ‘I’m sick, please refund all tickets.’ But there’s only so much they can do without me doing the rest, and because of that particular glitch, I couldn’t even look at it.”

Christian Pineiro of SET, center, with DJs John Digweed and Khen

Pineiro showed 48 Hills a series of text messages that confirm a Facebook post canceling the event on Saturday, March 14—almost two weeks ago. He also claims that he’s been ill with COVID-19 for more than a week, since returning from a festival in St. Martin.

“I had a really high fever, and got back and tested positive and quarantined myself with no human contact for the last 10 days,” Pineiro said by phone. “I’ve been sleeping 16 hours a day. It’s been rough. Imagine the worst cold you ever had, and multiply by 100.”

Pineiro expressed surprise at the vehemence of the city’s claims, stating that the City Attorney’s office never contacted him and never looked at his social media accounts, which he updates frequently. (There is a 10-day posting gap on his Facebook page during the time frame in questions, which may have contributed to the confusion.)

“They’re accusing me of something that was never going to happen,” he said. “Why would I try to sell tickets to an event that I am not promoting?”

Indeed, the entire argument that someone would throw a giant party weeks into a nationwide emergency only stands up to scrutiny if one believes that party-goers are uniformly self-absorbed, irresponsible hedonists who don’t care about each other’s wellbeing, and that absolutely none of them would be upset by this. A casual glance at venues around the city show that not only is San Francisco’s entire nightlife community abiding by the restrictions, but that people are valiantly rallying to look after one another, physically and economically.

Moreover, Pineiro has a good reputation in SF’s nightlife community.

“He’s a super-solid promoter, up front with everything,” says Jeff Whitmore, owner of Public Works and The Midway. “I’ve been talking to him for the last week or so when he’s been sick in bed. We had several events planned with him that we’re going to reschedule for the fall.”

The City Attorney’s office stood by its decision, however.

“We’re pleased this event is now cancelled and tickets are no longer being marketed or sold,” said spokesperson John Cote. “We will continue to monitor the property to confirm that the event will not take place. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and everyone needs to follow the directives of public health officials.”

Lehar, the headliner for the long-canceled party at 251 Cocktail Club, probably knows this well. As Pineiro points out, he’s from Italy and wouldn’t have been able to fly to the US to perform, anyway.

Party Radar: Fault Radio helps DJs stream through quarantine

If, like me, you’re “into” nightlife and music, your social media feed has flipped almost instantaneously into a multi-roomed nightclub, with DJs and musicians streaming live sets, friends recommending playlists, and drag queens lip-syncing for their lives (and hopefully tips).

This outpouring/overload of entertainment has affirmed dance music’s joy, connection, and necessity—not to mention the Internet’s—in this time of uncertainty and isolation. There’s far too many DJ sets to choose from right now, it seems, which leads to a giddy delight while you’re bopping on your sofa. Of course, there’s an element of concern involved as well, as most DJs have suddenly had their livelihoods eviscerated and are trying to find new income, er, streams.

But you can’t stop the dance. Everyone from hometown heroes like Jenö, celebrating founding SF rave collective Wicked’s 29th birthday, to international techno epicenter Resident Advisor’s Club Quarantäne, a marathon of underground talent, and the Sunday Quaran-Tea dances, bringing together a gaggle of queer DJs to benefit the Queer Nightlife Fund, are up in your socials.

This sudden concentration on the Internet may seem novel, but the folks at local streaming DJ site Fault Radio were way ahead of the coronavirus curve when it came to visual club-hopping. Launched in 2018 by two nightlife savvy emigrés from Tel Aviv, Dor Wand and Dundee Maghen, Fault Radio surfaces some of the best DJ talent in beautifully produced live videos, recorded at various locations around the Bay. Fault Radio’s archives are a treasure trove of sounds both familiar and new, lovingly archived and presented by two people who care deeply for our delicate yet thriving scene.

When I interviewed Dor and Dundee a few weeks ago, before the full force of COVID-19 hit, we excitedly talked about how Fault Radio was helping to increase the Bay Area’s international profile—while documenting the diversity that still exists in dance music scene holding on in a very expensive and rapidly homogenizing environment.

They were looking forward to their huge Shifting Plates Record Fair, this year in partnership with popular crowdsourced record database Discogs, which was to draw dozens of vendors and hundreds of participants to Classic Cars West in April. They were also recording sets at Vinyl Dreams record store in the Haight, which is owned by one of the godfathers of the local dance scene, Mike B (no relation).

We had absolutely no idea that soon the outbreak would shut down all the clubs, bars, concert venues, record stores, and gathering places in the Bay Area—pretty much leaving Fault Radio the only operating established  “nightclub.” (The Shifting Plates Record Fair has been postponed until June 7.)

“We’ve been very wavy emotionally, like everyone else,” Dundee told me in a follow-up call after the lockdown. “We had a few hard days, but we’ve shifted to working on initiatives to support the community, which is helping to keep us focused.”

“There was an advantage to being from somewhere else, we saw what was happening there before it came here,” Dor added. “So we had a little cushion of knowing what to expect. We had a few days lead time to think about how we could support and elevate the scene here before the impact.”

