Concerts, games, musical performances, food and even weddings are all on the schedule for the Elm City’s first-ever Pride Festival, which will paint the downtown corridor in rainbows as Keene celebrates its LGBTQIA+ community members.
The six-hour block party is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 18, at noon and will encompass Central Square, Roxbury Street, and stretch down to Railroad Square, according to Keene Pride’s website.
“It feels incredible,” Keene Pride President Adam Toepfer said Sunday. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. We have amazing board members and committee members who worked really hard and it’s all culminating into this beautiful festival.”
The festivities will be hosted by Masters of Ceremony Sherry Vine and Miss Ginger Soulless, both drag queens. Vine is the star and writer of her own variety show, airing on Hulu, titled “She’s Living For This,” while the latter, Keene Pride board member Paulee Mekdeci, is a member of the Brattleboro-based Ladies of the Rainbow Drag Queen Troupe.
Guest speakers of the event, who will be giving speeches at the bandstand on Central Square, include Wichie Artu and Danny Roberts, who was cast on a 2000 MTV reality show, “The Real World: New Orleans.” In a Sept. 7 news release, Susan MacNeil, Keene Pride director of communications, said Roberts had a profound impact on a generation of young gay men.
“Not only did viewers watch him come out as gay to his housemates on live TV, they also got a firsthand look at what the military ban against openly homosexual men and women, once known as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ actually meant,” she wrote. “When Danny’s then-partner, military officer Paul Dill, showed up at the door to visit with his face blurred to the cameras, the impact was jarring.”
Toepfer told The Sentinel Sunday that he asked Roberts several months ago to participate “and he immediately said yes.”
Attendees with an appetite will be able to gorge on hot dogs, cotton candy and cold water, while children with a little more energy can walk over to a bounce house on Roxbury Street. And anyone up for dancing will be able to check out a series of live musical performances on Railroad Square by both local and celebrity guests.
Those musicians include Elise Hayes, a pop and R&B singer-songwriter whose songs have been featured on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” The CW’s “Charmed” and MTV’s “Siesta Key.” Per Keene Pride’s website, she has also toured the country as a professional keyboardist and background singer.
April Cushman, a country singer-songwriter and Swanzey native whose songs have been featured on radio stations across the country and even in the United Kingdom, is also scheduled to perform.
Performing bands include Random Ideas, and Not Nuns and a Bad Habit, while musicians local to the region and surrounding areas like Allie Kelley of Sunderland, Vt., and Zac Binney of Keene are also expected to lend their voices.
Love will be in the air, as Toepfer said the festival will feature a wedding ceremony and three vow renewals. The two who will be tying the knot, he said, are Shawn Bracebridge and John Dunham.
Those scheduled to renew their vows are Paul Allen-Webber and Roy Allen-Webber, Natalie Quevedo and Lola Bobrowski, and Paulee Mekdeci and Patrick Brown.
Toepfer added that people will have the chance to enter into a raffle and win an iPad mini. Starting Sunday, Sept. 11, Keene Pride is hosting a Find the Unicorn scavenger hunt, in which 20 participating businesses have hidden a unicorn somewhere in their store. Anyone who finds one must then tell an employee who will initial a card given to them, logging their progress.
Those who find at least 10 unicorns will get one entry into a raffle for the prizes, while anyone who finds all 20 unicorns will get six entries into the raffle.
Anyone looking for more information on the Keene Pride Festival can go to the organization’s website, www.keenepride.org/festival.
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