By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
From the top of the billing on down, San Diego Pride Festival boasts the largest group of queer artists to perform yet. More than 100 entertainers will be spread across four stages in Balboa Park on July 13-14, with the two-day event expecting to draw 45,000 attendees.
Legendary singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge is headlining Sunday night while producer/singer-songwriter King Princess plays at her first Pride event on Saturday. In addition, many local artists will be performing.
Zareen Anjum, who is the resident DJ at Hillcrest’s Gossip Grill on Wednesday nights, will be performing Saturday from 2:45-3:45 p.m. She recently played at a party associated with Los Angeles Pride and will be spending the rest of San Diego Pride weekend DJing at Gossip Grill.
“I love to play different remixes, new remixes of different songs. I pride myself on being a full-spectrum artist playing all for all types of age ranges and all types of cultures,” Anjum said. “I want people to feel safe and also enjoy themselves.”
Her set will take place at The Movement stage, which is designed for dancing. While Anjum has gained experience at one of the top women’s bars in the country and has played at Rich’s, the biggest gay bar in San Diego, this will be her first set performed outdoors as her star continues to rise. Eventually, the Toronto-raised DJ who lives in North Park would like to travel and play music for different crowds as a way of connecting communities worldwide.
“There is a wide spectrum of music I think needs to be heard… to make people fall in love with themselves,” Anjum said.
For many of the queer performers, sharing their talents at Pride is especially meaningful. Oklahoma-based pop singer Greyson Chance spent a weekend at Pride events around the country in June.
“We did Milwaukee on Thursday, Detroit on Friday and LA on Saturday, so traveling around the country and just meeting the community in different places in the Midwest and in the West Coast was quite surreal to just see how far this community has come and how together and unified we are right now. As a kid from Oklahoma, who didn’t really have a lot of chances when I was younger, to go to a lot of Pride events, it was quite humbling to be able to play at them this year,” Chance said in a phone interview from his home in Oklahoma.
Chance will be completing his string of 2019 Pride performances at the Stonewall Mainstage from 4:45-5:35 p.m. on Saturday.
The festival is themed “Stonewall 50” in honor of the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that kicked off the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. San Diego’s first Pride Parade occurred in 1974, making this year the 45th anniversary of the celebration locally.
“I think in 2019, we need to be looking back at Stonewall. I think we need to be looking back to 50 years ago to heroes who fought for where we’re at now in America and now in the world as well,” Chance said. “I think this year for Pride, unification is a big staple for me — the community coming together. We have it pretty good in a lot of major cities in the United States, but there’s still a lot of places where we need a lot of work, where we need advocacy and bravery from community individuals.”
The 21-year-old singer and pianist went viral at age 12 for his performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” and then landed on “Ellen,” which launched his music career. He released his first album in 2011. Unlike some other gay artists who were pressured to keep their identity a secret, music executives wanted to use Chance’s identity as part of his public draw.
“My number one worry or concern was that my sexuality was going to be used as an exploitation tactic of people being able to say, OK, so now that he’s openly gay, we can market to this audience, that we can do this and that. And I wanted to avoid that at all costs,” Chance said about his teen years in the music industry.
His experience made him disillusioned with the music industry and he eventually walked away completely. It was only then that he came out publicly in an Instagram post when he was 19.
“I just took my time and, and really made sure that when I was ready to come out, I felt like I was doing it authentically.”
At the same time, he was attending college and finally able to sit down at a piano with no one watching.
“I think then I was able to find my voice and rediscover my purpose and also just find the joy in music again. There was a large period of time in my later adolescence where it almost felt like my craft had kind of been hijacked from me,” Chance said. “So when I was able to step back from it, I was able to reclaim my voice and to reclaim myself again.”
In that period, he began writing his latest album “Portraits,” which he had much more artistic control over and upon its release, received better critical acclaim than his past album. He will be performing songs from the album while in San Diego ahead of his upcoming fall Portraits World Tour.
Years after he feared his identity would be exploited, after four Pride performances, Chance is choosing to press into advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community with the platform he has.
“We have a lot of people out there who are open and who are proud in their lifestyle. And I think I just need to share my story and be a part of that narrative,” Chance said.
A key tenant of the San Diego Pride Festival is access, which is why it is free for high school students and there is a special cool zone for seniors. In addition, there are educational and tangible resources available throughout the weekend, including free HIV testing.
Tickets are still available at the box office for $30 for a weekend pass. Proceeds benefit San Diego Pride’s philanthropy and year-round education and advocacy programs.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at Kendra@sdnews.com.