Those initiatives are pretty exciting. First, the pair have opened up broadcasting on the Fault Radio site to anyone with their broadcast from home “Relief Sessions.” You fill out a quick survey to apply, and they teach you the fundamentals of streaming remotely—perfect for DJs who are new at it.

“This outbreak is causing so much isolation, that we want to make it as easy as possible to connect with other people online, in the best way,” said Dundee. “Streaming is now a commodity, a way to earn a living, and we want to offer our experience in this way to help.”

“When everyone started streaming on Facebook and other sites, we knew that there would be huge differences in quality, in terms of the sound, the lighting, and other things you only know from doing it a hundred times,” said Dor. “Many people are dealing with this technology for the first time, so we want to help bring everyone up to a similar level.”

To this end, Fault is also offering “Stream-Kits” to be delivered to DJs’ homes, with everything they need to set up and stream. (Fault Radio archives and promotes the stream on their site, as well as their Soundcloud and Youtube.) “The box has various equipment inside to upgrade your streaming—maybe even something alcoholic,” Dor laughs. “When you receive it, we can hop on a video call with you and help you through the process. We just announced this, and already we’ve had interest from people in London, Budapest, Istanbul…”

But their heart remains with the locals. “Even with every one on lockdown, there’s still things happening.  There’s still a scene,” Dundee said. “Now the biggest challenges that we’re dealing with is, you’re feeling very isolated from your community. Even if you are documenting yourself, it feels isolated. This is our way to make the music scene still feel alive.”

Find out more about Fault Radio’s relief session and watch DJ sets here.

Arts workers struggling after performances are cancelled and venues closed

Non Stop Bhangra. Photo by Odell Hussey

UPDATE: We are keeping a running list of artist and worker resources here, as well as including the opportunity for those affected by the crisis to share their story. 

“I don’t even know anybody who has been able to handle this.”

Entertainers and performers have been devastated by the coronavirus and the subsequent ban on events of more than 100 people, which went into effect Friday evening.

Non Stop Bhangra. Photo by Odell Hussey

And with the governor’s declaration today closing all bars and clubs, the situation will just get worse.

DJ Jimmy Love, founder of SF-based production and dance company Non-Stop Bhangra, has had to postpone a music festival in Fresno which was supposed to be happening at the time of the writing. Love is unsure if the festival will ever take place.

“We had 78-100 people staffed, food trucks, a staging company, full dance company, and we sunk a lot of marketing money into it … we moved it to a day next month and we’re still not sure it’s gonna happen,” said Love.

Love explained that the postponement of the festival is potentially catastrophic for DJs and performers who were booked.

“We spend a lot of time planning, and then we get to this one payday. [As a performer], you don’t make a lot of money from December to February, and March and April are our payday, you get paid for all the work you put in dancing, rehearsing. This is our key season,” said Love.

Beyond the festival, Love has lost nearly all his business due to the coronavirus. Since Wednesday, Non-Stop Bhangra has had seven high-value corporate events cancel, resulting in a sudden loss of $15,000 in expected revenue.

Love said he believes the situation for the entertainment industry, especially for smaller venues, will be dire in the coming months due to the coronavirus.

“I don’t know any small venues that can handle three to four months of paying rent with no sales,” he said. “We might not have clubs to come back to. This could be completely the end of our business. By then you’d better start some other kind of business, otherwise I don’t see how else you’ll get by.”

For Dan Karkoska, who produces Puff, which he described as a “queer cannabis drag party,” things are up in the air.

“We’re in a state of waiting, everyone’s scared,” said Karkoska. “For us it’s financial, how long is this going to go for? I have a month, if I have to,” said Karkoska.

On Wednesday, the day before I spoke with Karkoska, he had expected to have 14 performers at the Puff show at The Stud, San Francisco’s oldest gay bar, but only seven showed up, and turnout was a paltry ten people, about a tenth of what the show usually gets.

Despite the low turnout, Karkoska was grateful that the show was able to happen.

“Last night’s show was fun, good to get everyone out, I think that’s the scary thing is staying away, it’s a human nature thing to come together when we’re scared,” said Karkoska.

To make ends meet during these trying times, Karkoska plans to sell things from his house on eBay and hopes that there will be government assistance for performers who are out of work.

Rasa Vitalia, a professional dancer, singer, percussionist and caricature artist, said times ahead look bleak as well.

“I don’t have any backup solutions… I just have to surrender to what’s happening, there’s no creative solution,” said Vitalia.

Vitalia has had all her events for March, April, and May cancel, and is scrambling for a plan to earn income during what is normally a busy time for her business.

“I’m hoping my May events happen, but if not, I don’t know what to do,” said Vitalia. “I have like $10 left. I’ve been looking for other employment, trying to teach online dance, do online caricatures for people,” said Vitalia.

The situation for performers is worsening in real-time. Even as I was speaking with Vitalia, a Saturday gig where she was going to perform cancelled at 1:30pm Friday. Another artist and drag queen I spoke with on Saturday, Jordan Sunshine, showed me a screenshot of a Facebook message telling her that an event where she was booked to perform had been cancelled. The message was timestamped 3:30pm, about one hour after I spoke with her over the phone.

Sunshine has had 18 events cancel on them because they would draw more than 250 people, including the Palace of Trash drag show, which normally has 300-600 attendees and was scheduled to occur on her birthday.

