CVIndependent

Sat12142019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I’ll never forget June 26, 2015—the day that gay marriage became legal across the entire United States, thanks to a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

It’s a day I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, and the sheer joy felt as everyone gathered in downtown Palm Springs to rally and celebrate was, in a word, glorious. We’ve come so far, most of us thought.

Now, not even 4 1/2 years later, the mood of many of the people who gathered to celebrate in Palm Springs that night is decidedly different. Today, the mood is somber. And fearful.

This mood has almost everything to do with actions taken by the Trump administration, which has been downright awful to and for the LGBTQ community. For starters: The U.S. Supreme Court is currently debating whether it should be legal for employers to fire employees based on their sexuality and/or trans status. Let me restate that slightly differently: The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2019, is currently debating whether it should be legal for employers to discriminate against employees on a basis that has nothing to do with job performance. The Trump administration, for the record, thinks it should be legal for employers to engage in such discrimination.

Of course, that’s not the only matter involving rights that is now up in the air under the Trump administration. Trans men and women are now banned from joining the military. Abortion rights are under attack nationwide—and it’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court could wind up deliberating the issue, even though Roe v. Wade has been supposedly settled law for 46 years. Even gay marriage could get relitigated, if the Trump administration gets its way.

All of this is why, when the LGBTQ community gathers to celebrate Greater Palm Springs Pride, the usually celebratory mood will be tinged with a bit of sorrow. Of anger. Of fear.

Fortunately, there are a lot of local reasons to justify the aforementioned celebratory mood at Pride. You can read about two of those reasons—amazing LGBTQ locals working to improve and expand our local music scene—in stories we recently posted at CVIndependent.com: Brad Guth, the openly gay owner of The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, a former (and current, sort of) metal bar; and DJ Sugarfree, aka Noemi Rodriguez, one of the valley’s top DJs, who is taking steps to improve and diversify the local underground music scene. Those stories are also included in the special Pride Issue package of our November print edition.

As always, thanks for reading; contact me if you have questions or comments. Also, be sure to pick up the November 2019 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting newsstands this week—and be sure to drop by our booth at Palm Springs Pride!

Published in Editor's Note

The Coachella Valley is brimming with musical talent—yet it’s lacking when it comes to music venues.

Thank goodness for The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert.

Over the years, The Hood has transformed from a simple metal bar into … well, a metal-and-everyone-else bar that is also one of the premier performance venues in the valley, with events being held every day. While countless local bands have gained popularity thanks to a boost from The Hood, the venue has also hosted numerous famous acts, such as surf-rock legend Dick Dale.

In recent years, The Hood has also started hosting events such as a weekly Drag Queen Bingo night, and has become a regular participant in the Desert AIDS Project’s annual Dining Out for Life night. This fascinatingly vibrant mix is due in large part to its owner, Brad Guth—an out-and-proud gay man.

“I grew up in a time when people were not as accepting and tolerant as they are today,” said Guth. “It was shameful to be different, especially with regard to sexual orientation. That was never discussed or taught in school. Nonetheless, I had a great time just being myself. I was always confident. For example, I was never too interested in being an athlete—so I became a male cheerleader, my high school’s first! And while I took a lot of heat for that, I had a blast, and my family fully supported it.”

Guth told me a story about skipping the homecoming dance during his senior year of high school.

“I went to my first alternative club in West Hollywood instead,” Guth said. “It was a big club, frequented by many celebrities, and I was nervous as hell. I was working as a waiter at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, and I used to hear all of the other waiters talking about this place. When I arrived, there was a long line outside. I was so scared but forged ahead and entered. It was a Friday night, and disco was at its height. It was such an amazing and freeing experience. Everyone was just having fun, and no judgement. There were a number of celebrities there, many of whom I became friends with over the coming years, and they didn’t have to worry about being outed or followed by the paparazzi.

“I lived the rest of my adult life that way, never forgetting that first experience. I was always me, never trying to hide anything. When I started my career in retail, where I spent the next 30 years, I had a supervisor who told me I would never succeed in a straight-male-dominated industry. To prove him wrong, I just worked harder and better and proved my abilities. To that end, I became the youngest buyer ever given the position at Bullock’s department store, now Macys.

