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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, May 1, 2019 1 year ago

Harvey Milk Festival founder Shannon Fortner offers inside look at annual event

The 10th anniversary of HMF marks a shift towards more educational events.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

Every day on social media we see people sharing content with which they agree. Whether it’s a passionate speech by a prominent politician or a rally cry for a social justice-related cause, it’s easy to mindlessly share the video or click the like button to show your support.

Shannon Fortner does much more than click a button. In fact, she created a whole festival to make a difference and support the movement she’s most passionate about: LGBTQ rights.

“This year’s festival is all about education,” Fortner says. “I’m combining my music career and my activism, and it’s nice to come full circle.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Harvey Milk Festival, Fortner’s music, performing and visual arts festival that uses creativity to promote equality. To celebrate a decade of advocacy through the arts, this year’s lineup features more events than ever. Here’s a guide to the festivities from its creator and head organizer.


When: 5:30 p.m. May 3

Where: Bookstore1Sarasota, 12 S. Palm Ave.

Tickets: Free, but registration suggested

Info: Call 516-906-2140.

In 2009, Shannon Fortner organized The Equal Civil Rights Rally to fight for equality both on a state and federal level. Photo by Chloé Reyes

HMF was created by Fortner (as an offshoot of her 2009 Equal Civil Rights Rally) to honor the late Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. His legacy lives on in the festival’s participating artists — all of whom celebrate diversity and promote equality for LGBTQ individuals — and now that group of artists includes authors.

Tiffany Razzano, founder of Tampa Bay literary arts organization Wordier Than Thou, teamed up with Fortner this year to create HMF’s first literary event.

This evening event at Bookstore1Sarasota will spotlight several LGBTQ authors from Sarasota and elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area as they share original works and participate in a Q&A session.

These authors include Elizabeth Sims, Stefani Deoul, Rob Sanders, David Johnson, Amy Lauren and Richard Randall, many of whom will have work for sale that they can sign.

“Our 10th year is all about informing our community,” Fortner says. “And this can get people aware of what’s being written by queer authors.”


When: 6 p.m. May 4

Where: Starts at JD Hamel Park, Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue

Registration: $35

Info: Call 228-4872.

This event, which Fortner calls a “Fun-K,” is the first run the festival has ever hosted. The nighttime 5K over the John Ringling Causeway is untimed and doesn’t require running, so walkers, you are most definitely allowed.

Fortner says the goal is for all the participants to wear bright, flashy clothes and bring items to help light up (figuratively and literally) the bridge in remembrance of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. She says this is a way for Sarasota to show its respect for the LGBTQ activists who paved the way for future activism and “shined a light when darkness surrounded them.”

Participants get a limited edition T-shirt with the inaugural HMF Run4Love logo, and after the run/walk, they’ll chow down on a meal prepared by The Overton. Those aged 21 and up will also be able to cool off with a cold glass of beer.


When: 5:30 p.m. May 9

Where: Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: Free admission

Info: Call 228-4872.

For the visual art component of the festival, Fortner says her intention is to shine a light on the pioneers of the LGBTQ rights movement — from the 1890s to the era of Harvey Milk — who are often otherwise overlooked.

The Stonewall Riots were a series of demonstrations from June 28-July 1, 1969 after a police raid that took place June 28 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Courtesy photo

Thus “Before Harvey: An Exploration of LGBTQ History,” an art exhibit that includes a physical timeline of the LGBTQ rights movement and archival photos documenting the movement that were borrowed from several museums, including the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale. The exhibit was organized by Fortner’s girlfriend, Grace Korley, and a team of students from New College of Florida.

The opening of “Before Harvey” on May 9 will operate as the kickoff for the main weekend of the festival, May 9-11, and will also feature a panel discussion at 7 p.m. with Associate Professor of History at the University of South Florida David K. Johnson; Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida K.L. Broad and Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at New College of Florida Nicholas Clarkson.

Fortner looks forward to giving festivalgoers the opportunity to ask questions about the LGBTQ rights movement, of which many people only know the main highlights.

“People don’t realize there was a movement before Stonewall,” Fortner says. “We’re diving deeper with an educational component — to help tell their (artists’ and activists’) stories through their eyes.”


When: 7 p.m. May 10

Where: 500 Tallevast Road

Tickets: $10-$50

Info: Call 228-4872.

HMF’s performing arts component will yet again be run by Lisa “L-Boogie” Bauford, a St. Petersburg native who performs with technology-infused dance troupe iLuminate (who some might recognize from “America’s Got Talent”).

The BASSMent showcase features dancers, musicians, singers, spoken-word poets and artists of other live performing arts acts. Courtesy photo

Bauford’s “BASSMent” showcase brings central and southern Florida performing artists of several disciplines together in a safe space to express themselves. Fortner says she was impressed by the energy Bauford was able to cultivate in the festival’s warehouse space on Tallevast last year, and she’s excited to see how the artists vibe off each other this time.

“She blew my mind last year,” Fortner says of Bauford. “She’s bringing people over the (Sunshine Skyway) bridge and offering a networking element for performers.”

Featured performers in what Fortner is calling an “artistic collective” include St. Petersburg-based musician Nasja Moné, Tampa-based singer Sydney Marteliz, St. Petersburg musician Jay Camaro and more artists yet to be announced.

Guests at the showcase can also enjoy food trucks and a full bar.


When: 2 p.m. May 11

Where: JD Hamel Park, 199 Bayfront Drive

Tickets: Free admission

Info: Call 228-4872.

The highlight of HMF is always the lively free outdoor music festival, and this year is no exception. Fortner is proud of the mix of local, regional and national bands she’s been able to book, and she’s even more proud of how these groups embody the mission of the festival.

Linqua Franqa is one such artist. The hip-hop project is led by Mariah Parker, an Athens, Ga.-based linguist-turned-legislator whose thoughtful rhymes set to boom-bap beats tell stories about everything from reproductive justice to racial violence.

“Everything she represents is what we want to embody,” Fortner says of Parker.

Queer band Pinc Louds is another group that Fortner is particularly excited about. After spending the last two years performing in New York City’s Delancey Street subway station, this group will be gracing the HMF stage for a unique blend of jazz ballads, doo-wop harmonies, punk ditties and even drunk phone calls.

“It’s really hard to find a voice like hers that grabs you right away,” Fortner says of Pinc Louds lead singer Claudi. “They have a really unique vibe.”

Fortner says she really hit it off with the lead singer of another group, glam dream pop band GGOOLLDD’s Margaret Butler, and she’s so pleased to be working with people like her who truly understand and embrace the values on which HMF thrives.

GGOOLLDD originally started as a group that just wanted to throw a party. Courtesy photo

“She was super excited to be asked to perform, and they went out of their way to make it happen,” Fortner says. “That doesn’t happen often.”

GGOOLLDD started as a group that just wanted to play music at house parties, just like local band MeteorEYES, which is making its return to HMF after five years.

Fortner is also the lead singer of MeteorEYES, so she’s happy to get the band back together — the group had its first performance in nearly three years at the Nov. 1 Ringling Underground — and share several new songs that will make up about half the group’s set.

Other bands featured will be LANNDS, Monterrey, The Pretty Dirties, Divine AF, Kristopher James Band and Lemon Royale.


I'm the Managing Editor of Arts & Entertainment here, which means I write, edit and share stories about our multifaceted A&E scene in Sarasota. I graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism and a French minor. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 356

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