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When residents of the Coachella Valley joined many, many thousands of visitors from around the globe last year to celebrate Greater Palm Springs Pride, the mood was decidedly mixed.

On one hand, the year 2015 had brought us arguably the greatest LGBT-rights legal victory ever: full marriage equality in all 50 states.

On the other hand, we were reeling from the news that just days before Pride—mere feet from the site of the Pride enclosure on Arenas Road—George Zander, a prominent LGBT-rights activist that so many of us knew and loved, had been gay-bashed along with his husband, Chris, after leaving Hunters Nightclub.

Fortunately, George’s prognosis was good, although he faced a lengthy and grueling rehabilitation process after injuries including a broken hip.

As 2016’s Greater Palm Springs Pride approaches, the mood of locals and visitors alike is decidedly less joyous than it was a year ago.

In the months since last year’s Pride, the LGBT community has found itself under attack. Horrifying new laws in some states are targeting the rights of transgender men and women to simply be able to go to the bathroom safely. The Republican presidential ticket has come out staunchly against the nationwide marriage equality we all celebrated so joyously when we gained the right a year and a half ago. And most horrifically of all, a shooter—perhaps conflicted by his own sexuality—killed 49 revelers, and injured dozens of more, late one June night at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

As for George Zander: Many of us gathered earlier this week in downtown Palm Springs for a candlelight vigil to mourn his passing last December. That good prognosis we all clung to with hope during last year’s Pride turned out to be woefully incorrect. 

As we get together for Greater Palm Springs Pride 2016, we’ll deal with all of the emotions of the last year—sadness, mourning, anger and, yes, joy, too—with the help of art, just as our fellow humans have done for millennia.

We’ll march. We’ll play and listen to music. We’ll dance. We’ll revel in art. We’ll act and become engrossed in story at the theater.

And we’ll hope that by the time Greater Palm Springs Pride 2017 rolls around, we’ll have a lot less to mourn—and a lot more to celebrate.

Published in Editor's Note

The profile of the Desert Winds Freedom Band, Palm Springs’ gay and gay-friendly concert band, has grown in recent years—and over Greater Palm Springs Pride, the 16-year-old group will be hosting musicians from around the world.

Hear the Desert Winds Freedom Band and friends—a whopping two 150-member concert bands, with an honors jazz band to boot—on Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Palm Springs High School Auditorium.

Dean McDowell, the director of the Desert Winds Freedom Band, explained the group’s history during a recent phone interview.

“The Desert Winds Freedom Band was founded by Gary Moline, who is still on our board, back in 2001,” McDowell said. “He came from San Francisco, where the first gay and lesbian band was founded, and he was involved in that back with Harvey Milk and the gay-rights movement.

“When he came here … he decided it was time that Palm Springs had (an LGBT band), so he started one, and started out with 10 to 15 people. They kind of slowly grew and had to go through several different directors. They did share a lot of members from the Los Angeles band for a while.”

McDowell moved to the Coachella Valley from Ohio.

“As soon as I moved here, they heard I was a conductor—and they were looking for a conductor. This is my 10th season,” he said. “Since then, we’ve grown from 24 members to about 80 members.”

McDowell touted the band’s diversity.

“Even though it’s an LGBT band and was founded that way, we are the only concert-band volunteer group in the desert,” McDowell said. “We have a lot of straight people who are LGBT allies who want to be part of it and support the group; I would say about 12 percent is straight. We have men, women, straight, gay and the whole gamut. When I started, the average age was about 65 or 70, and now we have 25-year-olds all the way up to 86 years old. It’s a very wide and diverse organization.”

The Pride concert on Nov. 5 will feature more musicians than just the Desert Winds members. Make that a lot more musicians.

“The Desert Winds Freedom Band is hosting the national Lesbian and Gay Band Association conference—so this concert is a little different than our regular concerts,” he said. “There are over 400 musicians coming in from all over the world, with members from LGBT bands all across the United States.”

The program, however, will be California-themed.

