The 2007 Chesapeake Pride Festival was hot.
Not ”mid-Atlantic summer social calendar” hot, but simply hot. Really, really hot. And humid.
But that didn’t stop the festival from progressing as planned on Saturday, Aug. 25.
”We actually were hoping for at least 1,000 people, but we really got slammed by the heat,” laments Wayne Schwandt, chair of the Chesapeake Pride planning committee, estimating that attendance numbers for the entirety of the 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. event were roughly 500 to 600.
”The heat index was 115 degrees out there at the fair grounds. Last year, it was very warm, in the 90s, but we didn’t have the humidity. It was 103 on the thermometer out there. With the humidity, it was just unbearable.”
The weather was uncooperative to a degree that prompted a ”Code Orange” alert for the Washington region, due to heat- and pollution-related smog. That means that less hardy potential attendees may have heeded the official line and limited time spent outside. Still, there were hardy souls who could stand the heat making a day of it at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville, Md., the site of this year’s festival.
”I’m so glad I didn’t see the news today,” joked Kris English of Essex, Md., regarding the orange alert. ”I just drink more water. But I’ve been seeing people leave early. The heat is getting to them.”
English’s friend, Mia Montley, who as an HVAC specialist says her work places her in 150-degree attics, said the heat was not going to keep her from enjoying her first Chesapeake Pride: ”I just wear less clothes.”
Montley, of Dundalk, Md., said that, like English, she came not only to have a good time, but to support the Chesapeake area’s GLBT community. Next year, she promises, she’ll return with more than English.
”I’d never heard of [the Chesapeake Pride Festival],” she said, adding that she and English both heard of the event the day prior via Web sites promoting various acts from the entertainment line-up. ”If our friends knew about it, they’d be here. We’ll let people know, and they’ll pass it on to their friends.”
Though the festival may have been new to English and Montley, Schwandt says the good news from the festival was the number of both new and returning vendors. He says that the 2007 festival had about the same number of vendors as last year — a little over 40 — but that many of the 2006 tables were reserved by politicians looking for Maryland votes ahead of the November 2006 elections. The glad-handing politicos were gone this year, but the festival still pulled in more than 40 vendors. Granted, a few were political. The Democrats, Greens and Libertarians were on offer. And the District 30 Democratic Club of Annapolis didn’t let lack of an election stop them, either. They got into the 2008 presidential swing of things with a poll, indicating festival attendees favored Hillary Clinton by a wide margin.
A stone’s throw from the Democrats, down the road that semi-circles the perimeter of the fairground, Elaine and Will Mumford held the fort for the Annapolis chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
”This is wonderful,” said Elaine Mumford, pointing out that having a gay-pride event at the county fairground was definitely a sign of the progress that’s taken place since she and her husband got involved in the gay civil-rights movement. ”Our daughter came out to us in ’82. This wouldn’t have happened then.”
At the other end of the road, at a large pavilion sitting at the highest point of the fairground, Oliver Li, who moved to Silver Spring from Oklahoma about eight months ago, was taking in his first Chesapeake Pride Festival, his only point of reference being the massive Toronto Pride Week.
”I’m kind of disappointed,” Li admitted. ”I expected more people. [But] I don’t think you can compare them.”
He added, however, that he would likely be back next year if the festival returns to the fairground, as he’s partial to the ”countryside” setting: ”In a big city, [Pride] is so crowded.”
Sitting with Li and taking the heat in stride, Caesar Marshall of Dulles said he got exactly what he expected. ”I enjoy coming to these functions,” he insisted with community spirit. ”I’m metro Washington, and it’s a local Pride. Anywhere below New York is close-in…. This is an ideal setting.”
Marshall also observed that the small crowd gathered with him in at the hilltop pavilion, despite its usually empty stage, had discovered the spot during the well-attended Stormy Vain drag contest hours earlier. Offering much-needed shade, the occasional hilltop breeze, ample seating, easy access to the beer truck, funnel cakes and other Pride mainstays, the pavilion was some of the hottest real-estate in the county Saturday afternoon. And the sound from the main stage, which sat below the pavilion, across a vacant, sun-beaten lawn, did the impressive line-up of musicians proud.
Stormy Vain herself, climbing the road back up to the pavilion and decked out in formal black ahead of her 6:30 p.m. closing-festivities duties, said that facing the heat was just what a trouper had to do to support the community. As for wearing the sun-soaking, black frock, she reasoned, ”It’s hot, but we’ve still got to look thin.”
All in all, the heat may have taken a toll on the anticipated attendance, but it couldn’t kill the Chesapeake Pride Festival. Schwandt says that the final accounting may show a loss, but that it shouldn’t hurt the festival’s future. Planning for 2008, he says, actually began at Saturday’s festival.
”We’re looking for alternative dates when the temperature might be more conducive for a great party,” he promises. ”We had wonderful exhibitors. Our entertainment was fabulous, top drawer. All we need to do is get rid of the humidity.”