"Make sure it says 'Free' really, really big—then every- one will come!" Stella Rose St. Clair, a 21-year-old volunteer for the Bend-It Festival, a series of all-ages, DIY Pride weekend events, is sitting in the back of Kaladi Brothers Coffee on East Pike Street with about 10 other volunteers—Bend-It Bandits as they call themselves—for a planning meeting that takes up the entire back room of the coffee shop. Everyone agrees the posters should say "Free." The meeting moves on—someone asks about Dumpster diving food for the fest's free dinners.
This Pride weekend, the sixth annual Bend-It Festival will take place at Cal Anderson Park, Northwest Film Forum, Home Alive, the Lambert House, the Vera Project, and the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. There will be an outdoor concert at Cal Anderson Park on Friday at 4:00 p.m. with bands such as the Pharmacy, the Coathangers, Pleasureboaters, Khingz of Abyssinian Creole, and Doomhawk. There will be two costumed bike rides, a mini film festival, a visual-arts exhibition, a fashion show, spoken-word performances, and workshops on breakdancing, bike repair, writing, and drug recovery. There will be free vegan dinners at Cal Anderson Park on Friday, the Vera Project on Saturday, and Langston Hughes on Sunday. The organizers have tried to cover every possible aspect of fun-having, art-appreciating, pride-having, and queer-loving.
Except there won't be any beer gardens or liquor sponsorships.
"A lot of Pride events are extremely corporate," says Sterling Snow, 23, who helped organize last year's festival and who's working on design this year. "[Bend-It] is more like the punk-rock, fucked-up version of [Pride]." Because of all the drinking, many mainstream Pride events besides the parades are off- limits to minors. Bend-It provides an alternative space at Pride for those who might need it most—young people who may have just come out and need a sense of community even if they aren't old enough for a drink. "It's offensive that my friends age 5 to age 20 are excluded from participating in Pride," says Elijah Rappa, who is 24 and in charge of volunteer coordination for Bend-It. "I think that anyone who has a sense of creativity, queerness, or ally-ship should be involved."
"There's a lot of radical, alternative queer folks in Seattle, but all there ever is to do is go to bars or go to shows and get drunk," says Bend-It's managing director Elliat Graney-Sauke, who founded the festival six years ago after moving to Seattle from Olympia at age 19. Graney-Sauke felt like the only other option for young people were "youth drop-in spaces," where she felt like she "was being babysat and not thought of at all as a potentially smart, mature young adult who was there to find community." She wanted to provide an alternative.
The first year's three-day festival was organized for about $300, and 250 kids showed up. Two years later, Bend-It hosted Gossip in the parking lot behind the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, and 400 kids came. But while Bend-It grew, the festival suffered from a perennial lack of funding. Remaining free and accessible to everyone was integral to the festival's mission, so Bend-It joined with Three Dollar Bill Cinema, the producers of the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, to become a nonprofit, and they got busy fundraising.
This year, Bend-It received $5,000 from the Pride Foundation and $1,000 from VAIN salon, and they're using the money to bring in more film and more activities and to put a stage and PA in the park. Graney-Sauke and all the volunteers continue to work for free. "We do this for the love of it," says co-organizer Anne O'Dowd.
"We're all here voluntarily," says Roscoe Kickingstone, 22, in charge of outreach for the festival. "We see that something is lacking in our community, and we're just creating that for each other. [Bend-It] gives kids the space and the inspiration to make something for themselves."
Graney-Sauke plans to pass the festival on to some of the younger organizers next year. "I'm not really a youth anymore," she says. "I don't know anyone in high school, so I have to recruit from queer youth organizations, which is where I was trying to get away from in the first place. New, younger folks need to take up the organizing. It's a healthy full circle."
For a full schedule of Bend-It events, visit www.benditbandits.org.