“No birthday drag show for me,” said Sunshine.

Sunshine, like many performers, holds another job to make ends meet and has also been affected by the gatherings ban and social distancing. In addition to working as a drag queen, Sunshine works in visual design at Living Green Design, where she builds artwork out of plants for events. According to Sunshine all the events where they were scheduled to work have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Karkoska works as an usher at the Curran Theater for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. All shows have been cancelled, erasing all Karkoska’s expected income from that job. All of the performers I spoke to said that they have other friends with side jobs, such as driving Lyft or playing piano at high school musicals or events, and have lost that much-needed income due to the closure of schools or the practice of social distancing due to the coronavirus.

As their income channels have been shut off, Sunshine, Vitalia, and Karkoska are all moving toward performing online to make ends meet.

Karkoska streamed the Puff show where Jordan Sunshine performed live from The Stud Thursday night, and had 800 people tuning in, and got two small donations during the streaming. He intends to look into streaming more drag shows and having attendees tip electronically, possibly through Venmo or Paypal.

“We’re fighters, we’re doing online drag shows and doing online streaming, Other queens are looking at starting Youtube shows, I’m hoping to get my shows digitally produced,” said Vitalia.

Sunshine told me that many performers are moving to Ubereats, Caviar, Doordash, because “the only way to make it in the gig economy is to deliver food to people staying home” as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Although the present situation for performers in the wake of the coronavirus is dire, many are still trying to remain positive.

“Money’s great, but if we can make the world feel better, that’s our next and ultimate goal,” said Sunshine.

“I hope that if people are looking for some alleviation from this crisis, and [that] they will invest in entertainment, and perhaps supporting the arts online is good for everyone,” said Vitalia.

If you want to help support artists and performers in the Bay Area affected by the coronavirus, you can donate to a GoFundMe campaign arranged by performers from Puff, where they are gathering funds to support each other. Donate here.

You can also contact legislators and demand financial assistance for affected artists. A SF-based drag queen, Polly Amber Ross, has posted a script on Facebook.

“We’re gonna have to forge a whole new now,” said Karkoska.

Celebrate the first, the original, the best Best of the Bay

It’s getting to the point where the term “best of” is just a part of every news outlet’s annual marketing plan. Newspapers, magazines, websites, even TV now have “Best of San Francisco” features.

But the Bay Guardian was the first, the publication that started this concept, and it’s still going strong after 45 years with our 2019 Best of the Bay.

Back in 1974, Esquire Magazine decided to do a feature called “the Best of America.” City by city, its reporters would track down the “best” from a short list of items (“Best Piano Teacher, Best French Croissant.”)

When it came to San Francisco, Esquire realized that the Bay Guardian was perfectly positioned to do the local version; we were the only independent outlet involved in the feature.

For Esquire, it was a one-time thing. For the Guardian, it became a tradition. Year after year, we tracked down the “best” in what became an ever-growing list of categories. Then we decided to ask our readers what they thought —and the response was overwhelming.

This year, 7,000 people voted on 100 categories, selecting the best businesses, organizations, events … all of the wonders of this city.

And the Bay Guardian is celebrating Thursday/24, with a party at the Stud that will honor our winners – and promote the annual election endorsements issue.

It’s 6pm–9pm, at the Stud bar, 399 Ninth Street— come and have a cocktail (and some cupcakes) and celebrate a San Francisco tradition.

Quick ‘n Dirty Guide to Folsom Parties 2019

Let your fetish flag wave! On Sunday, September 22, a giant leather flag was raised in SoMa on the site of the new Eagle Plaza, a multi-use space and park that will separate the Eagle gay club from the giant condo development across the street. It’s part of an ongoing project, involving Supervisor Matt Haney (and former Supervisor Jane Kim), to preserve leather heritage in the area—often calling upon developers to help ameliorate the gentrification they are helping to cause. I’m a little leery of it all, but the flag-raising was still pretty cool.

The scene was festive and more than a bit old school (a fabulous gathering of leather elders)—and the SoMa flag now rivals the rainbow one in the Castro. Whether that flag is all that’s left of the storied SoMa leather scene in 20 years, once more condos move in and the old guard passes into Valhalla, remains to be seen. (The leather folk in the development renderings of the plaza look reeeealllly tiny, as if they are waving farewell already.) In a brief interview, Haney assured me that he would “demand to know from developers what they were going to do to preserve the diversity and history of the area, and to make sure the leather scene remains a thriving one.”

It’s still a big something, seeing that huge leather flag up there. It brought a tear to my eye and a wee sting to my bottom. Just right for Folsom Street Fair, which I can see also being impacted by another wave of bland developments. So let us (un)clad ourselves in our desires while we may! Here’s my party picks for the wild weekend, full of rubber gloves and lots ‘o love.

Mr. S Products (U.S.A.) Ltd. product catalog (circa 1979); artwork by Lou Rudolph; collection of the GLBT Historical Society.

FIRST, SPEAKING OF FOLSOM HISTORY If you wander up to the Castro this weekend, make sure to check out the GLBT Historical Society Museum’s exhibit “The Mayor of Folsom Street: The Life of Daddy Alan Selby” which chronicles the original Mr. S, who was central to the development of the leather scene here. (And don’t forget to stop by the Mr. S. Store Block Party, see below Fri/27-Sat/28).

