This year's Roanoke Pride Festival was astonishing. I salute the Roanoke Pride committee for putting on a remarkable weekend. I am very grateful to have had the honor of kicking off the weekend by singing the National Anthem and a couple of songs from my repertoire during the Open Ceremonies on Saturday (09/12/2015).
My absolute favorite part of the weekend was the Pepper MaShay and Deborah Cox concert. I did the "meet & greet" with Deborah Cox and it was a thrill to be able to exchange niceties with her and have my picture taken with her. I've been listening to her recordings for about 15 years now. She's a wonderful artist and a nice person too.
I also really enjoyed Justin Utley Sunday evening. I have quite a few of Justin Utley's CDs and I'm glad I finally got to see him live. The last time Justin did Roanoke Pride I was out of town that weekend or performing myself somewhere.
I'm now going to step up on my soap box.
I did hear from various sources quite a few people in the community fussed about having to pay extra to see the Pepper MaShay and Deborah Cox concert. The concert itself was $11.00 while the concert along with the Deborah Cox meet & greet was $35.00. Eleven bucks to see a concert of two artists of this caliber is really cheap, folks. The Deborah Cox meet & greet with the concert was extremely cheap also.
Purchase concert tickets with a meet and greet at some place like Washington, DC and I'll guarantee you'll spend at least $500.00 if not more than a $1,000.00 depending on who the artist is playing at the venue. Then try to fuss to a venue like the Verizon Center in DC about the prices and see how much they really care about someone's budget.
I am used to spending anywhere from $60.00 to nearly $200.00 to see a show or concert without a meet & greet. Some artists charge $400.00 or more for the "nose-bleed" seats. So people fussed about a lousy eleven bucks to see a concert at Roanoke's Elmwood Park...give me a break. I know some people are on tight budgets and can't afford to go. I too cringe when concert tickets are more than $200.00 a ticket and I usually don't go. However I don't fuss about the prices to the venue.
That said, take it from me, being a musical artist is a lot harder now than it was twenty years ago. Trying to get people to buy music is tough especially now streaming services are getting away with streaming music without hardly paying the artists anything, usually about .0001 cent a play if that. The .0001 cent is not a typo, it's what streaming services are paying independent artists for a single play of a song.
Plus it's harder to get clubs to pay for acts too. There is this disease called "pay for play" in which singers or groups actually have to pay bars or clubs to play there. I don't mind doing an appearance singing a song or two here in Roanoke because I live here and I don't have any overhead singing around town. However I'll be damned if I'm going to pay a club to play there. I'll rent a venue and sell tickets first.
When I appear somewhere locally, I just show up with my CD with my backing tracks on it and get on the mic and do my thing. I have no staff to pay since I'm totally self-produced. Someone wanting me to do a 30 minute or longer set and I start charging. I'm flexible in this area but someone balking about me charging for a concert will probably end up speaking to themselves because I'll more than likely hang up the phone on their cheap ass because I won't listen to their rantings.
Good musical or comedy acts cost money, plain and simple. It cost Roanoke Pride for the free stuff they offered at Elmwood Park too. Do people think Lady Bunny came here for free out of the goodness of his heart? HA!!...think again.
Roanoke Pride did an outstanding job this year getting acts of the quality they got to appear here in Roanoke even if people had to pay extra for some things or not. I knew there was talk last year about Roanoke Pride charging a general admission just to enjoy the festivities like Roanoke's Festival in the Park does now. I believe it was a brief discussion but I'm sure it wasn't easy for Roanoke Pride to keep the general festival free of charge outside of the couple of extra things they charged for like the Saturday night concert in Elmwood Park and the meet & greet with RuPaul's Drag Race queens at The Park bar later on Saturday night/early Sunday morning.
Step off of soap box.
The president of Roanoke Pride, Jason Michael Gilmore, has proven he has a good business head on his shoulders. Not only has he had to head the Pride events this year, he also has been tasked with running The Park bar since the previous owner donated The Park to Roanoke Pride. I have watched Jason Gilmore over the past year and a half and, although I don't envy him his task, he's done an outstanding job in my opinion.
Plus Jason has good people to work with too. Some of the more visible people around town now, Michael Lee Smth a.k.a. Mr. Microphone and Chuk Luvender a.k.a. Bunny Flingus, work like dogs both at The Park and at the Pride events as well. Frankly I don't see how they do it. I wish they'd give me some of their energy elixir because God knows I would love to have that energy. The rest of the Pride staff and The Park staff work extremely hard in order to keep true to The Park's slogan, "There's Always A Party at The Park" and to do their parts to keep the Pride festival a seamlessly enjoyable experience for the Roanoke community. I certainly appreciate all their hard work.