“I built the staff up from scratch. I negotiated all the leases, and we set up three websites that generated millions of dollars in sales. I traveled a lot, and had an East Coast office in Manhattan, and a West Coast office in Las Vegas. I alternated between the two for two-week periods. … (After) my grandchild was born, I bought a home here in the desert so I could come visit him every other weekend from my Vegas office. Two years later, I moved here full time.”

Coming from a strong business background, it’s no surprise Guth was able to improve The Hood, which, when he purchased it, was nowhere near as neighborly as it is now.

“The Hood was somewhere that I would go from time to time, because I saw a lot of opportunities to improve,” Guth said. “I’d go every day and sit on the back patio and think of new ideas to enlarge it and make things bigger and better. I looked at two other locations to purchase over a few months, one being Schmidy’s Tavern. The deciding factor was when I asked the landlord of Schmidy’s where they saw (the center where Schmidy’s was) in five years, and he said ‘exactly the same.’ That’s when I really set my sights on The Hood.

“I knew that I could improve the environment and the service, and grow the business by creating a comfortable hangout spot. I basically wanted to create an environment where I would feel comfortable hanging out. It was also a much-different crowd back then. We wanted to keep that crowd by adding more events, and making the place a destination in Palm Desert. We also wanted to attract new people with the expansion of the patio and cosmetic changes.”

Those changes didn’t all happen at once.

“We achieved everything over time,” Guth said. “My first weekend, we opened the back-patio bar and added new furniture, and that became the place to be. It’s a fun hangout place, and it’s one of the best patios for our type of venue in the valley. While we did these changes outside, we started adding events … seven nights a week. Each event is geared to different types of clientele so that we could provide a lifestyle environment.

“When people visit The Hood, I want them to feel like they’re visiting my house. It’s important that people feel really comfortable and safe.”

The Hood’s weekly schedule has something for virtually everyone.

“We added a game night on Monday that’s geared toward younger people,” he said. “Tuesdays, we added Drag Queen Bingo and all-day, all-night happy hour. It was a scary proposition, but it has become very big. We added an open mic to our beer-pong nights on Wednesdays, which has been a huge success. That attracts people from all walks of life—poets, singers, songwriters and comedians. People come in from around the valley and even different states. That and beer pong really bring in a younger crowd.

“We kept doing Karaoke Thursdays, which is always fun, and many people look forward to it. Fridays and Saturdays are always either bands or DJs. It used to be primarily metal bands, but we’ve successfully introduced different genres of music: cumbia, metal, soft rock, hard rock, etc. We try to mix it up and not have every weekend be the same. Sundays are comedy nights, which started a year ago and have been really successful. We’ve booked some really famous comedians like Pauly Shore and Jamie Kennedy.”

I asked Guth what obstacles he faces running such an active venue.

“The entertainment is very time-consuming,” Guth said. “People may not realize it, but it’s a lot of collecting fliers and posting them every single day, and adjusting to last-minute changes or cancellations. We try to book a month or two out and look at what our competition is doing to stay ahead. It’s a difficult process and sometimes very frustrating.”

The Hood personally means a lot to me: It helped kickstart my career, as both a musician and a writer, because of the community fostered there. Guth said it’s this sense of community that keeps him going.

“There have been some nights with bands that have been absolutely fantastic,” Guth said. “When Empty Seat won the first round of the CV Weekly competition (late last year), we immediately booked them. It was great to see new talent in the valley, and it’s been exciting seeing them grow to be very popular. It’s always good to know you were part of someone else’s success. There’s a concert for kids that we do in June, which many people don’t know that we do: There’s a music school that comes to The Hood and has their students perform in the afternoon hours. We’ve actually gone on to book those kids’ bands, like Silver Sky, who we just had a single-release party for. It’s really gratifying to be a part of growth like that.”

The Hood stands as one of the most diverse and accepting places to be in the valley—and that is due to the leadership of Brad Guth.

