What was once a one-day music festival that took place in an empty Rosemary District lot has over the years evolved into a three-day interdisciplinary bonanza that includes commissioned performance art, a cabaret-style theater show and a 10-artist musical lineup that draws bands from as far away as Moscow. It's the Harvey Milk Festival, and it returns for a seventh year this week, with a run of events that begins Thursday evening and climaxes Saturday.
The festival is named, of course, for Harvey Milk, who in 1977 became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in a major city when he won a San Francisco Board of Supervisors seat. He was shot and killed a year later, and has become an icon for the LGBT rights movement in the decades since. Posthumously awarding him a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, President Obama called Milk "a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement" and said he "changed the landscape of opportunity for the nation's gay community."
Local musician and activist Shannon Fortner organized the first Harvey Milk Festival in 2010 after the state of California declared May 22 (Milk's birthday) to be Harvey Milk Day. From the beginning, the event has delivered great music and art with a strong sense of purpose that includes supporting and promoting equal rights legislation. The keynote speaker at this year's music festival will be Nate Quinn, the transgender Pine View student and activist who pressured Pine View to allow students to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. Saturday's music festival will also include a candlelight vigil and an appearance by Sarasota Vice-Mayor Suzanne Atwell.
But the party really gets started much earlier, at 7 p.m. Thursday, with a commissioned performance by Belaxis Buil. Her three-hour piece, "High Resolution Paradise," is billed as "a feat of fashion" performed by six choreographed dancers. The performance takes place at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota; tickets cost $10.
Then, on Friday, the festival goes theatrical, with a 75-minute cabaret-style piece written and performed by Miami native Octavio Campos. The show is again hosted by Florida Studio Theatre; tickets are $15-$50.
The free music festival gets going at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, with a number of acts from Sarasota and far afield. Avan Lava and Pwr Bttm, both out of New York City, headline. The former specializes in bouncy disco-pop, while the latter mixes tender vocals and fist-pumping indie rock. Moscow's Pompeya, meanwhile, delivers chilled-out lounge pop. Other sounds include garage rock, folk-pop and fuzzy '60s raveups.
The party runs till midnight in Five Points Park. Given the festival's track record, odds are good that it will be one of the year's best fiestas.