Folsom fair celebrates 30th year
by Seth Hemmelgarn
As it celebrates its 30th anniversary, the Folsom Street Fair is making some changes while honoring decades of leather and kink tradition, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, and welcoming newcomers.
"Come, have fun, dress up, and get in gear. Don't recycle your Burning Man outfit, but come in your fetish gear, and have a good time," said Demetri Moshoyannis, executive director of Folsom Street Events, referring to the annual art festival that, like Folsom Street, is known for its creative outfits.
Last year, Moshoyannis's nonprofit, which produces the Folsom and Up Your Alley street fairs and the Magnitude, Deviants, and Bay of Pigs parties, distributed about $324,000 from the events to AIDS-related and other charities. He hopes that this year's checks will put the total handed out through the years over the $5 million mark.
This year's fair takes place Sunday, September 29, from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Folsom between 7th and 12th streets in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood. There's a $10 suggested donation. Donors will get $2 off each drink throughout the day. All gate donations go to the charities.
Main stage headliners include Light Asylum, Miami Horror, and Hercules and Love Affair.
Organizers have added an extra half hour to the event, in commemoration of their 30th year. But that's just one of the new elements for the festival, which each year draws hundreds of thousands of people dressed in everything from leather dog costumes to nothing at all.
The erotic artists' area is moving to Eighth Street, north of Folsom, and will feature a new performance art stage.
Constructs of Ritual Evolution will perform live, choreographed hook suspensions, where people will be suspended through hooks in their backs and other parts of their bodies.
Folsom Street is hoping to give more people the experience of thinking, "Am I really seeing what I think I'm seeing?" said Moshoyannis.
Also this year, elevated steel cage dancers will be returning to the fair.
The festival will include demonstration stations where people can find basic information about whipping and other types of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism).
"We've never done that before," said Moshoyannis. "We feel like we want to step up our education efforts a little bit more."
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
This will be the first Folsom Street Fair since the city outlawed public nudity, but urban nudists should not worry as permitted events such as the fair are exempt.
"With fewer opportunities" to be naked in public, Moshoyannis expects more people will be nude at this year's festival.
Fair organizers are expanding the clothes check option, making two locations available. One will be at the bicycle parking area outside Mr. S Leather, 385 8th Street. The other will be near the main stage on 10th Street, just off Folsom.
Expenses for Folsom Street Fair alone are expected to be over $400,000. That includes some of the money that will be distributed to beneficiaries. The nonprofit hopes to have about $624,000 in income from the fair.
One of the agencies that will benefit from this year's festival is Shanti, which provides emotional and practical support to people who are living with diseases including HIV and cancer.
"Folsom Street has probably been one of the most longtime supporters of AIDS organizations in San Francisco. We love and are honored to be a part of it," said Kaushik Roy, Shanti's executive director.
Roy added that over the years, "They've given us probably over six figures in donations."
When the Folsom Street Fair started in 1984, scores of San Franciscans were dying from AIDS, but then-President Ronald Reagan wouldn't say the word in public.
"It was a struggle in those early days to just put on a fair" because so many people, including volunteers, were dying, Moshoyannis said in an interview around the time of the fair's 25th anniversary.
That first year, 30,000 people came, and the fair raised about $20,000 for charity.
Moshoyannis said the fair was actually started as "a call to action to highlight the diversity of South of Market and to address the issue of gentrification," an issue that's still evident today as the neighborhood faces concerns over development and affordability. Efforts are also under way to create an LGBT cultural heritage district in part of the SOMA neighborhood. [See Political Notebook column.]
The fair has grown to be "much more involved and complicated" than it was years ago, Moshoyannis, who's marking his eighth year as head of the organization, said in an interview last week.
The complications arise from the community itself and from other parts of society, he said.
"Fetishes change and evolve over time, but so do expectations from the city," said Moshoyannis, who pointed to the festival's "huge" recycling program as an example of civic expectations.
"We also have a lot more events now than we did when I started," such as the Bay of Pigs and Deviants parties, he added.
Some have complained in recent years that the fair has become too mainstream, but Moshoyannis said, "It's certainly not mainstream to have live hook suspensions at your event, and if that's your perception, you probably need to step outside the San Francisco bubble more often."
"The demographics of Folsom have been changing, and I think that's fine," he said. "I think it's great to welcome straight people into fetish and kink," as well as seeing more transgender people and others.
"I think we owe it to the community to provide a space for those newcomers," he said, adding, "It's important we remember that before we judge the person just standing there in their street clothes." Those people "might be scared but interested. Folsom is a good place for people to learn some new things," said Moshoyannis.
The Magnitude party is set for 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. beginning Saturday, September 28 at 521 and 525 Harrison Street. Tickets are $90 in advance and can be purchased at various retail locations. A limited number of tickets will be available for $100 the night of the event.
The official Folsom closing party, Deviants, will be from 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. beginning Sunday at Beatbox and Audio Discotech, 314 11th Street. Tickets are available online for $25 and at the door for $35.
For more information, visit http://www.folsomstreetevents.org.