“I think today, The Hood is likely the most-inclusive place to hang out, welcoming folks of all races, ages and sexual orientations, where everyone can come and hang out and feel welcome.” said Guth. “I am super-proud of that accomplishment. It really was what I always set out to do.”

The Hood Bar and Pizza is located at 74360 Highway 111 in Palm Desert. For more information, call 760-636-5220, or visit facebook.com/HoodBarAndPizza.

DJ Sugarfree is one of the valley’s top DJs—a regular at Bart Lounge and Chill Bar Palm Springs. Over the years, she’s played at virtually every club in the valley.

However, DJ Sugarfree—her given name is Noemi Rodriguez—wants more. Specifically, she wants to take things underground.

With friends and fellow female DJs Femme A and Aylex Song, the queer DJ from Indio is trying to provide the desert with an authentic rave experience—and the group is planning an underground electronic event that recalls the spirit of the famous “desert raves,” which Sugarfree and others would organize off Dillon Road in Indio around this decade’s start.

But creating a scene is easier said than done.

“Nowadays, most people listen to mainstream EDM music, and only care about events with big popular names on the lineup,” Rodriguez said. “Many people’s music listening is limited to what’s on the radio. They will drive out of town to go to a big rave, but they are uninterested in local underground events.”

However, things are beginning to change. Sugarfree said she has noticed an increase in local appreciation for electronic music thanks to Coachella pre/post-parties and Splash House—but that appreciation is removed from the authentic/original rave experience, and it doesn’t compare to the current popularity of underground electronic music in Los Angeles. Sugarfree theorized that people in the desert today are conditioned to experience dance music at events that are limited by space and time—such as parties at clubs.

“When people go to a bar, the party is over at 2 a.m., but oftentimes, people aren’t ready to go home,” she said. “Raves, on the other hand, are supposed to go until the sun comes up. Going to a rave used to mean you were staying out until 6 a.m. At clubs and venues, the party has to end—and we want to create an event where it doesn’t have to.”

Sugarfree—a nickname long ago given to her by raver friends, because she abstains from sugar due to her diabetic condition—also wants to change the conception of what it means to be a DJ.

“A lot of people think being a DJ is just like being a jukebox,” she said with a laugh. “But that’s not true, because a real DJ will take the listener on a journey. The DJ will blend songs together so that multiple songs seem like one song which happens to be hours long. The goal is to take the listener on a memorable journey and make her feel good.”

When you combine the magic of a DJ with the right setting, the experience can be moving. For Sugarfree, creating the perfect sonic adventure starts with asking the promoter what he or she is looking for.

“I like to know ahead of time what they’re expecting, and then I try to find songs that have similar BPMs (beats per minute), have similar melodies or styles, and are in the same key,” Rodriguez said. “This is how you get the songs to flow smoothly. How the songs are going to sound sequenced together is very important.”

Sugarfree started working with turntables in 2006, the year after she graduated from high school, but she was curating listening experiences for people as far back as middle school. “Everybody would come to me to make them mix CDs,” Rodriguez said, again with a laugh. “I was always talking about music, and I was into different kinds of music. I started making mix CDs, and I would take them to school and ask people to listen. After that, people started asking me to make CDs for them.”

During her senior year in high school, Sugarfree’s mother passed away rather suddenly from lupus complications and an encounter with an aggressive tuberculosis—a loss which still affects Sugarfree significantly. She struggled to complete her final year of high school, and though she did graduate, she was in a dark place.

“It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” she said.

The opportunity to express herself via music saved Sugarfree. “After high school, I befriended a girl who had DJ equipment, and I started messing around with it, and it felt like I was born to do that,” she said. “I had always wanted to be a DJ.”

Her DJ career began to blossom at a critical time in her life, and it created an opportunity for her to express herself and distract herself from her grief. It is no coincidence that many of the most-requested dance songs revolve around heartbreak, like Cher’s “Believe,” Alice DJ’s “Better Off Alone,” Haddaway’s “What Is Love?”, The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” and so on.

Equipped with a cheap controller and CDs, Sugarfree learned how to DJ quickly, improving by talking to other DJs and listening to mixes. She soon acquired better equipment and started playing at friends’ parties in backyards; her first gig was at a quinceañera. As she became more well-known, she moved on to clubs, where she continues to perform frequently today.