PARTIES OF NOTORIETY

—–THURSDAY—-

The Balcony circa 1980

THU/26 MISTER DRUMMER 1979: THE BALCONY The Mister Drummer 1979 party crew recreates the look and feel of classic leather bars of yore inside other bars, and makes a damn good dance party out of it (plus there are t-shirts!) This time around it’s the sociable Balcony in the Castro, which not only served up hot men, but also brunch. It opened at 6am! Who could resist? With wonderful DJ  Souffront and Matthew Paul taking us back to sweatier, leatherier times. 9pm-2am, $10. Underground SF. More info here.  

THU/26 F*CK ME UP SIS! A party to benefit the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, featuring all ’80s tunes? Come on out! You’re truly joins DJ Rolo and Siobhan Aluvalot on the decks for a flashback in tim to help our fabulous, charitable gay drag nuns. 9pm-2am. The Stud, SF. More info here

 

THU/26 THE TUBESTEAK CONNECTION DJ Bus Station John kicked off the whole bathhouse/cruising nostalgia wave more than a dozen years ago, with his awesome weekly tribute to steamy disco and vintage man-meat (and maybe even some Eartha Kitt). If you want an authentic taste of old school gay life—and a more Tenderloin vibe— traipse to his vinyl tunes all night on Aunt Charlie’s carpeted dance floor. 10pm-2am, $5-$7. Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, SF. More info here

THU/26 JUNK It wouldn’t be Folsom without an underwear contest/party! And with hosts Mr. Pam and Dulce de Leche, anything goes … off. 6pm-2am, $5. Powerhouse, SF. More info here.

——FRIDAY—-

FRI/27 STEAM DOES FOLSOM Eternal cutie Walter Gomez’s monthly salute to bathhouses, but inside a bar, gets Folsom-y with dancers in shower stalls, a wet towel competition, massages, and awesome DJ Lorant Duzgun from NYC. 9pm-2am, $5 benefits LGBT Asylum Project. Powerhouse, SF. More info here

FRI/27 OTHER STRANGER: DISCIPLINE The most excellent Other Stranger, a bi-monthly party “focusing on the mutant freak faction of the electronic music scene through live performance and dj sets” gets extra wicked for Folsom—with LA’s Marvina 7 performing his “freaky tracks that inspire action and adventure,” Portland’s mind-blowing Golden Donna, and DJ Vera Rubin. 10pm-3am, $13. The Stud, SF. More info here.

 FRI/27 BEARACUDA: HORSE MEAT DISCO Who can resist a little Horse Meat? Well hang on to your silky manes and get ready to whinny, the UK’s favorite disco revivalists are in town for the big bear party. Horses and bears? All night long. That’s Folsom, baby. 9pm-4am, $45-$60. Public Works, SF. More info here

FRI/27 SHENANIGANS: MAGIC KINKDOM Who could resist a Disney-themed fetish party? There are so many puns I could make here, but all of them pale next to the party’s own copy: “Don’t just SIT around waiting for your prince… make him COME.” (???!!!) 10pm-late. Oasis, SF. More info here

FRI/27 HARDER The traveling party originated in NYC with naughty backrooms and a dance floor to match—what goes better than great dance music and wild abandon—and has been bringing its brand of Harderness around the USA these past few years. For its Folsom stop, headliner DJ TEETH with dazzle you with his hypnotic, fantasy-frenzy tunes. With DJ Sindri (yay!), Steve Fabus, and Kelly Naughton. 10pm-4am, $20. F8, SF. More info here.

FRI/27 CLUB LONELY My secret favorite club falls on Folsom and features three of our sweetest DJs—Primo, Vin Sol, and Jeremy Castillo—so beats will be banging. Expect a colorful, pan-everything crowd under Club OMG’s weird dancefloor dome. This is a benefit for beloved scenester Russell “The Muscle” Rogers who recently passed away. 10pm-2am, $10. Club OMG, SF. More info here

FRI/27-SAT/28 MR. S FOLSOM BLOCK PARTY “Join hundreds of the sexiest men in the world at Mr. S Leather for our 2-day event leading up to the Folsom Street Fair. We’re opening our Back Alley Beer Garden from 12-6 on both Friday & Saturday. The shop will be open 11am-8pm daily for all your Folsom needs. Come find the gear that’s going to get you laid. And who knows, you might just meet the guy you’ll be spending the rest of the weekend with :)” With perfect DJs Stefanie Phillips, Jim Hopkins, and more. Noon-6pm, free. Mr. S. Leather, SF. More info here

—–SATURDAY—–

SAT/28 GAGGED Let’s get some diverse gender energy up in this leather sitch! Extremely rad DJs Boy Pussy, Jasmine Infiniti, and Bored Lord get crazy with the good rave music, and it’s all sponsored by the #1 nasty poppers brand Double Scorpio. 9pm-4am, $12-$15. The Stud, SF. More info here

SAT/28 PEGASUS Something different: a sip-and-shop daytime event from perennial “Best Men’s Clothing Store” Sui Generis. Don’t miss some cute tunes, sweet bubbles, and nice ‘fits at this SF treasure trove. Noon-8pm, free. Sui Generis, SF. More info here. 

