With Town Dancebotique closing at the start of the summer, the need for queer spaces and celebration in DC feels more prevalent than ever. You might find one such space at this year’s Honey Groove, a music and arts festival dedicated to uplifting DC’s queer and POC communities. Kyrisha Deschamps, founder of Honey Groove, says that in the wake of Town’s closing, queer parties and festivals like her own “really try to make sure that there is a space that exists even if it’s not brick and mortar. We can pop up and take over a space.”
For it’s fourth year, Honey Groove will be popping up on September 2nd to take over Blind Whino’s two stories with its warm and loving energy that Deschamps describes as “just like a nice hug.” The festival will include an open dance floor with live music as well as DJs, burlesque and drag performances, live painters, and a vending area with food trucks. “So, it’s kind of like a space where you can create your own vibe,” Deschamps tells me. “If you feel like watching a band perform you can go upstairs, or if you feel like dancing a bit you can go to the dance floor, and if you just wanna hang out you can be in the courtyard area outside…so you can have all these different experiences in the space.” In other words, Honey Groove has something for everybody. Whether you identify as queer or POC or just want discover new artists and vendors, there’s room for everyone to join in and have a good time. In particular, attendees can look out for headliner Danni Cassette, whose performance style can be described as “a mix between Janelle Monae and Miguel,” and the burlesque performances which will celebrate sexuality with a little bit of flogging, rope play, and wax play.
These aren’t exactly the types of performances you’ll see at Sweetlife or Broccoli City. In fact, Deschamps started Honey Groove at a time when she was frequenting concerts and music festivals and noticed a gap in the kinds of performers she would see on stage. So, she created her own space for artists that she wanted to see “selling out the 9:30 Club one day,” mainly queer performers of color. The fact of the matter is that, in DC especially, finding venues to perform is a major obstacle in the way many queer artists. Deschamps admits, “it’s not all that easy to find space—and not just space, but affordable space—in the city.”
Since Town’s closing, we’ve already seen the addition of some new gay bars opening up, such as A League of Her Own in the basement of Pitchers, but the lack of large spaces for community parties, performances, and fundraisers is still more noticeable than ever before. With DC’s high property prices and gentrification on a rise, it’s possible that the future of DC’s queer arts and gay club scenes will rely on the success of events like Honey Groove. That is to suggest lgbt gatherings in the city might benefit from taking on a nomadic quality and organizing around a specific goal or theme rather than relying on any one venue to become a kind of…party city, if you will.
Toronto’s Vazaleen is a beautiful example to turn to for inspiration as to how to negotiate the lack of space in the city with the need for lgbt-oriented spaces and celebrations. For many years, Vazaleen was recognized as one of the most important centers of gay nightlife in North America, serving as a platform for many artists and musicians, including Peaches. But Vazaleen wasn’t really a nightclub in the traditional sense: Instead, it brought together Toronto’s grittiest gays month after month in different locations each time. Honey Groove, like Vazaleen, does the important work giving a stage to performances that celebrate sexuality and queerness even when such spaces seem to be slipping out of our grasp at every turn. Such reoccurring events remind us that, as Deschamps puts it, “every space we take over we kind of transform.”
That’s not to suggest that finding affordable places to put up these functions isn’t a major difficulty for organizers. Rather, what Honey Groove provides is the basis for taking over and transforming venues that are not explicitly lgbt-oriented into places where burlesque performers can freely explore kink on stage, a space of acceptance and joy. And in today’s political climate more than ever, Honey Groove’s simple message of happiness and positivity is very much needed. “Whenever you think about what’s going on, it’s like an immediate stresser; your neck almost immediately tenses up,” Deschamps adds. “It’s just nice to be able to get away, even if it’s just for a few hours, to celebrate ourselves, celebrate our community, and to know that we’re wanted in this space and to not have to wonder or worry about where our space is in that moment.”
Honey Groove Festival will take place on September 2nd at Blind Whino from 4 to 10 p.m. You can buy tickets to Honey Groove online in advance.