However, Rodriguez admits she’s become disenchanted by the demand to play just popular songs; she prefers music from the more-obscure electronic genres she was becoming acclimated with as her career progressed. Today, she enjoys playing techno, trance, tech house and progressive house—music that would be more welcome at an underground event.

“I can’t really play trance music out here,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody really knows it, and nobody really likes it. I’ve tried to play it, and people don’t really feel it.”

The sight of an empty dance floor is not a good feeling for a DJ. As a result, she generally succumbs to what the crowd wants.

“When I first started, I did have hostile crowds. It feels like you’re not doing something right,” she said. “It made me not want to play what I was playing. (Later), I tried to please the crowd more and get them leaving happy. It’s important to leave the crowd wanting more.”

Sugarfree said she and her fellow DJs are continuing to work on developing more underground events, although no plans have been finalized; follow her social media for updates. In the meantime, she’s continuing to enjoy her monthly Bart residency—and continuing to learn as well.

“I’m still working on developing perfect pitch, and the ability to instantly tell what key a song is in,” Sugarfree said, laughing.

For more information on DJ Sugarfree, visit www.facebook.com/9sugarfree9, or i_am_sugarfree on Instagram.

This Pride, the lesbians in Palm Springs have scheduled tons of fun!

But first, a little background.

The first official “Dyke March” event in the United States was part of the 1993 LGBT March on Washington, D.C. It boasted around 20,000 lesbians—and the women who marched got inspired and energized. Later that year, New York and San Francisco had their first Dyke Marches, and today, they’re held in various places, including Palm Springs.

By the way, try not to get hung up on the fact that this was started by and continues to be led by women who are proud to call themselves “dykes.” This event is designed for all women-loving-women, and every kind of human who loves women is welcome! And dogs, too!

I was lucky enough to be at the ’93 marches in Washington and San Francisco. There were markers and paints and big poster boards to make your own signs. I remember wandering around the National Mall, looking at the signs other women were making, and then plopping down in the grass to make my own. 

This brings us to today. Over the last few years, the lesbian community in Palm Springs has made great headway in organizing their own business and entertainment opportunities. The now-4-year-old Dyke March, for example, has grown from a mini-march into two days of events. This year, it all starts with a picnic, rally and march during Greater Palm Springs Pride, on Saturday, Nov. 3, from noon to 4 p.m., at Frances Stevens Park. That’s between Indian Canyon and Palm Canyon drives at Alejo Road. Bring a blanket, and stake your claim on the grass for a picnic with simple, catered lunches available for $5 (cash only). You can also bring your own feast—and make everyone else jealous! Sprawl out in the dreamy sunshine to enjoy an afternoon of women’s music, dance, speeches and comedy—with me as the emcee. There will be shade tents and some chairs and tables, in case you’re not the sprawling-out-on-the-grass type!

Also at the park: Lighting up the dance floor will be young DJ Ash, from Los Angeles, spinning so you can tea-dance your hearts out. A local favorite dance teacher, Jan Alden, will even teach a couple of country-Western line-dance lessons. This is a kid-friendly day, so plan to bring the whole family, as there will be fun and games … and face painting! Joanne Thompson will lead a drum circle, so bring your instruments, too.

Between music and raffles, you’ll hear brief yet brilliant speakers, including spoken word from Nalani Hernandez-Melo, a founder of the Wyld Womxn Collective. Also on the schedule: a melodious tease from Sweet Baby J’ai as she lures you to the Sunday Lesbo Expo Launch Party. (More on that in a bit.) Leslie Price, a lead nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood, will share insights on women’s health, and the ever-powerful orator Kate Kendell, who led the National Center for Lesbian Rights for more than 20 years, will rally a bit of energy as we’re about to march. Finally, there will be a few words from Bella Barkow, a producer of Lezathlon, the largest and intentionally most ridiculous lesbian sporting event in the world! (We’re hoping to convince her to bring one of their lesbian “field days” here to Palm Springs next year.) 

The short march to the Pride Festival area will step off from Frances Stevens Park at 4 p.m.

