MasterMarc: Hello Demetri. As executive director of the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco you’ve to be quite busy now. September 27 the area around the Folsom street will be again full of fetish people, freaks and visitors from all over. You call yourself the world’s biggest leather event. What can we expect this year?
Demetri: We never produce the same fair twice so everything is going to be mixed up and turned on its head. We still have the Main Stage on 10th Street with some amazing bands (e.g. Missing Persons, Ladyhawke) but we have relocated our dance areas. If you missed it last year, the DEVIANTS dance area will feature the return of BAAAHS, the Big Ass Amazingly Awesome Homosexual Sheep. And, there will be plenty of dancing on 11th Street where the Magnitude dance area spotlights international talent like Pagano, Inaya Day, and DJ Wayne G.
Most importantly, we are always trying to showcase and promote all things fetish. We’re planning booth spaces and stages that will feature burlesque dancing, ABDL play, whips and flogging, rope bondage/suspension, puppy play, and so much more. Each time you come, you hopefully see and experience something new.
MasterMarc: That sounds really interesting. Also the point, that fetishes like ABDL (adult baby & diapers lovers), which aren’t lived normally as open as fetishes like leather and rubber, have their own places to meet other enthusiasts and to present their lifestyle to others. Is it difficult to motivate communities of such more hidden fetishes like ABDL to present themselves to the public?
Demetri: Honestly, I think it’s just about creating the safe space for it to happen. We were lucky enough to be approached by some community folks who wanted to promote ABDL so I agreed to donate the booth space; I wanted to make it as easy and enjoyable for them to participate as possible. Fetishes change and evolve and grow over time. For example, the K-9 Unit of San Francisco seems to be getting bigger and bigger by the day. But, you wouldn’t have really seen a puppy mask or mitts even a decade ago.
MasterMarc: That isn’t only a San Francisco phenomenon. Pup play seems to become extremely popular. In my eyes one of the reasons is, that pet play is a fetish, which is open. You can be a Lycra boy and pet player and you are as accepted as the full leather dog or a sportswear pup is. On the other way you see bluff guys as pet owner but also “softer” sportswear guys who have their pup at a leash. So it is accepted by other fetishes. What do you think about and where do you see the reasons for this trend? Do you think that fetish is changing in general from a closed and hidden underground community to an open and accepted lifestyle?
Demetri: A lot of younger players seem to be really into pup play. So, I do agree that it’s a more “open” fetish that can overlap well with other segments of the community. It also doesn’t have to cost a lot either so that’s another benefit, especially for younger people. But, I do think that even fetishes can wax and wane in popularity depending on the mood of the current culture. I certainly don’t think the fetish world is very underground anymore – not when there are books like Fifty Shades of Grey being such a worldwide phenomenon. Of course, the real life experience is much more raw and intense than any kind of fantasy world that a book like that might create. But, I do feel like an event like Folsom Street Fair does give us greater visibility.
MasterMarc: That’s true. And events like yours are also really important. Btw. can you give us a shortcut of the history of this biggest fetish event of the world? What has been the beginning and the development of this world wide known street fair?
Demetri: You can find a complete history of our development at http://www.folsomstreetevents.org/heritage/. But, I can tell you quickly that Folsom Street Fair started in 1984 as “Megahood,” a small community street fair organized to bring attention to the issue of gentrification in SOMA. It wasn’t set up as a leather fair in the beginning (unlike the smaller Up Your Alley fair which was set up as a gay/leather street fair). The two events merged into one organization in 1990 and slowly Folsom Street Fair started to take on more characteristics of Up Your Alley. Folsom eventually grew to be much bigger, more diverse and much more of an international draw.
Demetri: Our mission is to unite the community with safe spaces for self-expression and exciting entertainment. In the process, we raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for needy charities working in public health, human services and the arts. Personally, I see Folsom Street Fair as the ultimate newcomer event. You can come in street clothes, pretending you’re not interested – but, meanwhile, you can watch demos, ask questions, get some ideas, and even claim that you’re attending for the bands and the DJs. I think it’s become so popular because it’s one of the few visible places on the planet where you can express your BDSM side so boldly in the daylight. It’s also just a lot of fun!
MasterMarc: Our newcomer times are part of our past. I am sure that you can’t be the responsible organizer without having a connection to the theme of the event you’re organizing. What are you into and how have been your first steps into the kinky world? And if you compare it with nowadays, what has been different at the times we have recognized that vanilla is not enough for us?
Demetri: Gosh, my first steps were all the way back in the early 90s in NYC. I remember following a marching contingent in the pride parade called the Men of Discipline. They were so hot and sharp in their black uniforms. Eventually, I joined them at a Bootcamp event and then went on to start the San Francisco chapter of the organization. I’ve always been interested in how brotherhood intersects with the leather community, and MoD created a sense of fraternity while exploring fetish. I remember having a Best Doggy contest back in 1996 way before K-9 play became a big thing.