The changes they have brought to both The Park and to the Pride festival were long overdue in my opinion and these were changes I have blatantly said needed to happen for many years now. If you ask friends of mine who have known me for twenty years or more, they will tell you if someone mentioned the Pride festival to me before Jason and his team took over, I would say something like, "Oh please not that...anything but that!!" Plus I have long said The Park needed new management ever since the 1990's.
My hats off to Roanoke Pride for giving us a festival this old, long time critical 'mo will always remember.
The petition I started this week attempting to cancel the gun show in Roanoke, VA went a lot further than I expected to go. I thought it would gather about a hundred signatures and that would be that. I am not one who starts petitions. I have signed some petitions before regarding issues I felt strongly about in the past but this was the first one I have ever started myself.
The gun control issue has been one I have felt strongly about for fifteen years now.
On the night of Friday, September 22, 2000, I came very close to becoming a victim myself of gun violence. I was at Macado's, a restaurant in Roanoke, when a friend of mine asked me if I would give her a ride to the Backstreet Café on Salem Ave. I was going to The Park, a nightclub also on Salem Ave, anyway so I agreed to give her a lift. Sitting in front of the Backstreet Café, my friend asked me if I would come in and let her buy me a beer for giving her a ride. For about a second I thought perhaps I could go in and say "Hi" to my friend, Danny Overstreet, whom I had been friends with for twenty years. Danny frequented the Backstreet Café quite regularly and I knew he would be in there. It was getting a little late so I told my friend, "No, I'm going on to The Park. If you want to catch up with me there later on and want to buy me a beer then that would be Ok."
About an hour and a half later, the girl I gave a ride to came up to me at The Park and told me, "It was a good thing you didn't go into Backstreet's, there was a shooting and I think one person is dead and some others hurt."
It wasn't until the next morning I found out Danny Overstreet had been killed and a few others I knew had been seriously wounded. Had I gone into the Backstreet Café that night, I would have been sitting right next to Danny when the shooter opened fire because that's where I always sat when I went into Backstreet's. I was one decision away from disaster.
In 2002, I was an employee of Advance Auto Parts at their old Airport Rd. office. That too was a Friday. I normally went to lunch at 11:30 AM in order to beat the lunch crowd. I went to lunch as I did every day. When I returned there was a barrage of ambulances and police cars in the parking lot. A former employee, who had been terminated the day before, returned the next day and shot her former boss in the parking lot. She then turned the gun on herself. Her boss survived but with extensive injuries and the shooter was killed. This shooting happened just a few feet from where I had parked my car that day. I hate to think what would have happened if I had gone to lunch just a little later.
So you see, I am not just some guy grand-standing or politically posturing in the face of a tragic and well publicized shooting as I have been accused of by some this week. As I have said earlier, I didn't expect any attention from the petition I started. It just happened. I personally felt having a gun show just three days after the shooting deaths of WDBJ7's Alison Parker and Adam Ward was disrespectful to the victims and their families and friends and just plainly in bad taste as I have been quoted as saying this week by various media sources. I also felt it was disrespectful to the citizens of Roanoke who have been so shaken by this senseless tragedy.
I have read the reaction to the petition by the Showmasters Gun Shows of Virginia organization who are the organizers and promoters of this weekend's gun show at the Berglund Center in Roanoke. They said it would have cost them thousands of dollars to cancel or postpone the show this weekend. I had to get this information from second hand sources since my phone calls and emails went unanswered by the promoters.
My reaction to this statement is then what about the thousands and thousands of dollars going into the million upon millions of dollars spent each year for medical care for the survivors as well as for the funerals and memorial services for the dead as a result of gun violence not just in Virginia but in the United States as a whole? I suppose the gun show people don't think that is their problem although the loophole for background checks for these shows is still wide open in the state of Virginia.
There is a protest planned for Sunday, August 30, 2015 at 11:00 AM in front of the Berglund Center on Williamson Rd in Roanoke, VA. It was a quickly planned protest and I expect it to last about an hour. The focus is on the heartlessness and disrespect of the gun show promoters who insisted upon having their show just a few days after such a horrific killing which was aired on live television.
Thanks to all the people who signed the petition and for the comments which were written at the bottom.