Later that night, you can dance the night away at the L-Fund’s annual Women's Pride Dance in the ballroom at Hotel Zoso, at 150 S. Indian Canyon Drive, with DJ T-LA Storm. Tickets are $20 in advance at www.l-fund.org, or $30 at the door. All are welcome!

On Sunday, women can show up—first come, first served—to watch the Pride parade from the patio of the not-quite-reopened Alibi Room, at 369 N. Palm Canyon Drive. Drinks and catered eats will be available for purchase. When the parade has passed, stick around on the patio for a free drag king show with emcee Jesse Jones and the Inland Empire Kings: King Phantom, King Caux and Sir Labia.

The headliners and big names can be found after the parade inside at the Lesbo Expo Launch Party, from 1 to 4 p.m. This ticketed event includes awards, music, comedy, a taco bar and beer, all for $30. The superstar show features acclaimed comedian/emcee Marga Gomez from San Francisco, and a short concert with Sweet Baby J'ai and her Women in Jazz All-Stars from Los Angeles.

Kate Kendell will receive the Legacy Award; other honorees include Susan Unger, the project director at Get Tested Coachella Valley; Lucy and Gail, producers of the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival; and Michelle Castillo, co-founder of Wyld Womxn Collective. A special Palm Springs City Council resolution will also be presented by Councilwoman Lisa Middleton to Lynn Segerblom, a co-creator of the original pride flag. The whole event will serve as an introduction by the Palm Springs Dyke March Steering Committee to the planned day-long Lesbo Expo, slated for Pride in 2019.

As a young comedian, waiting on the National Mall at the first Dyke March in ’93, I was intimidated by the strong emotions voiced on many of the signs. I finally drew flowers and peace signs around the words, “Issue-Free Dyke!” Through the whole parade, lesbians yelled back at me: “No such thing!”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/psdykemarch.

Published in Local Fun

Last week, the Independent published the final ¡Ask a Mexican! column, as penned by my friend and colleague Gustavo Arellano.

I was shocked on Oct. 13 when I got the news that Arellano—a longtime OC Weekly scribe who had served as the paper’s editor and spokesperson for many years—had stepped down. He quit, he said, because he refused to lay off half of his staff, and the owner would not accept any of Arellano’s counter-proposals (one of which included cutting Gustavo’s own salary in half).

At first, I fully expected Gustavo’s column to continue on in some form, albeit with a different name than ¡Ask a Mexican!, because the OC Weekly owns the rights to the name. In fact, in the version of this column that ran in the November print edition, I said the column would probably continue, as that was what I’d been told. However, after we went to press, Gustavo let me know the column would indeed end; he explained the decision in the final column, which ran last week. While I understand the decision, it breaks my heart. It was a fantastic column—and the first “regular” feature to ever start running at CVIndependent.com, way back when we were in beta five-plus years ago.

As for Gustavo’s plight … this is how it often goes at newspapers these days. While I have no inside knowledge of the OC Weekly’s financials, I do know that many layoffs at newspapers over the last 15-plus years have happened not because the publications were losing money—but because profits weren’t high enough.

This fact is one of the reasons I decided to leave my job as the editor of the Tucson Weekly in 2012, and then start the Independent here. The then-owners of the Tucson Weekly, Wick Communications, treated both me and the newspaper very well during my decade-long tenure there—but I knew that wouldn’t last forever. Sure enough, a little more than a year after I departed, Wick sold the Tucson Weekly—and the paper has been subjected to serious budget cuts ever since.

As bleak as all of this sounds … there is reason for hope. Last weekend, a number of my colleagues gathered in Chicago for the annual Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) Summit. (Unfortunately, I was unable to attend.)

LION is a vibrant and growing organization of mostly newer, mostly online local-news organizations across the country. Almost all of us “LIONs” are small, scrappy and hardworking. Oh, and one more thing: We’re innovating. We’re finding new ways to tell our communities’ stories. And we’re investing in our publications rather than making cuts to keep shareholders or wealthy owners happy.

