tl;dr/summary: Folsom weekend is like a big gay leather prom. I’m going to Brut, Big Muscle, Aftershock, Real Bad, and Nocturnal. See you there.
I did a write up for some friends on what parties to consider for Dore a month ago and then for our Folsom houseguests and figured might as well spin it out into a blog post (here’s my account of Folsom 2014).
First: Know Your History
Photo above from the June 1964 isssue of Life magazine profile Homosexuality in America, a landmark in LGBT visibility.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some history. It’s hard to convey how much leather and fetish culture is woven into the fabric of San Francisco and how that libertine spirit has grown to include all sexualities and genders and types of people and expanded across the world.
SFTravel’s article Behind the Harness: The Extraordinary History of the The Folsom Street Fair.
Found SF’s article Changes and Continuities in the Leather Community.
I think it’s also important to know the context of Folsom because so many people have a knee-jerk conservative reaction to this collection of people and behaviors. Numerous religious right websites choose photos from the street fair to depict all queer people. If you don’t like, it isn’t for you, and isn’t intended for you and it’s completely fine if you stay away. For some people leather and fetish is a core part of their identity and their peer groups. For others it’s a fun weekend to get a little wild, experiment with different dress or style, and push your own boundaries of what you like and who you are.
You can see this history in action as the entire week kicks off with:
San Francisco Leather Walk on Sunday September 17th
Hundreds of people dressed in their streetfair-Sunday best walk together to celebrate leather, kink, chosen family, and community while raising funds for three local agencies. They stop at several local watering holes ending up at The Eagle where the leather pride flag is raised (know your flags!). Full map and event details and event on Facebook.
When someone asks me about Folsom weekend I usually say:
It’s like a big gay leather prom.
Sure there’s gonna be Mean Girls or Mean Bears or Mean Muscle Queens or Mean Belligernet Twinks that you want to kick in the face – let it slide. Any time you get more than a dozen gay men in one space, a few decide they are the fairest of them all, and that others should give them deference and act generally like tween girls. As I tell my sister in recounting these antics, “Yes, these are grown men.” You can usually find these guys because they are standing outside the dance floor not moving at all, just posing. They look amazing and they’ve worked hard all year to look this good – and they are starving. Give them a quick high-five and then go to the opposite space in the club where people are actually having fun.
But generally the San Francisco crowd is warm and friendly to a fault and the general etiquette is such that everyone introduces everyone to everyone else. I describe it to my folks as it’s like a really slutty adult Halloween. Everyone is dressed to impress (an undress).
I’ve included links to photo galleries for most of the events so you can get a sense for the mix of the crowd is like and what to wear.
Here’s a list of many of the events of the weekend. I’ll call out the ones I’m going to but keep in mind this is just one guy’s opinion on what to do and where to go and be sure to ask other friends and acquaintances for their must-do events if this is your first Folsom weekend.
Friday, September 22
Friday night I’m one of your persuadable hosts for:
Brüt at The Great Northern, produced by Dan Darlington with DJs Peter Napoli, Manny Ward, and Dan Darlington
Two of my favorite moments of Folsom weekend last year were at the Brüt party at Great Northern (formerly the old Mighty space). One was when Brüt proudcer and DJ Dan Darlington slowed down the beat and mixed in Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer” and you had hundreds of rutting leather-clad men chanting “I want to fuck you like an animal!” and then as the song ended, Dan kept repeating the Downward Spiral descending motif from the classic album as he brought the beat back up. That and the remix of DMX’s “It’s All Right” featuring the rap, “It’s all good, it’s alright, fuck all day, fuck all night.”
Photo of Ron and I with our Orlando husbands. Photo by Marques Daniels.
Brüt always attracts some of the die-hard leather and fetish crowd but also the Brooke & Meagans like us who just like to dress like fuckbots from time to time or others who are more mainstream circuit queens but giving the leather thing a spin. In the bear/muscle spectrum, it’s more on the muscle side.
If you want something more on the bear side, might I suggest:
Bearracuda at Public Works, with DJs Tony Moran, Ryan Jones, and Freddy King of Pants
Bearracuda will always have a special place in my heart as the first place I ever gogo danced. It was New Year’s Eve and we knew one of the dancers scheduled and we get to the club and he said, “The other dancer didn’t show! It’s either you or Ron.” It was a great way to start 2016 and forecasted the year to come.
Bearracuda is what it says on the tin: A dance party for the big boys. Many of which have beards. And are hairy. We had a great time at the Pride Bearracuda and if you’re into big cubs and thick daddies, this is where you want to be. We last heard Tony Moran at Sunsation Sundays (next one is September 10 with Jesus and Mohammad at the Chapel) and every time we’ve seen him spin he’s fantastic.