“We play typical band music—everything from fun Broadway music to Mancini pieces—and it’s very diverse,” he said. “The theme of the conference is California Gold, so (the music) is all about California and by California composers. There will be a symphony piece all about the San Francisco earthquake, and another piece called the ‘Gold Rush Rag’ about the Gold Rush in California.”

The Pride concert kicks off Desert Winds’ 2016-2017 season. There will also be a holiday concert in December, a jazz-band Valentine’s Day concert and dance, and a spring concert in March. McDowell said the band has also been in demand for community events.

“We started some smaller ensembles we can pull together,” he said. “We’re playing for the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s grand opening; we always play at the AIDS Walk. We’ll also be playing for the Tour of Palm Springs.

“We have our concerts a little earlier, around 2 or 4 p.m., so people can go to other events. For the concerts in February and March, we didn’t want to take away from people going to events at the McCallum or someplace else.”

McDowell admitted that he’s annoyed at how relatively unknown the Desert Winds Freedom Band is in the Coachella Valley.

“We do a lot of outreach,” he said. “A lot of people in this desert still haven’t heard of us, even though we’ve been around for years, and people still don’t know about us. It’s very frustrating. We’re not just a tiny community band playing for ourselves. We actually have, in the community-band realm, straight or gay, some of the largest supporting audiences. … A lot of them struggle to get 150 people to concerts, when we have between 300 and 450 at our concerts. We’re trying to grow. We’ve certainly grown from the days of 50 to 60 people showing up.”

The Desert Winds Freedom Band’s scholarship fund is just one example of how the band gives back to the community.

“We want to do more outreach to the schools, do more workshops and be able to give more scholarship money,” McDowell said. “… Two years ago, we only had enough money to give two scholarships. Now thanks to some giving sponsors, we’ve been able to up it to $3,000 worth of scholarships this year. We hate to see students apply and not get scholarships. Kids going on to music education are future music teachers and band directors, and it’s really important to us.

“I used to be a music teacher in Ohio. Keeping the lifeblood in our schools and producing music teachers is very important to me.”

The Desert Winds Freedom Band’s LGBA Conference Pride Concert takes place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Palm Springs High School Auditorium, 2401 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20. For more tickets or more information, visit www.desertwindsfb.org.

Published in Previews

Palm Springs has long been the home of an active, visible, engaged and fairly organized gay male community.

As for lesbians … not so much.

Enter the Dyke March. Now in its second year, the Palm Springs Dyke March will begin with speakers and entertainment at 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at Frances Stevens Park, located at 555 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. Around 5:30, the crowd will be led by a drum line down Palm Canyon Drive, through the Pride Festival and to the Arenas Road stage, where Kate Kendell, the leader of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, will speak. She’ll be followed onstage by amazing lesbian rocker Jennifer Corday.

Shann Carr, a local comedian and newish real-estate agent, is a member of the Dyke March’s steering community.

“The dyke march has a long, big, fat fucking history. It was started originally as a protest of invisibility,” Carr said. “It remains more of a protest movement than a pride march. I think no dyke march has ever gotten a permit before.”

While dyke marches have taken place in cities across the world for many decades, the Palm Springs Dyke March is a new thing. Carr said the fact that there is now a dyke march here shows that the local lesbian community is, thankfully, finally beginning to come together.

“Palm Springs’ lesbian community has never really escalated into a highly active social community,” Carr said. “But in the last couple of years, little pods of people are starting to gain momentum.”

As another example of this momentum, Carr pointed to the new and growing nonprofit The L-Fund, which offers financial assistance to local lesbians in need. President and founding member Barbara Carpenter will be one of the pre-march speakers at Francis Stevens Park, along with Gail Christian, one of the producers of the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival; and Janet Malachowsky, an associate vice president with The Relationship Group at Morgan Stanley, who not long ago served as the president of the board of the Desert Business Association, the valley’s LGBT business group. (Full disclosure: The author of this article is the current president of the DBA.)

Beyond the great speakers, what can Dyke March attendees expect?