Gustavo Arellano is a gifted, hustling hard-worker who will land on his feet, so I am not worried about him. I’m also upbeat about the future of journalism. However, I am saddened by the huge loss that Orange County will suffer as a result of the decline of its independent alternative newspaper, the OC Weekly.

As for that aforementioned November print edition: It’s our annual Pride Issue. It’s on newsstands throughout the Coachella Valley right now—and we will be at the Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival this coming weekend. Come say hi! Thanks for reading, as always, and don’t hesitate to contact me with comments or questions.

Published in Editor's Note

What better way to rev up Greater Palm Springs Pride than with a play about a struggling Elvis impersonator who finds great success … as a drag queen?

That was the thinking of Dezart Performs artistic director Michael Shaw when he chose The Legend of Georgia McBride—a play he described as heartwarming and “funny as heck”—as the opening production of the theater’s 10th anniversary season.

The Legend of Georgia McBride debuted in 2015 and has been performed successfully several times, including runs in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dezart is using the costumes from the San Francisco production—and costuming has been very challenging, Shaw said. There are three drag-queen characters, requiring a total of 19 wigs and 20 dresses. The staging, including multiple lip-synced musical numbers, has also posed a challenge on Dezart’s relatively small stage at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club.

The story revolves around Casey (aka Georgia McBride), a beleaguered young Elvis impersonator who is barely making a living. Bill collectors are calling, and Casey has just learned that his young wife, Jo, is pregnant. Then he loses his Elvis gig at a run-down Florida bar; the owner, Eddie, brings in a mediocre drag queen named Rexy as the new entertainment. When Rexy gets too drunk to perform one night, his companion Tracy tutors Casey on the finer points of female impersonation—and a star is born.

Shaw says he easily cast the roles of Casey (Sean Timothy Brown), Jo (Brianna Maloney) and Eddie (Chet Cole) right here in the desert; the two more-seasoned drag-queen characters, Rexy (Hanz Enyeart) and Tracy (Michael Mullen), were harder to find.

“I auditioned several excellent drag queens here in the valley—and there are some darned good ones—but there is some serious dramatic acting required in this play, and being a fabulous drag queen wasn’t quite enough.” Shaw said.

So far, the cast has meshed well. “They adore each other!” Shaw said.

When asked what is unique about this play, Shaw paused. “Casey is a lost young man; he throws himself into Elvis and other characters because he really doesn’t know who he is. Casey hides behind the other personas because they are more together than he is. He is a man-child who cannot even balance his checkbook.” However, Tracy takes Casey under his wing and makes him an amazing drag queen—and a better person, too.

Just two years out of high school, young Brianna Maloney said she is thrilled to be performing in her first play with Dezart Performs. She did quite a bit of musical theater at Palm Springs High School with David Green, who introduced her to Shaw. Brianna calls her character, Jo, “the boss” in the marriage with Casey. Jo loves her husband, but she is frustrated by his irresponsibility. She knows the Elvis thing is his passion—but it’s not paying the bills, which is an even bigger problem now that a baby is coming. Still, she gets a kick out of Casey’s Elvis performances, and to some degree lives vicariously through him.

Sean Timothy Brown calls his character, Casey, a simpleton. ”He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” Brown said. But Casey is passionate about performing, and loves being onstage. He takes to the drag stuff quickly, and finds that “Georgia McBride” has traits he wishes he had himself.

Brown—who had never done drag before this show—worked with Shaw previously in the cast of Dezart’s production of Clybourne Park. Local audiences have also seen him in Bad Jews, by Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, and as Daddy Warbucks in Palm Springs High School’s recent production of Annie.

Shaw says that with all of the musical numbers, The Legend of Georgia McBride is unlike anything Dezart has ever done. There is no particular theme to this year’s 10th anniversary season, which will be celebrated with an anniversary party and fundraising event hosted by Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge on Sunday, Jan. 14.

Shaw said he’s looking forward to starting the season on Pride weekend with The Legend of Georgia McBride.

“It’s a play with a heart of gold,” Shaw said. “It’s so much fun!”

Dezart Performs’ The Legend of Georgia McBride will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 3, through Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $40 for opening night with a post-show reception; $32 for evening performances; and $28 for matinees. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

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

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