Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Harvey's fair pays its respects


Harvey Milk having fun in the dunk tank at the Castro Street Fair in 1978 - his last. Photo: Dan Nicoletta
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Now in its 35th year, the Castro Street Fair will make its silver screen debut this November with the release of the biopic Milk , about the late Supervisor Harvey Milk, a onetime camera store owner who helped create the fair back in 1974 as a way to promote the burgeoning gay neighborhood.

The film's director, Gus Van Sant, recreated that first fair for the film, starring Sean Penn as Milk, the country's first openly gay man to win elective office when he secured a board seat in 1977.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have dissed Milk this week when he nixed a special holiday in his honor, but when the fair makes its return this weekend, it will pay homage to its founder.

"It is our 35th anniversary and Harvey was very instrumental in getting the fair started. We really wanted to pay homage to him and his inspiration in getting the fair started," said George Ridgely, the fair's executive director.

The fair's T-shirt and cover art for its program guide this year features a rendition of Milk as superhero, tearing apart his oxford shirt to reveal the source of his boundless energy and addictive enthusiasm - a carton of milk. A headline overhead boosts "Harvey Milk Lives." The shirts cost $20 and can be purchased at the fair's information booth near Castro and Market streets.

"The fair's continuing success serves as a testament to both the spirit of its host neighborhood and the enduring legacy of its creator," wrote David Miller, the fair's president, in the program guide.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, in his letter welcoming people to the fair, also pays tribute to Milk, whom the city honored this year by placing a memorial bust of his visage under City Hall's rotunda.

"Harvey Milk would have been proud of the Castro community, the continuing success of the Castro Street Fair, and the advances of the past four years making marriage equality a reality," wrote Newsom.

The fair has steadily grown in size since its inception, with crowds numbering between 40,000 to 50,000. Last year the fair raised $94,000 for charity.

"I feel confident we will be able to match it. People are usually very generous at the gates," said Ridgely. "The wild card is if it's a warm day we sell more beer and raise more money. If it is a colder day, we sell less beer and make less money. All signs point to the weather being nice this weekend."

Since 2001, the fair has raised $500,000 for its beneficiaries. It is a major source of funding for numerous local nonprofits.

"The money is extremely important, and their support of us is greatly appreciated," said Tom Nolan, executive director of Project Open Hand, which has raised $16,000 through the fair in recent years. "Even our presence there, it is a good place to be. It gives us a chance to remind people we are here and get a lot of people who want to volunteer to sign up."

Focus Features, the production company that is bringing Milk's story to the big screen, is using the fair to promote the film, which will hit theaters November 26. At its booth it will be raffling off two tickets to the world premiere of Milk at the Castro Theatre Tuesday, October 28. With individual seats to the screening already gone, it is the last chance to be one of the first people to watch the film.

Headlining the fair will be lesbian pop star Lori Michaels and Bay Area dance party/rock band Notorius, performing on the main stage. The Red-Rock stage will feature performances by the Gun & Doll Show and The Last Ambassadors.

DJs Luke Johnstone and Jim Hopkins will rule the decks at the Braindrops Dance Area, and the Country Western stage returns behind the Castro Theatre.

New this year will be Barnaby's World of Wonderment, an interactive arts playground replacing the Sugar Valley artists' colony of past fairs. Sponsored by local dance troupe SF Boylesque, the area is being designed to resemble an 1880s to 1920s otherworldly fair.

Visitors will stroll through themed-lands, including Alice in Wonderland where the Mad Hatter will keep guests off his table set for tea time and the Queen of Hearts and her deck-of-cards minions will challenge people to a game of croquet.

A vaudeville stage will feature circus acts, and burlesque acts will perform in an adults-only tent. In all, more than 100 performers and artists are donating their time to bring the area to life.

"It will be unlike possibly what they have ever seen before," said Cory McDaniel, the group's artistic and executive director. "We are encouraging people to dress up to partake in the worlds. It is just a space for play; I don't think we really play enough."

The fair is asking for a $4 suggested donation at the gates. It runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, October 5.

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