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Harvey Milk Fest: Music, art and tolerance

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Breton

(See a photo gallery of last year's Harvey Milk Fest.)

Living in London, England, Breton frontman Roman Rappak is used to a big-city climate of tolerance, he says. People are who they are, gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, and that’s the way he and his band mates like it.

But there are still laws hindering the population, and there’s still work to be done in every town these indie/dubstep/electro-house musicians tour. On Saturday (May 12), they’ll be in Sarasota at the third annual Harvey Milk Festival (HMF), and they look forward to playing a crowd that’s as committed to social change as they are.

“You always think, when you talk about racism and bigotry, that it’s kind of old-fashioned, so it always feels a bit shocking and backwards that it still exists,” Rappak said in a recent phone interview. “If you come from London or a big city, it’s really weird to uncover that stuff. It’s strange that people haven’t gotten the message yet.”

Some haven’t, but the projected 5,000 attendees at HMF have. When they congregate at Selby Five Points Park on First Street, they’ll be championing equality while soaking up tunes from more than a dozen acts. Breton, of course, is the headliner (they just released their debut “Other People’s Problems” in the United States in early April), as is the synth-pop CLAPS from Minneapolis and Sarasota’s MeteorEYES.

Harvey Milk

The latter’s vocalist is Shannon Fortner, the founder of HMF, who launched the festival in 2009 as an homage to Harvey Milk. Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office in California, and he was tragically assassinated in 1978. Fortner’s HMF tribute has evolved from a humble, local showcase with Sarasota bands to a destination music festival that is hooking international talent. HMF became a nonprofit organization last year and grew to a 501(c)(3) in 2012.

“It went from being just an equal rights rally, just as a political platform to raise awareness, and then I decided to combine my activism and music,” Fortner says. “We’re still honoring Harvey Milk and what he stood for. We still need people to be honest and open and supportive like he was. It is nice to be someone who birthed an idea and watched the community step up to support it.”

Rounding out this year’s entertainment lineup are: the August Name, the Pauses, the Northwest, the Sexual Side Effects, Cassolette, HenryHenryHenry!, Elysian Sex Drive, the Northwest, the Send Offs, and (the) Umbrella Cult.

Amber Taylor, the frontwoman for the Sexual Side Effects (SSE), a post-punk/glam rock band from Atlanta, is bringing her “sideshow-like” stage show to HMF.

“I spasm and freak out and get bruises and cuts and injure myself at some shows,” she said with a laugh. “But my impression is that, in Sarasota, it seems like people are liberal and open-minded to cool music.”

The Sexual Side Effects

Taylor is transgender -- a fact she doesn’t often share with the mainstream media, she said. So, performing in front of a non-bigoted audience is a major positive.

“We don’t usually tell people, but they find out later, and by then, we’ve already kind of won them over,” Taylor said. “That is a big struggle though.”

Fortner hopes that struggle will one day dissipate. She, too, she has encountered personal obstacles, most involving a six-year-long relationship with her England-based partner.

“We’ve been forced to live apart for six years due to outdated immigration laws and the fact that we’re gay,” Fortner says. “At the festival, Equality Florida will be passing around a petition to spread awareness about these types of issues that a lot of people don’t know about.”

The HMF schedule begins at 5:30 p.m. today with a screening of the music documentary “Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel” at the Selby Public Library. The film contains rare footage of Kurt Cobain and depicts the true tale of the Hole drummer’s drug addiction. A post-screening reception will be held at Ivory Lounge.

On Friday is “The Silent T” Art Opening at 6 p.m. at Ivory Lounge, with a performance by Sons of Hippies. And Saturday from 4 to 11:45 p.m. is nonstop music, kicked off with words from artist John Baden of San Francisco, Sarasota Mayor Suzanne Atwell and Sarasota City Commissioner Carolyn Mason. The official after party will be at Throb Nightclub with DiDa Ritz from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

“With all our events, we’re representing gay, straight, bi and every demographic, and we’re all fighting for equality,” says Anthony Paull, a spokesman for Feelmagik Productions, which is helping market the festival. “I don’t consider this a pride event; I consider it a music festival that celebrates equality across the board.”

In other words, it’s a gathering for anyone who appreciates melody and exalts open-mindedness. You’ll be in good company here.

THIRD ANNUAL HARVEY MILK FESTIVAL
Today through Saturday at Selby Five Points Park, 1331 First St., Sarasota. Free. Times and venues vary. The music portion starts at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Check website for details at harveymilkfestival.com.

MUSIC LINEUP
The Northwest, 4:30 p.m.

(the) Umbrella Cult, 5 p.m.

Cassolette, 5:30 p.m.

The Send Offs, 6 p.m.

Elysian Sex Drive, 6:30 p.m.

The Sexual Side Effects, 7 p.m.

The August Name, 7:30 p.m.

HenryHenryHenry!, 8 p.m.

The Pauses, 8:30 p.m.

MeteorEYES, 9:15 p.m.

CLAPS, 10 p.m.

Breton, 10:45 p.m.
Last modified: May 14, 2012
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