CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time ever, say organizers of Charlotte Pride, the Queen City’s annual LGBT Pride festival and parade maxed out at over 100,000 attendees over the weekend.
The crowds that flocked to Uptown Charlotte on Saturday, Aug. 16 and Sunday, Aug. 17 came for entertainment — including headliners Sevyn Streeter and LeAnn Rimes — and fun activities from over 150 vendors. On Sunday, the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade attracted thousands as over 100 entries and more than 20 floats marched down Tryon Street.
In a press release, organizers described their growth as a “milestone achievement,” noting they’ve “experienced record year-over-year growth since moving to the streets of Uptown Charlotte in 2011.”
Craig Hopkins, a Charlotte Pride co-director, attributed the event’s growth to a dedicated organizing committee and a growth in sponsorships.
“[We had] a great committee that was refocused on running the festival more like a business. Learning from last year’s festival, we really paid attention to what we did in 2013 and documented these processes better for 2014,” Hopkins said. “We also had tremendous sponsor and ally support again this year. The number of sponsors increased by 25 percent this year. For anyone who’s worked to get sponsorships, that’s huge.”
Entertainers draw fans
Jonathan Hill, Charlotte Pride’s entertainment co-chair told qnotes the group’s entertainment choices this year helped to encourage the event’s growth.
“Each year, we get bigger and bigger and our entertainers get bigger,” Hill said. “Just like in any concert, the bigger the name, then the higher the ticket price and the larger the venue.”
Hill said he was pleased with the turnout.
“It exceeded all expectations I had,” he said. “I knew that LeAnn Rimes would draw a huge crowd and I knew that Sevyn Streeter would be really successful, but looking out at the crowd both days, it was bigger than I had anticipated.”
Charlotte Pride’s diverse entertainment is also intentional, said Hill. Choosing high-profile, diverse entertainers is meant to appeal to a broad cross-section of the community. Rimes, for example, could attract Country fans, Dance fans and reality TV fans, he said.
Hopkins agrees that Rimes and other headlining acts made a difference, attracting larger media and community interest. “I had larger Pride organizations contacting me asking how we got LeAnn,” he said.
Other entertainers over the weekend included Bianca Del Rio, winner of the latest season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Alyssa Edwards from “Drag Race” season five, “Drag Race” fourth season contestant Sharon Needles and musicians Eryn Woods, Pastele and Luciana. Local artists and performers included a variety of drag acts from The Scorpio, performer Arron Malachi, local band Miami Dice, performers and DJ Scott Weaver from Snug Harbor’s SHIPROCKED! and local teen band The Reason You Stayed.
Organizers also said the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade experienced significant growth. The parade was held for the first time last year, 19 years after Charlotte hosted the NC Pride March in 1994.
More than 100 entries marched in the parade, with more than 20 floats. Organizers said more than 3,000 people marched in the parade.
Parade emcees and judges included Roxy C. Moorecox, local retailer Dan Mauney and V101.9 FM host Chirl Girl. Together, they awarded several parade entries with awards ranging from best spirit to best design. One World Dragon Boat won best float design. Time Warner Cable, whose parade marchers broke out in dance at the judges’ stand at Trade & Tryon, won best choreography.
This year’s festival was held on a similar footprint used since the event moved to Uptown in 2011. But, organizers expanded to Fourth St. this year — an experiment they tried in 2012.
The expanded footprint, organizer said, was able to hold a record number of vendors — more than 150 businesses and non-profits, ranging from national corporations to government agencies and non-profits like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Peace Corps.
Hopkins said the festival’s growth wouldn’t have been possible without the support of community members who volunteered to help run the event through the weekend.
“They always amaze me how they just jump in and work multiple shifts over the two days,” Hopkins said. “Many of them are returning for the third and fourth year. We even had one of our advisors working the information tends during the LeAnn Rimes concert because we were so short staffed and she came to see LeAnn. That inspires me.”
Praise for the festival and other weekend activities was widespread on social media, though some concerns and suggestions were lodged. Crowding concerned some, with suggestions that the festival expand its footprint or move to a different location. Some suggested more restrooms.
Others complained about the presence of protesters, the number of which have declined over several years. But, crowds of people often encircled a group of protesters at one intersection over the weekend, leading to some intense verbal exchanges and a couple physical altercations.
Officials with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said they were able to quickly quell the few altercations, none of which they said were serious or resulted in any arrests or infractions. Additionally, police officials reported no arrests or other infractions elsewhere during the weekend event.
Presenting sponsors for the event included, according to a press release: Wells Fargo, which presented the Wells Fargo Stage where LeAnn Rimes headlined on Sunday; Time Warner Cable, which presented the Charlotte Pride VIP Experience; The Scorpio, which presented R&B artist and Saturday headliner Sevyn Streeter, as well as entertainers from “RuPaul’s Drag Race;” PNC Bank, which presented the PNC Bank Festival Zone and Bank of America, the parade’s presenting sponsor.
Charlotte Pride officials said they are still tallying final numbers and figures, but said their on-site sales increased by at least 25-30 percent. Organizers, who have been billing the weekend festival and parade as a “destination event,” also garnered the support of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and hope to have more data on hotel stays and local economic impact.
The group is already planning for future events. Hopkins said they’ll be looking to improve on a variety of levels, including gaining more volunteers, attracting more diversity, engaging in more community outreach and striving for a second entertainment stage. Next year’s event is slated for August 2015.
Charlotte’s LGBT Pride festival and parade likely ranks as sixth largest in the South, according to publicly available numbers from other festivals and events across the region. Founded in 2001, the event was held in Marshall Park before moving to various locations from 2006-2010. Organizers said the then one-day festival had grown to 10,000 people before moving to Uptown in 2011. That year, they said, the event attracted 27,000. In 2012, the event expanded to two days and attracted 45,000. Last year’s event, which included the first parade in nearly 20 years, attracted more than 80,000.