SAT/28 ELECTROLUXX Literally and figuratively a ton of great DJs—including duo Fatherhood, the collaboration of Michael Magnan and Physical Therapy (I adore both)—and cute artists coming together for this wheeling romp, which also includes “2 indoor stages & silent disco outside, face painting, tarot reading, photobooths, performances, and more!” plus: Giant Cuddle Puddle! 9pm-4am, $15-$30. Public Works, SF. More info here

SAT/28 NEW BREED THE all-night rave of Folsom, but you’ll have to get there early for tickets! The Pound Puppy and Polyglamorous party crews always puts on a great joint, and this incredible lineup of underground greatness—D. Tiffany, Justin Cudmore, Mexico’s Por Detroit crew, Victor from Bears in Space—will make the Folsom fireworks pop. 10pm-6am, $60. Club Six, SF. More info here.  

—-SUNDAY—-

SUN/29 FOLSOM STREET FAIR Duh, this is why you’re standing there with your drawers out. The music lineup this year is pretty spectacular: punk legends L7, Detroit technoists Adult., and local dream pop heroes Imperial Teen headline. Plus there’s lots of sexytime. 11am-6pm, donation requested. More info here

SUN/29 CAT CLUB CELEBRATES FOLSOM There are bigger parties in bigger venues with bigger DJs. But one of my all-the favorite things to do is duck into this club for a drink during the festivities and see who else is there—ore often than not t’s a glorious Mos Eisley cantina of leather-clad characters, from all points in the galaxy. Noon-midnight, free. Cat Club, SF. More info here

SUN/29 GEAR QUEERS Touted as the official Folsom after-party for womxn, it’s a great opportunity for women-identifying players to check out our fantastic new bar Jolene’s while dancing to some filthy tunes (and then moving on to the Citadel sex club, perhaps). 6pm-10pm, $10. Jolene’s, SF. More info here.

SUN/29 DEVIANTS The official closing party of the Folsom Street Fair has always presented some great underground dance music—this time around is no different, with Chris Cruse of steamy LA party Spotlight headlining, along with DJs Whitney Fierce and Lina. 6pm-2am, $45-$50. Mezzanine, SF. More info here

SUN/29 AIRTIGHT IV “Airtight is back with more Big Dyke NRG. Get out of the hot sun at the street fair and slip into total daytime bacchanalia at The Stud. Wild out on the dance floor, meet new babes, or have your leather rubbed down at the bootblack stand. BDSM demos, topping booths, and immersive art for inspiration all day.” A womxn-centered space but all are welcome! With DJs Akua, Russell EL Butler, Gayphex Twin, and more. 2pm-9pm, $12. The Stud, SF. More info here

SUN/29 HOUSE OF BLACK LEATHER Honey Soundsystem brings in one of the best queer party magnets ever, DJ Peach from the UK, plus NYC’s Liquid Asset, AND turns over the big room dance floor to outstanding local deep techno crew Surface Tension. Fan-fooking-tastic. 3pm-4am, free before 6pm. Audio, SF. More info here.

SUN/29 TIT CLAMP FEVER Like Disco Fever, but with tit clamps! DJs Steve Fabus, La Frida, and Lorant bring the sparkling, pinching tunes, while drag shows all night keep you entertained to the max clamp. 9pm-2am, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here

SUN/29 WERD. FOLSOM STREET FAIR AFTER AFFAIR Brilliant local DJ-producer Lando may have moved to Berlin, but he’s bringing his interstellar beats to this weekly shindig, a perfect little dance fan’s escape from all the muscle men (although they’re invited too!) 9pm-2am, $5. Monarch SF. More info here.

What is Bay Area drag? Oaklash Festival has some wild ideas

"Everyone brought pulled out all the stops, from a clown on a Segway scooter performing to Britney Spears' Circus, to a queen shooting water out of syringes stuck through her cheek," says Oaklash co-founder Mama Celeste, remembering Hollow Eve's performance at last year's festival. Photo by JP Lor

“Television is not nor has it ever been the ultimate form of drag,” Oaklash Drag Festival co-founder and performer and East Bay-based drag queen Mama Celeste, a.k.a. Greg Tartaglione, writes in an email interview with 48 Hills. She’s not-so-subtley shading a certain televised drag competition that’s spawned countless imitators who may not realize the electric connections a live and rowdy crowd can bring. Surely Oaklash’s multitudinous 100 performers will be preaching this to the choir at the second edition of the festival this weekend (Fri/26-Sun/28), which will include two extensive, eight-hour days of performance.

Mama Celeste and fellow performer Beatrix LaHaine started the festival last year to “give the Bay Area the kind of representation it deserved,” says Celeste. In 2018, that meant bringing over 50 drag queens and kings from Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose for an intermission-less six hour show.

“It was exhausting and amazing,” Celeste says. “Everyone pulled out all the stops, from a clown on a Segway scooter performing to Britney Spears’ “Circus” to a queen shooting water out of syringes stuck through her cheek. The audience was living!”