Learn more about Bearracuda from this interview at Unicorn Booty as they celebrate their 11th year of producing events around the world.
Folsom Sunset Cruise, produced by Brian Kent with DJs The Perry Twins
Leaving from Pier 40 (to the north of AT&T park). The Pride Friday and Folsom Friday sunset cruises have quickly become some of the most popular events of the season – and they always sell out, so get your tickets now. Join a couple hundred of your new best friends on a cruise sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, The Bay Bridge, and watching the city come alive as the sun sets. DJs The Perry Twins will spin you into the night from the moment you board the boat and are handed a glass of champagne through to the return to the pier. The revels include a bon voyage toast, drink specials all night, and just about the friendliest crowd you’re going to find in the city. Tickets are on sale now – and this event *will* sell out. Bring a coat or jacket (or wear your leathers). It can get blustery out there in the water.
Friendly Fire at Danzhaus, produced by Gage Lennox
And Gage Lennox’s Friendly Fire event for Fancy Fellas that need a helping hand. Ahem. Full event details and tickets on Eventbrite and if this is your kinda thing, add Gage as a friend and then join their private Facebook group.
Recon San Francisco Party at DNA Lounge
Recon.com’s party promises this is “where all the geared-up men come meet, dance and get ready for the oncoming carnage of Folsom. This is a men only event where you can find the guys you’ll be playing with all weekend long!”
FLSM Friday Fetish Ball at Club Six produced by Gus Presents with DJ Russ Rich
The first of Gus’s trio of events for the weekend with local favorite Russ Rich who is always wonderful whether he’s spinning at a bar on Sunday Funday or at larger warehouse spaces. Ron and I usually end up down front clapping and queening out with each new track he plays.
Earthquake on Folsom at Raunch Afterhours produced by Francisco Tolentino with DJ Alex Ramos
Francisco Tolentino is bringing his Raunch Afterhours to the weekend. We went to one of these once and had a great time. It’s a Friday night afterhours so should be a relatively big crowd I reckon. I think the address listed is DNA Lounge.
DILF San Francisco Meat & Greet Fundraiser by MAN UPP at Lookout benefitting Lyric Bay Area Center for LGBTQQ Youth
Joe Whitaker brings the DILF crew to Lookout on Friday night with DJ Max Bruce spinning. Jockstraps encouraged with clothes check available. Details on Facebook. $10 donation at the door.
Saturday, September 23
We’re going to wake up, brunch up, gear up and go to:
BigMuscle Meet & Greet at DNA Lounge, benefiting AIDS Emergency Fund with DJ Jesus Pelayo
I always like taking friends to this event because if you don’t know it’s happening, you don’t know what you’re missing. Several hundred muscle guys of all sizes and stripes, and their admirers pack into DNA Lounge to have cocktails and dance and make Mary. It’s got a fantastic vibe whether you’re in the mood to dance on the main floor, hang out and chit-chat or people-watch from the wraparound balcony. Keep mind that DNA Lounge is much bigger than you think. If you’re new to the space, go upstairs and do a promenade all the way around and through – I totally missed the far back back lounge all these years until we were there for Dore. Relaxed and fun with lots of hot guys and not everybody is a total mess just yet. Also a cheap ticket. $10 on DNA site I think (with suggested $15-$20 donation at the door the day-of). If you wanted to go to a mild but fun event and still be in (someone’s) bed at a reasonable hour, I’d say go to this one. You’ll be blind for the first few minutes you enter the club since it’s so bright outside and so dark inside. Ron and I have always had a great time at this event. The DJ is Jesus Pelayo who was the main DJ for last year’s Real Bad event. More on Real Bad in a bit.
I’m hoping we relax after that but a lot of folks will probably go to:
Magnitude at The Armory, produced by Folsom Street Events with DJs Ralphi Rosario, Alex Acosta, and Nick Bertossi
Photo of Magnitude from last year, photo by lighting/visual designer William Brown.
Magnitude is huge. Massive. I mean that’s why it’s called Magnitude. You don’t know how big it is until you walk in the venue. They’ve moved to the Armory this year (part of the Kink.com studios complex) which is absolutely cavernous and if you can fill the space (and I know they will) it’ll be a fantastic event. There was a scandal this year when it was announced the event would not have the usual fully outfitted dungeon/demo area (bigger SF venues aren’t willing to risk their liquor license blah blah techies ruin everything blah blah). The line to get in should go fast this year if it is anything like how the Armory operated for Pride this year (last year’s Magnitude at Midway we stood in line for more than an hour before getting in, not a fan). The DJ lineup is amazing with Ralphi Rosario, Alex Acosta, and Nick Bertossi.