“I suspect that at the rally site, it’ll be mostly lesbian,” Carr said. “That is who the march is named after—dykes, people who are proud dykes or lesbians who are not hung up on that word. That’s who will be there.”

That’s not to say that men and straight women won’t be welcome, Carr said. In fact, she said that she hopes men and straight women will show up in support. (Carr’s suggested chant for march supporters: “Go, dykes, go!”)

As the march heads through the Pride Festival and to the Arenas Road stage, the crowd will become much more diverse, and Carr said this is a very good thing.

“On Arenas, I hope everybody’s there, because Kate Kendell is such an amazing speaker,” Carr said.

After Kendell speaks and Jennifer Corday rocks, attendees can walk a couple hundred feet to the Hard Rock Hotel for the L-Fund Women’s Pride Dance, which will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight. DJ T-LA STORM will spin; tickets are $20 in advance at www.l-fund.org, or $30 at the door.

Carr—who said she’s always identified with the word “dyke”—said it’s fantastic that the local lesbian community is starting to make legitimate, tangible efforts to organize.

“In any community that is under-seen and, in our case, under-organized … it’s important to focus on what you want and how to get it,” she said.

For more information on the Palm Springs Dyke March, visit PSPride.org or www.facebook.com/psdykemarch.

Published in Local Fun

They call it “Queercore”—punk-rock music that takes on the issues of the LGBT community.

One of the best-known Queercore bands is Pansy Division—and on Sunday, Nov. 6, the band will play in downtown Palm Springs as part of Greater Palm Springs Pride.

After Pansy Division formed in San Francisco in 1991, the band was incorrectly billed as the first gay punk band. In reality, Queercore has been around since the early ’80s and included bands such as The Dicks, Fifth Column, Big Man, and The Apostles. During a recent phone interview, frontman Chris Freeman mentioned an encounter with another Queercore band that would eventually become an Alternative Tentacles labelmate.

“I was working at Wells Fargo when we had just started playing our first shows,” Freeman said. “I’d get packages from this girl who would come in; I thought this chick just rocked. I didn’t know who she was, but she just rocked. … One night, she came in and said, ‘Hey, what are you up to tonight?’ I didn’t know what to tell her, because we were playing a show. She said, ‘Oh, well, I have this band, and maybe you could come and see the show.’ I showed up to the club, and she walks in with her band, and I was like, ‘… What’s your band?’ She said ‘Tribe 8.’ What the fuck? … They were terrorizing. We became best buddies immediately.”

Freeman said he and his bandmates just wanted to have fun after starting Pansy Division.

“We thought, ‘Let’s just focus on San Francisco and the ACT UP community,’ which Jon (Ginoli) and I were pretty active in,” Freeman said, referring to the AIDS/HIV activist group. “We thought that we would try playing a style of music that had not gotten anywhere in our community—power pop and that sort of fun style of punk rock.

“Punk rock was really fun when it first started. Later, there were different factions and cities putting their take on it, and Southern California added to the violent side of punk rock. But when it first started, it was about, ‘Let’s go back to this fun part of rock ’n’ roll,’ which had been lost. … We thought if we’re going to promote being out and gay with punk rock, let’s do it as humor. That’s the best vehicle to get people to understand or accept something.”

Freeman and Ginoli soon realized they were taking part in what amounted to a social experiment.

“Jon and I were both over 30. We were told if we were over 30, we were never going to have a career in music,” Freeman said. “ … Here we are 25 years later, still doing it. During our first couple of shows in San Francisco, we were shaking in our boots, because we didn’t know how people would react to us.”

Pansy Division gained a fan with status in the punk community soon after the band began performing.

“Jello (Biafra) of Dead Kennedys was an early supporter. He would come to our shows, and he would go, ‘You guys, this is genius!’ He was always a big supporter of the gay community,” Freeman said. “He had told us that he was going to sign us and cleared the way for us to do ‘Smells Like Queer Spirit,’ because he was at this protest in Portland, and Nirvana was on the bill. He talked to them, saying, ‘I have this band called Pansy Division out of San Francisco, and I want to put out this 7-inch and do this twist on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ They said, ‘Yeah, go for it!’ But as it turned out, he didn’t have the money to put out the first single. Larry Livermore from Lookout Records was also watching us and had been a supporter. … We thought, ‘If Jello can’t do it, let’s go with Larry.’ Jello often regrets it, but he was still a champion for us and came to shows.