MasterMarc: So you’ve changed from the east to the west coast. It is really interesting because most of us in Europe just see both coasts as the U.S. But there is a lot of space in between. For us Europeans there is the east coast, which is a little like Europe in an American style and California, which is, what Europeans see as the American style. Of course there is also spring break Florida with the all nice twinks and probably also Las Vegas, where dirty Harry, sorry – his royal highness, makes naked parties. 🙂 What is the picture Americans have of Europe?
Demetri: I don’t know that I can speak for all Americans, but I certainly have my favorite cities in Europe. It’s less about the culture of each country and more about the flavor of an individual city. So, I personally love London and Berlin. With events like Fetish Week London and SNAX or Folsom Europe, both cities have a lot to offer. I do think there are some cities that offer a really great underground scene – like Paris or Madrid. Overall, I do think most Americans would agree that Europeans do fetish better than we do.
MasterMarc: I can’t speak for Europe. I’ve just mentioned some cliches. But why do you think that fetish life is better in Europe? Your event is one which is showing us that the US have a great fetish life. And we have to remember that the gay movement started with the revolt of the drag queens in Christopher Street NYC, not to forget San Francisco of course too, with the story of your mayor Harvey Milk.
Demetri: Well, San Francisco and New York are certainly not your average cities in America. I do feel like we have it pretty good here. It always feels like there’s more going on in Europe. A lot of American guys don’t seem to take fetish very seriously, while that’s never really the case in Europe. But, of course, these are all generalizations; and, there are exceptions abound.
MasterMarc: Sometimes I’ve a little a schizophrenic image of the US. You can be the most progressive country and at the same time as conservative as hell. How is it possible to organize an event during which naked people are walking trough the streets? How much do you have to fight for such rights?
Demetri: San Francisco is one city that shares a more progressive view of community, culture, and sexuality. I really don’t think that what we do could happen anywhere else in the country, but that’s why it’s so special. Our political officials are always very supportive. They also understand that this is a community event that adds value and vibrancy to our cultural fabric. And, on top of that, the event draws thousands upon thousands of visitors who are spending quite a bit of money. In a recent Economic Impact Study conducted by the City’s Comptroller, Folsom Street Fair was found to have a total visitor impact of nearly $181 million.
MasterMarc: It is really a big event and that means, that it is also a lot of work for you and your team. How many people are part of the organization committee and how many volunteers are working during the event? What is for you the most important part of your work?
Demetri: Year-round, we have two staff members, but during the fair season, we pick up another part-time employee. We have 12 board members and a production committee called “Associates” – there are 21 of them. On the day of the fair, there are over 1,000 people who are volunteering – volunteering at our gates for donations, for security, for set up and tear down, at our beverage booths, and at a host of other positions. The most important part of the work is the planning, for me. I like to make sure that everyone has the same set of expectations with no surprises over the weekend. There are plenty of things that don’t go according to plan – things that are out of our control, so having a well-coordinated plan is essential. There are nearly 15 different departments so there’s a lot of communication across the organization.
MasterMarc: The charity character of your event is also important. For which projects are you collecting money and why do you support this organizations and projects?
Demetri: Each year, we request proposals from local organizations who are working in public health, human services, or the arts. Based on a number of factors, including the compelling nature of the request as well as how many volunteers the charity can provide, we decide on a slate of beneficiaries for that year. This year’s charities can be found at http://www.folsomstreetevents.org/beneficiaries/. Over our history, we have donated more than $5.5 million USD to local and national charities.
MasterMarc: There will be as every year several stages, good sound, shows, bars, snack bars, information stands of fetish organisations and stores presenting their products. For people who don’t know your event, where can they play, have sex and what will be the supporting program and the parties during the folsom weekend?
Demetri: At the fair, there are many opportunities to engage in BDSM play on the fairgrounds and with our exhibitors/vendors. Now, if you want to have full-on “vanilla” sex (e.g. blow jobs, fucking), there are places around the fairgrounds where you can go – places like Blow Buddies. Over the course of the week, there are all kinds of play parties, bar nights, and dance events. You can find a calendar at www.folsomstreetevents.org. Some of the highlights include the RECON Full Fetish party on Friday night, Magnitude on Saturday night, the fair on Sunday and the closing party, DEVIANTS, immediately after the fair.
MasterMarc: It sounds like a great weekend with a lot of kinky fun. It was a great pleasure to talk to you, Demetri. I wish you all the best for the event and I can just hope, that you’ll find your time to have a little fun too during the event. You and your team are doing a great job for our community. Thank you! C U soon.
Demetri: I always try my best to squeeze in a little “me” time! But, frankly, it’s just an honor and a privilege to do this work with the community. It’s a labor of love. And we hope to see you and everyone else on the Folsom fairgrounds here in San Francisco…