The eighth annual festival returns to Five Points Park with a focus on equality, art and music.
For the past seven years, the Harvey Milk Festival has used music and art to honor the legacy of Harvey Milk, one of America’s first openly gay politicians, who was assassinated in 1978. Each spring, Five Points Park transforms into a block party-style concert, featuring local, regional and national bands that embody the festival’s mission to promote equality and diversity.
We spoke with Anthony Paull, the festival’s lead programmer, about this year’s lineup, and to this year’s headliners about what equality means to them.
From fashion to film — and especially music — the ’80s nostalgia train is full steam ahead. And with bands like Boisie, Idaho’s epic, enigmatic Magic Sword, it doesn’t matter if you weren’t around for the days of synthesizers, big hair and even bigger guitar solos.
Listening to one of their albums is like stepping into a sci-fi/fantasy VHS tape.
“I was thumbing through festivals, and I saw a video of them in Treefort’s lineup,” says Paull. “I immediately knew I wanted this band as our headliner. The reaction from the crowd, filled with glow stick wands and swords — this isn’t just a music act. This is a full-on theatrical performance and an amazing sandstorm of the musical climate we’re experiencing right now.”
Fans of Daft Punk will draw parallels to the band’s onstage personas, delivering ominous, pulsating synth lines and cinematic, over-the-top lead guitar — anonymously, shrouded in dark hoods and lighted masks. The musical comparison isn’t far off, either. Imagine Daft Punk and Giorgio Moroder scoring an episode of “Stranger Things.”
Through the albums and comic book art from artist Shay Plummer, the band tells the fantasy story of the Magic Sword, its eponymous weapon — one of infinite power left to be guarded by the mysterious band member, the synth player known as The Keeper. His counterpart, The Seer, provides the guitar work.
Spawned from a 10-day meditation retreat, Magic Sword’s members remain unknown, but rumors hint that members of Built to Spill, as well as Treefort Music Festival founder Eric Gilbert, are behind the project.
We asked the band to shed some light on its cryptic origins, sound and love for ’80s culture. Fittingly, its members left us as curious as we began.
“The story we are relaying is one that relies on both the visual graphic novel, as well as the soundscape that goes along with it,” says the Keeper. “It is an ageless hero’s journey at its core, a tradition seen back through many ages come and gone.”
On Harvey Milk Festival’s mission to promote equality, however, the band offered a (somewhat) more … earthly response.
“We are all beings born from the true source — reflections of the universe. The petty differences humans see is merely an imbalance within themselves.”
If you’re looking for a dark, electronic, rocking version of “Stand By Me,” Ki: Theory is your man. The alias of producer Joel Burleson, Ki: Theory has found his niche licensing his brooding, high-energy music for films and television.
Most recently, his cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” earned a slot as the official theme for the trailer of the Scarlett Johansson film, “Ghost in the Machine.”
“I’ve always been drawn to electronic production, even when I was making rock music,” says Burleson. “My music has a naturally cinematic vibe and emotional texture, which lends itself to television and pictures.”
As for his live show, Burleson says his roots are evident.
“It’s pretty intense,” he says. “People can expect high energy.”
Vita and the Woolf
Listening to Vita and the Woolf, one would never guess it’s a three-piece band. Thanks to singer Jennifer Pague’s booming, soulful voice, the Philadelphia-based act, recently named a must-see summer festival act by Billboard, packs a deceptively powerful punch.
“I was drawn to her voice right away,” says Paull. “It’s phenomenal. I think the immediate comparison is Florence + the Machine. There’s almost a grunge feel to it, but also a mellow, synth feel at other times.”
The band offers R&B and anthemic pop sensibilities.
The band’s name pays tribute to writer Virginia Woolf and her lover, Vita Sackville-West.
“She was an important feminist and a trailblazer,” says Pague. “This festival was a great fit — equality is our whole M.O.”
Harvey Milk Festival Founder and Executive Director Shannon Fortner leads this five-piece band, lending her voice to the outfit’s mix of funky bass, spacey synthesizers and tight percussion.
“People who knew Shannon’s previous band, MeteorEYES, can expect a more mellow, beachy sound from Astralis,” says Paull.
Sultry is the best way to describe Ess See’s music. The stage name of Brooklyn-based musician Sarah Cobb, Ess See brings pop-star sensibilities to her songs, founded in deep bass grooves that build to richly layered crescendos of breathy vocals, plucky guitar accents and driving drums.
Her five-track debut EP, “Ordinary Woman,” released this January, explores identity and individuality — all with undeniable danceability.
“Ess See was a last-minute find for us,” says Paull. “I saw her perform live, and she’s just a true pop star. She’s like a siren.”
Indian Rocks Beach-based FayRoy brings a smoother, psychedelic edge to the garage-rock genre. On its latest album, “Heaven at Twenty Seven,” lead singer Zack Hoag’s ethereal vocals bring depth to songs reminiscent of acts like The War on Drugs, Mac Demarco and fellow Floridians Roadkill Ghost Choir.
Sarah and the Safe Word
As their name might suggest, Sarah and the Safe Word aren’t afraid to get a little dark.
The four-piece Atlanta-based band brings a vaudevillian, gypsy air to the glory days of emo, combining violin, horns, acoustic and electric guitar to create an overall gothic appeal.
“There’s something haunting about their presence,” says Paull. “Sarah is a transgender female artist, which is exciting. It’s fun to listen to their sound evolve into this year’s album, ‘Strange Doings in the Night.’”
Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his rap to sell records. And neither does Wordsmith.
The Baltimore-based hip-hop artist has made it his mission to educate and entertain, using his music as a positive example, performing for inner-city middle school students and delivering anti-bullying lectures.
Tiger Fawn, a loop artist from Orlando, blends elements of pop, shoegaze and experimental music. Paull says she brings musical diversity to the lineup.
“Tiger Fawn has a more experimental vibe than we’re used to at Harvey Milk,” he says. “We like artists willing to take chances and put themselves out there.”
All those who wander are not lost. Take it from TGTG, a couple who has embraced the nomadic lifestyle, leaving their home and jobs in 2016 in favor of a life of music on the road.
Multi-instrumentalists, the couple kicks out dirty, punk-informed folk rock with a bit of an edge — and quirky song structures that keep audiences guessing.
Lesa Silvermore Band
Once a solo act, Sarasota’s Lesa Silvermore has added a full band to fill out her indie-pop, folk-blues songwriting. Her debut album, “Doppelgänger” is out this week.