“When things went sour with Lookout and we got out of the contract around 2000, we went to (Biafra’s) Alternative Tentacles. It’s easy to do business with Jello and easy to work with him.”

Pansy Division found itself on tour with Green Day in 1994, right as Green Day’s album Dookie was taking off. It went on to sell 20 million copies.

“As we signed to Lookout, (Green Day) released Kerplunk,” Freeman said. “We thought, ‘That’s a statement! That’s a great record!’ It went on to sell 50,000 copies on Lookout, which was amazing for an underground band. They could see themselves going to a major label. They had seen our show, and we got the call from Tré (Cool) the drummer, asking, ‘Do you have a van? Can you tour?’ We were ready to go.”

Soon, Green Day’s audience swelled—and Pansy Division found itself playing in arenas, which led to a more mainstream audience.

“That was insane. Never once did Jon and I get used to it,” Freeman said. “We played these huge crowds. Also, we didn’t know what was going to happen to Green Day’s audience. All of a sudden, we’re playing to these 8-year-old kids coming to the shows, and we were up there signing about sucking cock. … None of it made any sense, and it just got weirder and weirder.”

Pansy Division has continued on, albeit with a more limited schedule since 2000 (although the band has been on the road a little bit more recently, due to the band’s brand-new release, Quite Contrary). These days, the members have full-time jobs and spouses—and the music industry has changed as well.

“In 2000, I was homeless. I was kicked out of my apartment because my landlord was gentrifying it,” Freeman said. “I didn’t have a job, because I did temp work in between tours, and the dot-com bust happened, and there were no temp jobs available. I ended up moving to Los Angeles, and we sort of had to regroup and figure out what we were going to do. Napster’s lawsuits coming from Metallica happened, and we had many discussions about, ‘Well, what is the future of music, then?’ At that point, we came to the conclusion that labels are going to go boutique in the future. Once something is on the Internet, no one is going to want to pay for it.”

Freeman performed at Palm Springs Pride with his other band, GayC/DC, last year.

“I didn’t know how open and receptive Palm Springs Pride would be to rock acts such as us,” Freeman said. “The roll of the dice with GayC/DC paid off last year. That was an amazing show. We got off the stage and were like, ‘That was great! We got such a great reception.’ We told the promoters, ‘Have us back! I have this other band called Pansy Division,’ and they were like, ‘PANSY DIVISION? CAN WE HAVE YOU NEXT YEAR?’ It worked out.”

Pansy Division will perform at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6, at the U.S. Bank Stage on Arenas Road during Greater Palm Springs Pride. Admission is free. For more information, visit pspride.org.

Published in Previews

Just in time for Greater Palm Springs Pride, downtown Palm Springs’ Ted Casablanca Gallery is presenting a show of never-before-displayed photographs by Michael Childers—taken in 1974 at a drag ball in a Los Angeles, and at a White Party in Palm Springs in 2002.

Childers is best known for his photographs capturing the personalities of celebrities, including Greta Garbo, Dustin Hoffman, Andy Warhol, Natalie Wood, Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper, Joan Crawford and Grace Jones, to name just a few. His work has been featured in numerous galleries and museums throughout the world. However, this upcoming show reveals a different side of Childers’ personality.

Mentioning two of his favorite photographers, Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus, Childers said he thinks this Flaming Creatures series resonates with their work. Childers described working with famous people as more like a dream, while in the Flaming Creatures photographs, “the flavor of people—they’re not acting,” Childers said.

“These photographs are edgy and different. They’re of people who are gay, straight, lesbian, uni-gender; it’s the fun, outrageous things I like about it,” Childers said.