Erika Klash gives you neon creep clown at last year’s Oaklash. Photo by Meme Cherry

The diversity of Oaklash’s 2019 acts speaks to one of the ways in which Bay drag steps back from more mainstream incarnations. Certainly, the disconnect between Bay Area performers and RuPaul’s Drag Race has been much commented on—and the region’s near total lack of representation on the VH1/Logo TV megalith is certainly remarkable. But even if the rumors are true that the deep freeze is due to long simmering feuds between Ru and Bay legends, the Bay’s flavor of drag is anything but mainstream. 

The current scene may well be influenced more by local history than current trends. From the days of political activist and performer José Sarria—the Widow Norton, who founded the Imperial Court system and one of the first openly queer person to run for office in the United States—Bay drag has been about far more than perfectly beat faces and expert tongue pop. Here, the Cockettes obscured the accepted social order with sequins and bearded drag, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have wielded their looks as activist beacons for decades.

“It’s always been obvious to me that the drag community in the Bay Area isn’t like other drag communities,” says Peaches Christ, who will perform at Oaklash with a host of legends like House of More! matriarchs Glamamore and Juanita More! and emergent stars like Nicki Jizz and Lisa Frankenstein. “I think I realized it before I even arrived in 1996,” Peaches continues. “When I hosted John Waters’ visit to Penn State University he told me about the Cockettes and how he and Divine and Mink would do shows with them. I’d never heard about any drag troupe that sounded anything like the Cockettes!”

(from left) Jader, VivvyAnne ForeverMORE, Florida Man mince about at 2018 Oaklash. Photo by JP Lor

“The Castro is known for its flawless beauty queens, SoMa is known for its gender-bending punk aesthetic,” says Mama Celeste. “But as rent has spiked in San Francisco, more and more artists have been moving to the East Bay which has created this amazing melting pot of all the scenes.” Oaklash’s lineup pays homage to 2019’s socioeconomic realities with its East Bay location, for the second straight year at eclectic venue Classic Cars West.

Oaklash also typifies the time-honored Bay tradition—at least in recent decades—of a pan-gender scene that does not hew to rigid definitions of who should be on stage. Some of the Bay’s most famous drag and performance nights over the years have featured artists who work gender into their art, from music to conceptual art, always welcome on Bay drag stages. This year, Zedgar Infiniti, Dollii, The Gooch Palm, Saturn Rising, and 15 DJs show the breadth of the festival’s drag community.

That’s particularly important in the face of occasional mainstream pressure to limit drag to the purview of cis gay men. “My art crosses all gender lines and allows anyone experiencing to imagine me as themselves or relate in a way that inspires their own experience,” says Saturn Rising. “It’s an escape and an affirmation all in one.”

“Drag is about performance, and presence, and being shocked and awed by the beauty of the seven-foot rhinestoned goddess whose sweat is dripping on you in the front row,” says Mama Celeste. Ample motivation to get yourself into IRL drag nirvana, a.k.a. this weekend’s Oaklash front rows, to see the past, present, and future of Bay Area drag get its due. 

BACKLASH: OAKLASH KICK-OFF PARTY
Fri/26 8pm-1am, $10-15
Eli’s Mile High Club, Oak
More info and tickets here.

OAKLASH BAY AREA DRAG FESTIVAL
Sat/27-Sun/28 2-10pm, $20; presale sold out, tickets available at door
Classic Cars West, Oakland
More info here.

Drag Queens Against Guns

Pictured from left to right: Khmera Rouge, Estee Longah, Kristi Yummykochi, Buka Kay, June Glüm (Bottom) Faluda Islam, Raya Light

On June 12th, 2016, a mass shooting left 49 dead and 53 wounded at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Latin night. As someone who helps organize one of the handful of Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ spaces in San Francisco, it broke my heart. I found myself wondering what would happen if this had occurred here in San Francisco, in our space? How do you respond when a space that is supposed to be safe is flooded with gun violence? How do you fight back, and more importantly, how can we come together to do that.

In response to the Parkland shooting, I wanted to show our community united against gun violence, so I brought together drag queens from all over the Bay Area to speak to issues of gun violence that are important to them. Why drag queens? Drag is inherently performative. It’s a visceral medium of storytelling that forces you to question your conventionality. In times of political unrest, drag is powerful and gives the LGBT community a unique tool to subvert marginalization. As such, drag queens become the perfect way to change the narrative on gun violence, and show it as an issue with deep ties to the LGBT community. 

Photos by Vince Flores and Christine Vo.

Pictured from left to right: Khmera Rouge, Estee Longah, Kristi Yummykochi, Buka Kay, June Glüm (Bottom) Faluda Islam, Raya Light

As a community, it’s time for us to move past living in this supposed post-marriage equality daze, and accept that gun violence is an issue for the LGBTQ community to fight. According to 2016 FBI statistics, race, religion, and LGBTQ identities make up the top 3 categorical targets for hate crimes, with our community accounting for roughly 20% of total REPORTED hate crimes. The term reported here is important to note since many crimes go unreported, and transgender individuals are often misgendered. Marginalized communities disproportionately bear the burden of gun violence, and this is especially true for LGBTQ people of color.