We’re going to skip Magnitude this year. One reason is because is last year we overslept. We got home from Magnitude and decided we’d just take a brief nap and neither of us set an alarm. I woke up at 8:30am and thought, “Oh shit. Do I tell him?”
So yeah this year, no Magnitude, snuggle and sleep until 3am and then rinse off and gear up for:
Aftershock at City Nights produced by Frisco Disco and The Disco Cherry, with DJ Abel
It’s hard to say why Aftershock is one of our favorite events of the year. It’s got the perfect dark, horny, forbidden, unforgiven ambiance. None of this happy vocals and “Isn’t life great?!” bullshit. I want to be dragged to hell and stay there. With Aftershock, it feels like the guys that want to hookup have already met at Magnitude (or the bars or the apps) and are in their respective hotel rooms in the throes of whatever, so the crowd that comes to Aftershock is there to dance. And DJ Abel is just the fucking best. We’ve heard him in several cities and on the Atlantis cruise last year and whether it is prime time circuit, tea dance, or afterhours, he’s just simply master at what he does. Aftershock starts promptly at 4am. Everyone is pretty much wearing just jockstraps, harnesses and boots.
Aftershock achieves that strange surreal feeling that you’re dancing in a crowd of hundreds of hot horny sweaty men and you’re not entirely sure the world outside the club exists anymore.
City Nights clothes check is always a shitshow. Every single time, without fail. I don’t blame anybody because I’ll get people telling me to stop being so criticial etc. and I simply don’t know how hard it is to produce events blah blah blah. Just know that clothes check is nuts and hopefully you get there early enough that you aren’t waiting in line for 45 minutes before you can start the fun. But… it’s worth it and you can always dance in line. Stumbling out into daylight at 10am and stumbling back to your hotel will be something you remember forever. Besides the fair starts 11am so you better rinse off and gear up, babydoll.
Keep in mind Aftershock is before the fair on Sunday morning.
Other events on Saturday include:
New Breed: The Second Coming at Club Six, produced by PoundPuppy SF and Polyglamorous, with a shitload of DJs
Along with Friendly Fire, this is the most sex party-ish events I’m seeing promoted for the weekend. Upstairs, the Polyglamorous crew is running their usual dance party while downstairs, the gang from Pound Puppy is getting a bit more carnal. I don’t know much about these events at all but it literally has the words “breed” and “coming” in the title, so there you go.
Sundance tea dance at Midway produced by Gus Presents wth DJ Dan Slater
Gus has a daytime outdoor tea dance at Midway boasting a full-scale urban beach with tons of palm trees, sand, volleyball court, and “a kitschy dough-boy swimming pool.” DJ Dan Slater spins a six-hour set. Details and tickets.
Industry at The Great Northern produced by Industry and Gus Presents with DJ Morabito
What it says on the tin: Industry/Gus producing. Jocks/leather recommended. Morabito spinning. Details and tickets.
ONYX vs FLSM at Powerhouse produced by Onyx with DJ Jason Godfrey benefitting Leatherwalk
And Saturday night at Powerhouse is Onyx’s Folsom party for leather men of color and their admirers. DJ Jason Godfrey will be spinning the hottest house, soul, and disco. $5 cover benefits Folsom Street Event’s Leatherwalk and gets you in for a drawing of VIP access to the Folsom Street Fair, Magntitude tix, and a Mr. S Leather + Kink.com Prize Basket. Details and tickets.
Sunday, September 25
Sunday morning we stumble out of Aftershock and sleep until Real Bad. But we have houseguests so I might be convinced to go to:
Folsom Street Fair produced by Folsom Street Events
Ah the fair. It’s huge. You won’t realize it’s so many people until you are there. It’s crazy. Enter on the side streets for quicker entry and to get into the crowd faster. It’s 400,000 people packed into 13 city blocks for 7 hours. It’s insane. There are two huge dance areas with some of the city’s best DJs and a couple other stages with a constant cavalcade of indie music acts. Hundreds of booths of fetish and leather vendors. You’ll see just about anything there. What do you actually do there? Get flogged, buy some leather, have a chicken skewer, dance your ass off, get drunk, or whatever you’ve got a whim for.
If you’ve never been to the fair, go. I’d go early if I were you. The crowds are crazy.
We’ve been to the fair numerous times so I’m hoping we’re sleeping in so we can enjoy our absolute favorite event of the entire year (yes, our two favorite events of the year are in the same 24 hour period).
