New Festival Site Mostly Draws Praise

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | While the 2008 Pridefest won mixed reviews from attendees, none showed the anger and disappointment that was on display in 2007 when many people came to the festival only to find it had been canceled.

“I think it's really good,” said Tanya Evans, a 32-year-old social worker who was enjoying the festival with two friends. “It's more spread out… more room.”

Post-march street fair back this year, but on Hudson just below 14th.

This year's festival was held on Hudson Street running from 14th Street south to Abingdon Square. While that is a shorter space than the old location on Washington Street, Hudson is wider and surrounded by shorter buildings, giving the space a more open feeling.

In 2006, Heritage of Pride (HOP), the group that produces New York City's annual pride march, rally, and related events, sought to move the festival to Chelsea and hold it the day before the march, which is always held on the last Sunday in June.

Believing that it would get approval from the city, HOP moved forward with the Saturday festival plan only to learn just weeks before the event that the city had rejected the application. With little time to organize a festival on the old location and date, HOP canceled the event. This year's festival was held on June 29, the same day as the march.

“We were just talking about how this is so much smarter,” said David Vodola, a 47-year-old home repair professional, as he walked through the festival with two friends. “Down there it just got really congested.”

The thinner crowd could be explained by the two heavy downpours that festival vendors said sent customers rushing for shelter from the rain. The rain caused HOP to cancel the scheduled live music.

“We paused after the first downpour, then we had to shut it down,” said David Schneider, a HOP co-chair.

Some vendors said that if their business was down from prior years at all – and they could not say that it was – that could be due as much to the weather as people not knowing about the new festival location. Only one vendor said he was unlikely to rent space next year. Others were pleased with the location and crowd.Some visitors were very happy.

Jessica Phillips, 23, who works in the healthcare industry, was at the festival with three friends and pronounced it “good.” The new location was closer to the subway and the vendors were better.

“Everything is closer,” Phillips said as her friends agreed. “I like the food.”

Bob, a 60-year-old television producer, was at the festival with a friend and preferred the Hudson Street location over Washington Street.

“This is probably better,” he said. But the best festivals were those that were held on the Hudson River piers in the '80s, Bob said. That location had a gay “cachet” while the more recent festivals looked like standard events.

“This seems like any other New York street fair,” said Bob, who declined to give a last name.

Not everyone approved of the new location, though even those who liked Washington Street did not express the strong feelings that were seen in 2007.

“I liked Washington Street better,” said Charles Goings, 40, a yoga instructor. “It wasn't as wide. It was a little bit closer to the piers.”

Goings also said he was on a raw food diet and was not finding vendors that suited his tastes.

“It would be nice to have some vegan choices,” he said.

A number of people liked Washington Street because it was right at the end of the march as opposed to the Hudson Street location, which was a five- to ten-minute walk away.

“I like the old one better,” said Adam Silver, a 27-year-old industrial designer. “It seemed like there was more to do… It was closer to the end of the parade.”

Still others reacted badly to the new location

“It's different,” said Cheyenne Boone, who said she was 35, as her friend laughed loudly, and on disability. Late on Sunday, they had only just arrived at the festival and were not finding items to buy.

“We always bring like $300 to spend,” she said.

Tony, who is 47 and on disability, just did not care for the new festival.

“I don't like it,” he said. “It's not like it used to be.”

Schneider said that HOP was generally pleased with the Hudson Street location.”I think the new space worked pretty well,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was room for about 120 tents… Basically about two weeks before the festival we had to turn vendors away.”

Next year is the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that mark the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. HOP is anticipating larger crowds and more demand for vendor space.

“There's going to be a lot people in town,” he said. “We're going to have to see what we can do.”