When talking about gun violence, it’s also important to understand that more Americans kill themselves with a firearm than are murdered with one at a 2:1 ratio, and that stricter gun control laws have shown to strongly correlate with lower suicide rates. Suicide involving firearms is fatal 90% of the time. Alternate methods are less deadly, and give time for that individual to be reached out to, to receive help

After Parkland, and now Maryland, policy makers are already offering their thoughts and prayers. Let’s organize our community and push them to do more.

Faluda Islam

Faluda Islam is a drag queen rebel leader bent on liberating the Muslim world from the shackles of Western Imperialism. Infusing San Francisco ideals with a queer Muslim identity, she wants to show the world that Muslims are a nonviolent people. Even though they carry the stereotype of being terrorists, they are not actually responsible for a majority of the gun violence, or event acts of terrorism in America. Historically, more Americans are killed by right-wing extremists born right here. School shooters have a demonstrated profile, so why do we immediately think of Muslim terrorists? Faulda comes in peace. Muslims come in peace. They can come to escape violence or to find new homes. They can be queer, and they can also advocate against gun violence.

Raya Light

 

Our media landscape is fragmented. We have a greater number of media outlets, and those outlets are increasingly reaching specific, segmented audiences. We can get trapped in our own bubbles of influence, and it can be hard to separate fake news from real. What can you believe when there is a non-stop, escalating garbage dump of rhetoric? We can often feel disillusioned, defeated, and silenced, but we can break free from the chaos and find our voice. Listen to the victims of mass shootings. Listen to the Parkland kids. Listen to the survivors of Pulse. If we are going to fight gun violence, we must be engaged in the struggle for what is right. Surveys show that LGBT groups overwhelmingly support gun control measures, it’s just time for us to be a little bit louder about it.

June Glüm

We’re sick and tired of Thoughts and Prayers™. Our elected officials offer nothing but pithy platitudes after each mass shooting, and we’re done with it. Our nation is at a tipping point in the gun control movement, and this mass shooting feels different. The Parkland survivors are inspiring–particularly Emma Gonzalez and Delaney Tarr, two of the strong young women leading the charge–unequivocally rejecting and renouncing offers of thoughts and prayers and demanding action. Our nation has burned through all our thoughts and prayers over the years, and if our legislators won’t take action, WE are the ones who get burned by the continued inaction. Time’s Up for #thoughtsandprayers

Kristi Yummykochi

On February 27th, 2018, the Florida House Appropriations Committee passed a bill that included $67 million for a program to train teachers to carry guns. There is no good research showing that arming teachers, or even putting more armed police in schools is effective. In fact, the good guy with a gun narrative has shown to overwhelmingly incorrect. More guns means more death. Trump has said that “gun-free” zones are invitations for attackers, but then why aren’t guns allowed in congress? The teachers from Parkland and countless other school shootings have told is that they don’t want guns, they want gun control and funding for school supplies instead. It’s time to listen to them.

Panda Dulce

Gun control is a numbers game. It’s no secret that sponsorship of major politicians and mass marketing efforts is what gives the NRA its formidable political clout. In 2016, the group donated more than $30 million to get Trump elected — the highest amount ever spent on a presidential candidate. However, this statistic is indicative of a bigger problem: Over the past 15 years, spending on gun rights lobbying exponentially exceeded that of gun control by nearly tenfold. Not only are we lacking in voting numbers, but we also lack the monetary numbers necessary to bring safety to us all.

We need to unify a voting bloc and target donating entities. We need to fight numbers with numbers. We need to put our money where our mouth is.

Making gay leather parties sleazy-fun again

SF Eagle poster design from 1981 by Uyvarri.

NIGHTLIFE Two of the best parties of the last year pulled off a gay miracle: They combined classic, raw sexuality straight out of the ’70s with forward-thinking music. It was like stepping into a time capsule that turned into a spaceship that turned into an orgy. Transformational! 

Both parties were thrown by a new crew called Mr. Drummer 1979—a reference to classic gay leather scene magazine Drummer, based in San Francisco for much of its 24-year existence and once edited by renowned writer Jack Fritscher, who now maintains the Drummer Archives. (The magazine was known for its competitive pageants around the country; the Mister Drummer 1979 mascot is a toothsome hunk named Mike Glassman, who led a vibrant life, and died of AIDS in 1993.)

The Mister Drummer 1979 parties aim to revive the vibe of historic local leather bars. The first two explicitly commemorated lusty, long-gone SF bars the Tool Box and Febe’s, even printing retro logo t-shirts for the occasion. “We wanted to recreate old school cruise bar environments while simultaneously celebrating iconic institutions,” DJ Matthew Paul, part of the crew founded by his friend Nick Wafle, told me. “It’s time to make leather fun, sleazy, and relevant again!” 

An Eagle Sunday Beer Bust moment captured by photographer Doug Ischar

These parties aren’t the first to model themselves on filthier-than-thou bacchanal of SF in its Folsom Street Miracle Mile heyday. DJ Bus Station John’s Thursday weekly Tubesteak Connection plays underground disco and Hi-NRG from the time and wraps everything in a retro-porno vibe—it’s now going on its 14th year at Aunt Charlie’s in the Tenderloin—and he also spins the classics third Sundays at Disco Daddy, the Eagle’s first-ever tea dance. Honey Soundsystem has also feted the music and vibe of that far-off time, with parties that feature vintage porn soundtracks in legendary locations. The monthly Go Bang parties at the Stud delve into the gay disco vibe, too, with special guests from the heyday of bathhouses and all-nighters.