The 1974 drag ball photos were initially taken for a four-page spread in the Italian Vogue magazine, L’Uomo Vogue. However, the pictures have never been presented in a gallery or museum until now; the same goes for the photos from the 2002 White Party. It’s unlikely that this display at Ted Casablanca will be the photos’ last, however: The Palm Springs Art Museum’s The Galen in Palm Desert plans on including some of these pictures within the next couple of years in a show titled Gay Life in America.

Childers compared the two time periods. “1974 was sweet and charming,” he said, noting the poses and expressions in the photographs. “I love the originality of costumes in both periods, but the ’70s (costumes) were more unique.”

Many of the 1974 subjects were Hollywood people, including costume designers, models, makeup artists, photographers and art directors—in other words, people with a lot of fabulous theatrical flair. “Some were very stylish, and had great makeup, and they would parade out!” Childers said

At the 2002 White Party in the park, Childers had spotters bring people over to the background he’d set up. Some smiled and laughed, even though he asked them not to; perhaps the whole scene was too much fun. Still, Childers seized many natural poses within the context of the event. Childers describes the scene as being about “street art, and how people from the street express themselves. Where there’s more individuality and uniqueness, I feel like I’m a voyeur. As all photographers are, I’m a voyeur with a long lens.”

Childers said he’s been a friend of Ted Casablanca for 20 years, and Childers is thrilled about the show.

“Ted has enthusiasm as a Palm Springs booster,” Childers said. “He has a bold and refreshing choice of artists. It’s a terrific gallery.”

Casablanca—aka Bruce Bibby—said he’s had a desire to show Childers’ work for years.

“I’ve wanted to show his Warhol pieces for a while,” he says. “I actually have one. The drag ball pieces are also a favorite of mine. It was a Halloween drag ball, and he did what he usually doesn’t do: He let people have free rein—rebel photographer meets rebel guests with their moment to shine.

“It was Michael’s idea to show it for Gay Pride with the 2002 White Party (photos). I loved the idea!”

The Flaming Creatures exhibit will open with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, at Ted Casablanca Gallery, located at 388 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, call 760-883-1625, or visit tedcasablanca.com.

Published in Visual Arts

One of my favorite idioms, often attributed to President John F. Kennedy, is: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

This phrase came to mind one recent morning when I woke up to an email from a manager at a local business. He had agreed to participate in an event with the Independent on the day before, but then changed his mind when he realized the event has an advertising element.

“We have never paid for advertising, and we never will,” the manager wrote.

That phrase, frankly, pissed me off. After all, advertising is what keeps the lights on here at the Independent, and it funds all of the journalism that we do here.

My response to him: “I’m a bit befuddled when you say (your business) ‘never will’ advertise. Seeing as I’ve put every dime (and then some) I have into creating a local business that tries to cover our valley in an ethical, honest, meaningful and substantial way, I’m confused as to why (your business) would categorically rule out supporting my business, when I’ve supported (your business) with my dollars plenty over the years.”

Of course, not all businesses can or should advertise with the Independent (or any other media source, for that matter), and a simple “no thanks” wouldn’t have bothered me in the least. What did bother me is the blanket statement; I read it as saying, more or less: We will never support your business under any circumstances.

On a personal level, I’ll most likely take my dollars elsewhere—to businesses that believe in and support what we do here at the Independent.

Because, well, a rising tide lifts all boats.


In other news, we’ve recently launched two brand-new columns.

In the Opinion section, veteran local writer and broadcaster Steve Kelly is now writing a sports column for us. You can read his inaugural piece, on College of the Desert’s athletic director, Gary Plunkett, here.

As for the Food and Drink section, give a hearty welcome to Kevin Carlow and his new cocktails column. His debut column, on the yumminess of mescal, can be found here.

Be sure to pick up the November 2016 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent; it’s hitting streets this week. Not only is it our annual special Pride Issue; it includes the program for the Independent’s Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, taking place Nov. 11-19.

Happy Pride; enjoy Craft Cocktail Week; and as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Editor's Note