Real Bad XXIX at 1015 Folsom produced by Grass Roots Gay Rights with DJs Juanma Escudero and Scott Shepherd
Our favorite event of the year. Thousands of the friendliest, hottest men you’ve ever met pack into local dance temple 1015 Folsom for nine hours of dancing and revelry. The event is produced by Grass Roots Gay Rights and all the money from the general admission tickets goes directly to local and national beneficiaries (this year including Southern Poverty Law Center who does crucial work in tracking white supremacist groups across the country). Real Bad is special to us because it is kinda the centerpiece for the entire year of gay dance events in the city. From the initial margarita party kickoff to the Reach tea-dance for pride to Real Bad and then the check-presentation to the beneficiaries, it’s an entire narrative across most of the year.
Most tickets are only available through a host system of 250 hosts who are each given 5 host codes to share with friends and their network (each host can also buy 1 or 2 VIP tickets which they can also resell if they like). That can be really frustrating I know. But it does help preserve the vibe that nearly the entire crowd is there because of someone they know in the “Circle of Friends.”
On the main floor is DJ Juanma Escudero taking you on a nine-hour journey from post-fair tea dance into the early hours of the morning. In the Underground – the basement bar of the club – is Scott Shepherd spinning a more downtempo sound. Be sure to appreciate both. The VIP area of the club opens up after midnight so be sure to explore the upstairs balcony, the lounge and the red room.
I can’t say enough about Real Bad. It’s a singular experience distilling everything amazing about the city of San Francsico into one event. I know that sounds trite. But every year I walk down that ramp from the lobby to the main floor and think, “Goddamn this is a whole other level of party.”
And when you hear Cazwell’s “Ice Cream Song” come on, look for Ron and I among the platoon of men and women in aprons and hats (and little else) handing out popsicles to the over-heated crowd. Sometimes it’s hard to convince a queen to eat a calorie. And be sure you’re in the main room for when they drop the leather flag. The whole night has several peak moments.
It’s worth the rigmarole to get tickets. If you can’t get tickets through hosts they have a limited set of tickets available at a handful of retail locations in NYC and SF and a few tickets available as the event opens.
Short documentary about Real Bad, Activism with a Beat.
Article about Real Bad in The Daily Californian.
After Real Bad ends 4am we’ll probably come home and rinse off and re-caffeinate and have some calories and then attempt to rally to go:
Nocturnal afterhours at Halcyon produced by Ky Martinez and Cecil Russell with DJ Paulo
I can’t think of a better way to close out the weekend, the night, and the morning than with the original “tribal bitch” DJ Paulo. Doors open at 3am and the event goes until 9am Monday morning. Our friends Ky and Cecil are producing and their events are always fantastic and with lighting designed William Brown the production at the Halcyon space will be amazing stellar.
Other events on Sunday night/Monday morning include:
DNA: Enter it, Give It, Take It at DNA Lounge produced by Cip Cipriano and Locoya Hill with DJs Dani Toro, Bradley Portnoy, Haute Toddy, Mohammad and Paul Goodyear
Local producer extroardinaire Locoya Hill literally just moved to NYC but he couldn’t not let a Folsom go with out producing an event for the weekend with a full roster of the city’s best DJs, plus And in the upstairs lounge is an event within the event called Top the Hole. So between that and all the talk about entering, and giving and taking DNA, draw your own conclusions.
Deviants Adult Arcade at Mezzanine produced by Folsom Street Events featuring Jennifer Cardinim, Josey Rebelle, and Honey Soundsystem
This is the official closing party of Folsom Street Fair. I’ve never gone to this and don’t really know many people that have but Honey Soundsystem is known all over for their parties and events.
Not finding a lot of photos of the event, here’s some photos of Deviants from the Folsom Street Events Facebook page. I’m assuming this is where the straight people go if they want to dance or if you weren’t able to get tickets to Real Bad.
And one more afterhours after Real Bad on Monday morning is:
Twisted at Endup produced by LEFT Magazine, Brian Kent, and Folsom Street Events with DJs Chus + Ceballos, Shane Stiel, and Ricky Sinz
Whatever Brian Kent does is amazing (the Pride party at the Armory was one for the ages). This is the official final party for the weekend. Chus + Ceballos were here for Magnitude last year and were astounding and they’ve been back to SF couple other times since then and everyone talks very highly of them (and Shane and Ricky are no slouches either).
Some more tips and FAQs on surviving the weekend:
Do you have to be into leather or fetish to attend and enjoy these events?