But Mister Drummer 1979 is the first to exclusively concentrate on the leather theme, and almost all traces of vintage camp have been subsumed in the sweaty embrace of hard looks and hot muscle. Some of the dudes there are tanks, straight out of the stuck-together pages of a Tom of Finland calendar. A leather dress code is strongly encouraged, as is making out with as many men as you can on the dance floor. 

Don’t be frightened, be titillated, a little curious even. Whereas the macho seriousness of original leather bar scene could be a turn-off for more playful-minded folks like myself, these parties are full of conviviality—almost relief, really, at the option of being able to come together in a steamy, red-lit atmosphere full of harnesses and chaps that weren’t just purchased on the fly for Folsom Street Fair trendiness. There’s also the music: While there are occasional winks to the past, the DJs utilize contemporary techno and synth music to whip up a heady eroticism that wouldn’t be out of place in Berlin’s notorious sex-dungeon Laboratory.       

(I would also add here that now that macho conformity isn’t the only option in gay bars, thanks to a vibrant and femme-positive queer underground scene, I don’t feel the toxicity in the air I used to at such gatherings.) 

During the AIDS crisis (and continuing today) the Eagle Sunday Beer Bust raised money and offered solace. Photo by Doug Ischar.

On Fri/2, Mister Drummer 1979 pays tribute to a bar that’s still in existence: the Eagle.  “We were inspired to celebrate the Eagle because it’s a legendary SF institution; from leather to biker and even punk culture, the SF Eagle has been a haven for outsider communities,” Paul told me.  

The Eagle itself, the real one down in SoMa, opened in 1981 as a leather bar (one of many called the Eagle in various cities, signaling a safe haven for gay men). Over the years it transformed into more of a biker hangout that hosted packed Sunday beer busts for charity, closed for a spell in the early 2010s, reopened with community help and new owners in 2012, and now caters to a more dance party-oriented crowd—although there are still plenty of rough characters, cigar smoke, and hot trade.

Paul introduced me to the original Eagle manager, Patrick Batt, who moved here specifically to help open the Eagle. Patrick own the Auto Erotica store, an upstairs wonderland in the Castro, which has transformed from “just another Castro-strip dildo and lube store” into a palace of vintage gay porn and retro homo-culture memorabilia.

Auto Erotica is glorious, go there, buy stuff. It’s full of tasty memorabilia from the golden age of gay media, including stacks of “one-hander” books and bin upon bin of magazines like Mandate, Colt, BlueBoy, and, yes, Drummer. (Batt told me a 23-year-old customer recently told him this was his first time holding a gay porn magazine in his hands, which made me feel like Methuselah.)

View treasures like an original poster from the Lion Pub poster, SF’s first preppy gay “fern bar” from the 1970s that transformed into a drum ‘n bass music hangout in the 2000s, and has now just hit the market as a single family home for almost $6 million dollars. Gaze upon tantalizing VHS cassettes that will have you plotting to rescue your grandparents’ old player from their basement storage.

Owner Patrick was a successful bar manager in Chicago—he ran leather classic Gold Coast—and was moved out here by Eagle owner Bob Damron, creator of the legendary (and, pre-Internet, essential) Damron Guides for gay travelers, to give the fledgling leather bar some polish and shine, and to help distinguish it from its many competitors.  

The Eagle opening party in 1980: Owner Bob Damron (center) with manager Patrick Batt (right)

Batt made it only a few months into the bar’s life until he was quite literally canned. “I was from the Midwest, and didn’t know there was a distinct West Coast gay bar culture,” he told me. “One of the biggest mistakes I made was stocking the bar with beer in cans. I had no idea that people here would get so angry about that. People were slamming the cans back on the bar when they were served, yelling ‘What the hell is this?'” But we were locked into a distributor and we couldn’t change to bottles quickly enough. So the Eagle had to actually close for a time while we fixed it. And then I was let go.”

Batt described the SF gay bar scene of the time as “exactly what you’ve heard about it, wild and full of bars and men. Everybody had their little gimmick to distinguish themselves, but it didn’t seem very competitive at the time because there was so much going on.” 

Batt went on to work for Drummer, in its mail order distribution department (back then you had to send away to San Francisco for sex toys and porn mags in most part of the country), before breaking off and starting his own company, Mercury Mail Order. Mercury’s dildo and lube storage facility became the original Auto Erotica storefront in the late ’80s. And now Auto Erotica sells old Drummers and ’70s gay bar memorabilia. Truly, the Circle of Gay Life.

The Mister Drummer 1979 Eagle Tribute includes music by one of the stewards of gay Hi-NRG pioneer Patrick Cowley’s legacy, Josh Cheon, formerly of Honey Soundsystem. My fingers are crossed that there will be a retro logo t-shirt available as well. In any case, you will dance, your chaps will squeak, and everybody will probably get laid. 

MISTER DRUMMER 1979: A TRIBUTE TO THE EAGLE
Fri/2, 9pm-2am, $10
Eagle, SF.
More info here