Castro abuzz over Spears concert
by Matthew S. Bajko
Since news leaked last month that Britney Spears would perform live in the Castro to promote her new album on Good Morning America , San Francisco's gayborhood has been abuzz about the publicity stunt.
As the Bay Area Reporter disclosed on its blog Thursday, March 3, Spears will tape a performance for the ABC morning show from noon to 1 p.m. Sunday, March 27. It will be shown on-air Tuesday, March 29 as part of a two-day bonanza of not only Spears coverage but segments showcasing San Francisco and its LGBT community.
According to the GMA producers, not only is the concert timed to the release date for Spears's latest album Femme Fatale , it is also meant to be a travelogue about the Bay Area. One of the GMA stars, likely either co-host Robin Roberts or out weatherman Sam Champion, will be in town that weekend to shoot segments showing off San Francisco's famous attractions.
"On our show we know our viewers like to travel but can't always afford to do so. So we like to bring them places. In our mind, there is no more beautiful city than San Francisco and no more historic neighborhood than the Castro," said Mark Robertson, a producer for GMA, who with a colleague met with Castro merchants and city officials last week to discuss their plans. "Britney said the Castro is a place she loves and she has a huge fan base in the Bay Area."
It will bring a barrage of free national exposure not only for the LGBT district but the city itself. Local leaders have been overjoyed by the news.
"We are thrilled GMA is going to be here," said District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who learned about the Spears performance after the pop diva revealed it herself in a video-taped message to her fans last month. "It is an exciting thing for the neighborhood. It will bring a lot of foot traffic that day. It is just a great promotion of San Francisco nationwide."
Steve Adams, president of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, was informed by GMA staffers in early February about the planned performance but was sworn to secrecy. He believes it will drum up business in the neighborhood that day.
"A lot of people will be coming to this neighborhood to shop, eat, and drink on a Sunday, which is normally a slow day," said Adams.
Spears, 29, has always had a strong fan base within the LGBT community and her songs have been turned into dance anthems since she first broke onto the international music scene in 1999 with her debut album Baby One More Time. Even throughout her relationship troubles, divorces, child custody battles, and various tabloid scandals, Spears has always held the public's fascination.
But her star has dimmed of late, overshadowed by other pop divas such as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, who in particular has cultivated LGBT fans with her outlandish outfits and public appeals for LGBT rights. Nonetheless, Spears's upcoming Castro concert is sure to attract throngs of spectators.
"Oh, this has been the talk of the town! My school has a lot of gay Britney fans, so this was sort of an early (or late) Christmas present. General consensus is: We're really excited that she's coming, because we all love her. Though to us, it seems a little obvious what she (her publicist) is doing," wrote Jason Galisatus, president of the Aragon High School Gay Straight Alliance in San Mateo, in an e-mail. "It seems to us she's trying to reclaim her gay fans that have jumped ship for Gaga after 'Born This Way,' which is, in my opinion, an incredibly wise thing for her to do. That being said, we're glad she's getting back in touch with her gays and are incredibly excited that she's coming to our second home!"
Marc Huestis, who regularly brings classic cultural icons to the Castro Theatre, joked he "couldn't even sing a Britney Spears song if you asked me to." While he has no plans to see Spears perform, he said the Castro concert is a smart marketing move.
"I couldn't believe how many queens were screaming 'Britney is coming!' And then they were asking me if I have free tickets. I have no power and no pull," said Huestis.
At the same time, Huestis was critical of the trend among female pop s
"I am really kind of getting tired of these pop divas who pander to gays. God bless Lady Gaga and her political stuff, but come on, she knows who buys those records," he said. "Since when did Britney Spears become a gay activist? She probably doesn't know what the Castro Theatre is."
Spears to visit youth agencies?
Spears is reportedly looking to combine her time in town with visiting two organizations that serve LGBT youth, Larkin Street Youth Services and LYRIC, the Castro-based Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center. Robertson said that the plan is to shoot segments with Spears meeting with LYRIC and Larkin Street participants Friday, March 25 that would then air the following Monday, March 28.
"Monday on air would be a piece about the Castro, its history and its relevance and the piece on Larkin and LYRIC," said Robertson, a childhood friend of former District 8 Supervisor and mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty. "Tuesday we will show Robin Roberts or Sam Champion, who will be here to shoot what we call beauty shots of San Francisco. This is a two-day event for us on the air."
But as of this week, the segment involving the youth agencies was still up in the air.
"We don't have any confirmation at this point," said Larkin spokeswoman Nicole Garroutte, who said she briefly spoke with Robertson last week. "I don't think we know it is 100 percent a go. We don't have any further details."
Garroutte said the agency would "be happy to participate in whatever way is meaningful for young people." She noted it would be the second time Larkin Street has worked with an ABC show; the channel's 20/20 newsmagazine program recently included the agency in a piece it did on homeless youth.
Even if a visit by Spears to the agency can't be worked out, Garroutte said she welcomes the singer coming to town.
"It is exciting for the city. And if she is able to bring national attention to LGBT youth issues, that is an incredible thing to do," said Garroutte.
Spears is likely to be inundated with invitations for that weekend. As it is, that Saturday night is the LGBT Community Center's annual fundraiser and the facility is trying to extend an invite to the pop star.
"We have reached out to her, but haven't gotten a response – working a couple of different ways to contact her. Do you have contact info?" wrote the center's executive director, Rebecca Rolfe, in an e-mail.
Matt Slusarenko, the community marketing director and San Francisco editor for gaycities.com, said he hopes Spears does do more than just perform a few of her songs that Sunday.
"Everyone is so excited because it is not often we get someone of Britney Spears's caliber performing in the Castro. But what I find exciting is she wants to be doing stuff with community organizations," said Slusarenko.
The television show is working with the city's Film Commission on the final details for the live concert, such as how many people will be allowed to attend and what time entrance to the enclosed viewing areas on Castro Street will begin. Robertson said it would be on a first-come, first-served basis.
As of now, the plan is to shut down Castro Street between Market and 18th streets at midnight on March 27 so crews can begin setting up a stage in front of the Castro Theatre. By the morning the street closure will extend up the 500 block of Castro Street toward 19th Street.
The Castro Muni Station and sidewalks along the street will remain open, while several bus lines in the area, such as the 35-Eureka and 24-Divisadero, will be re-routed. The area should be re-opened to vehicular traffic by 4 p.m. Sunday.