Not really. When we first moved here we didn’t really get the leather thing at all. We’d lived in Chicago for ten years and had gone to the annual International Mister Leather convention but it didn’t really stick then. For some people, the leather thing is core to their identity and social circles and they carouse at leather bars and enjoy all the accoutrements of leathermen culture. For others, it’s more like a fun way to stretch your self-image. But if you find the culture off-putting you definitely are not going to have a good time – so don’t be a bitch about it – just leave.
Do some people really wear just jockstraps at these parties? I don’t want to be the only one dressed like a whore.
Yes. And dress like a whore is pretty much par for the weekend. Which seems to be a particularly SF thing. Sometimes outside other cities and on the cruises but SF seems to go full-bore-whore a little more regularly.
It’s fucking hot at most of these parties, Hot as hell. Hot as thousands or horny drunk and/or high mostly naked gay men radiating body heat and dancing for hours. It’s humid too – my iPhone shorted out halfway through the evening last year. Had to put it in a bag of rice that night.
Some wear full leather uniforms or pants or shorts. Others go simple with jeans or just shorts. Some just wear jockstraps and boots with a harness. You’ll want to have pockets to keep your ID and such handy. Or wear long socks and stuff them in there.
It’s completely up to you. Typical fashion will be jeans/pants/jock with boots and a leather harness. But peruse the galleries of the events for a sampling of the various options available.
There’s clothes check too if you don’t want to parade your sweetcheeks down the street or have your bare bum sitting in an Uber.
Go ahead and check your shirt or put it in your beltloop. Otherwise you’ll lose it on the floor and have to walk home like a hooker.
Are all these events just a bunch of white guys only looking for other white guys?
Sometimes these events have a tendency a bunch of big hairy white guys only interested in hanging out with other big hairy white guys. And that sucks for our brown, black, and/or smooth brethren. The weekend’s events will have a pretty broad size, type, and ethnic mix. Chances are you’re “totally my type” for someone in the crowd.
Never ever ever mix alcohol and GHB.
Don’t do it. You are a stupid fucking idiot if you do and fuck you for making your friends worry and have to take care of you when they should be having a good time. G is very volatile and dose/potency varies from person to person. 4ml that gets one guy a nice high might make someone else stumble down the stairs. Go slow.
How to find the bears.
Tip: If you are looking for the bears at any club, find the big industrial fans. There’s literally a ‘bear corner’ at 1015 Folsom because that’s where the big fans always are. The big boys overheat easily so they’re usually near the fans, or they have actual fans, or are near the A/C vents.
Buy multiple drinks at a time.
None of the bars will be fast and many events will end up short staffed. If you are buying Gatorade for 3 friends, grab six. If you are buying cocktails, buy double, chug one and sip the other. Hell, grab 8 Gatorades and hand a couple to guys you pass on the dance floor – they will act like you’ve given them nectar of the gods.
Assume clothes check will be a disaster everywhere.
Given the minimal attire of patrons to most of these events, coat/clothes check will probably be a complete bitch anywhere you go. We usually bring one of our gym bags and put everything in there (and put phones and wallets in obvious pockets so we can find them quickly for the keys-phone-wallet check as you leave the club). So if it gets misplaced or mis-tagged we can say, “Look for the bright red Timbuktu bag.” I know you don’t believe me but I’m not joking. Lines are long.
Get tested the week after.
A lot of people have a lot of sex with a lot of people during Folsom weekend and so there’s a possibility you might get a bug, even if you’re the most careful condom user ever-ever. Go to your GP or local clinic to get tested for the full palette of STIs. Keep in mind you can have gonorrhea, syphillis, or chlamydia and not show any obvious symptoms. And ‘I’m always the top,’ doesn’t really mean anything since infections can spread between oral, anal, and genital regions regardless of who is fucking who. And notify the other people you had sex with if you have their contact info. It’s common courtesy and comes with the territory in our high-volume-hookup sex-as-a-hobby culture. And of course get tested for HIV. And if you test positive, go into treatment immediately and it is much easier to get down to undetectable levels and manage your health.
I’m too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too young, too old to go.
You will see some guys who are so roided up they are practically parodies of what a man could look like galloping like water buffalo across the dance floor. You’ll see beanpole guys who are skin and bones (and guys going nuts over them, too). All shapes, all sizes, and ages ready to have a great time. You should go.
Well shit I guess that’s about all I’ve got to say about that.
See you on the dance floor, gentlemen. And ladies.
If you see us on the dance floor say hello. Look for the polynesian sleeve tattoos on the sexy pinoy muscle boy with the huge smile dancing with abandon (Ron) and the semi-serious bearded white guy trying to keep up with him (me).