Before the leathermen, their otherwise kinky pals, and their aficionados can submit to their lusts during Amsterdam’s Leather Pride in October, they can enjoy themselves on the other side of the world at the Folsom Street Fair on September 27 in San Francisco. The Folsom Street Fair is an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair, that caps San Francisco’s Leather Pride Week.
The event started in 1984 and is now California’s third-largest single-day, outdoor spectator event and the world’s largest leather event and showcase for BDSM products and culture, where a mixture of kink and leather subcultures meet. As the AIDS epidemic unfolded in the 1980s, San Francisco’s gay community’s relative autonomy was dramatically weakened. The crisis became an opportunity for the city (in the name of public health) to close bathhouses and regulate bars, which they did beginning in 1984. As the establishments for the leather community were rapidly closing, a coalition of activists and community organizers decided to start a street fair.
The fair would enhance the visibility of the community, provide a means for much-needed fund-raising, and create opportunities for members of the leather community to connect to services and vital information (e.g., regarding safer sex) that bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been situated to distribute.
Over the years the Folsom Street Fair has grown as a non-profit charity, and local and national non-profits benefit with all donations at the gates going to charity groups as well as numerous fund-raising schemes within the festival including games, beverage booths and even spanking for donations to capitalize on the adult-themed exhibitionism. As one of the few occasions when sadomasochistic activities are encouraged and performed in public, the Folsom Street Fair attracts a considerable number of sightseers and those who enjoy the attention of onlookers, also called exhibitionists, as well as hundreds of photographers and videographers. Although the costumes and activities are frequently transgressive, many attendees find the event “eye-opening” and positive. On the other hand, the event has at times drawn public and internal criticism for its bawdy atmosphere and broad tolerance of lewd behavior and it is a regular target for pro-Heteronormativity organizations.
For over two decades now the “LeatherWalk” has served as the kick-off to San Francisco’s Leather Week. The LeatherWalk was founded in 1992 by Art Tomaszewski, a former Board President of the AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF), a Bare Chest Calendar Man, and a former Mr. Headquarters Leather.
Tomaszewski was inspired to start an event that would raise visibility, community building, and funds for AEF. In 2001, Sandy “Mama” Reinhardt, a tireless community fundraiser and founding advisor at the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund (BCEF), took over event production of LeatherWalk.
At the end of June this year Folsom Street Events (FSE) executed a new agreement with AEF and BCEF, allowing FSE to sublicense the LeatherWalk name and to assume the lead on production of the cherished fetish event, which this year takes place on Sunday, September 20. According to Demetri Moshoyannis of Folsom Street Events, “We are very much looking forward to working with the community and putting our signature Folsom brand on the event.
We encourage all bar and club owners, businesses, and community members to organize teams and walk to show our collective pride. This could be the start to a very positive partnership.”
This year Folsom Street has picked up a decidedly hometown theme for its poster. The sexy image was disclosed earlier this year in a viral marketing campaign, featuring five members of California’s leather and fetish community on a San Francisco icon - the cable car. According to Mr. Moshoyannis, “This year’s Folsom Street Fair poster is one for the record books. Folsom Street Fair is such an iconic San Francisco institution. So, what better way to reinforce that message with a photo shoot on a cable car? Our events are such an ‘only in San Francisco’ experience for tourists, visitors, and locals alike. We want to remind people that our city is still the home to unique, special events and impeccable entertainment.” Patrick Finger, who conceptualized the images, added, “Our image is an affirmation of all things San Francisco - from our vibrant and diverse leather and fetish scene to our iconic landscapes. We love everything about this poster, and we hope this image resonates.”
The poster image for “Magnitude,” the Official Saturday Night Dance Event of Folsom Street Fair on Saturday, September 26, continues the theme seamlessly. This poster presents a forcefully erotic image of a businessman enjoying the view of a Master/slave scene, also on a cable car.
On Sunday, September 27, from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., the Folsom Street Fair will present a consistently exciting line-up of musicians and DJs. The producers have stepped up to showcase some of the most stellar music from synth pop and electronica to indie and house. Folsom Street Fair presents a tour de force of live acts that will appeal to its queer audience, pairing alternative music with alternative sexualities. This year’s main stage headliners are Ladyhawke and Missing Persons.
Ladyhawke is Pip Brown, a hard rocking pop songstress from New Zealand. Dubbing herself Ladyhawke after the 1985 Richard Donner movie, she recorded her self-entitled solo album with producers Pascal Gabriel and Hannah Robinson. Released in 2008, Ladyhawke was an instant indie hit in her native country, and the modern pop sound and catchy hooks made it a success elsewhere. After a year she returned to the studio to work on the follow-up, “Anxiety.” She is poised to release her new record this fall. She’s welcomed back to Folsom Street Fair after appearing with Little Boots in 2012.
Missing Persons is a legendary new wave band that made its first record in 1980: a four-song EP entitled “Missing Persons,” in Zappa’s brand-new Utility Muffin Research Kitchen studios. Two years of hard work led up to a signing with Capitol Records in 1982. With label support, the re-released EP sold another 250,000 units, and the new full-length album “Spring Session M” (an anagram of “Missing Persons”) went gold. The singles “Mental Hopscotch,” “Destination Unknown,” “Words,” “Walking in L.A.,” and “Windows” met with great success, especially in the local markets of Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. The experimental album ‘Rhyme & Reason” was released in 1984, and the band followed up with the more conventional “Color In Your Life” in 1986.
Joining the headliners on the main stage are artists from around the world, but also from San Francisco. DJ Justime (Oakland) will serve as the Main Stage DJ. According to Folsom Street’s Demetri Moshoyannis, “This year’s line up is just stellar. There may be many acts that folks haven’t heard of - and, we invite you to discover some crazy-good new artists! The Main Stage features some phenomenal performers, ranging in genres from electronic and dance to rock and even performance art. If I’m not running around the fairgrounds, I’ll be planted in front of this stage - or, maybe dancing in one of our dance areas!”
In addition to the main live performance stage, the Folsom Street Fair will feature two dance areas: Magnitude Dance Area on 11th Street between Howard and Folsom and the Deviants Dance Area on Folsom at 13th Street. Both stages have been relocated from last year. These stages are named and programmed after the two popular parties that take place during the same weekend. Headlining the Magnitude Dance Area are circuit legends, Pagano and Wayne G with a live performance by diva Inaya Day. Headlining the Deviants Dance Area are DJ Harvey, Mike Servito, and local phenom Vin Sol as well as others.