By: Emily Scagel/TRT Assistant Editor–
The Rainbow Riverfest, the annual fall fundraiser for the LGBT Coalition of Western Mass., is taking place this year on September 22, at the Holyoke Canoe Club. The event packs the day full of entertainment, workshops and more, and provides an open and welcome environment for all. This year, Rainbow Riverfest is also partnering with other local organizations to bring a weekend of events with special guest appearances by performers.
The main stage features headliners Melissa Ferrick, Bitch and Dani Shay. A wide representation of LGBTQ artists will also be performing, including Rolla, Sister Funk, Phoenix Dance Academy and LGBT Coalition members Deja and Keri.
“We are extremely proud of all that we have done in the short time since we have been incorporated and the Riverfest not only weaves a sense of community but inspires and invigorates us through performance and opportunities to bring our community, young and old, together,” stated LGBT Coalition Executive Director, Suzanne Seymour. “For young people, being able to have a chance to look into the eyes of an older person and see that they’ve struggled and survived can be a life-changing experience, I know it was for me.”
Former board member and long-time performer at Coalition events, John Brandoli, believes in what the Coalition stands for. “It isn’t exclusionary, it reaches out to every branch of the community including straight allies, with an emphasis on stopping the bullying epidemic, which is near and dear to my heart.” The Rainbow Riverfest aims to reach everyone, regardless of age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity, according to their website.
The event is important to the community, as it “reignites and re-energizes our commitment to helping our brothers and sisters live a life that they have deserved and are worthy of,” according to Brandoli. “No one should be left in the shadows. This events turns the light back on. It is about celebrating who we are with a vitality that is like no other. And…it is damn fun!”
Dani Shay, contestant on The Glee Project and America’s Got Talent, is one performer that recognizes why all-inclusive events such as the Riverfest are important. “I’m so excited to see all of your sweet faces. I love people so much, and that’s why I want to be involved. I can’t wait to jam on stage, vibe with the crowd and mingle afterwards! Events like The Rainbow Riverfest are important because we are all connected, and these types of events remind us of that.”
Along with entertainment, the Riverfest offers unique spaces not typically found in other festivals. The Youth Tent is a safe and welcoming area for those 12-22, while the Zen Zone is a healing place for body, mind and spirit. The Youth Tent, alongside workshops geared toward issues young people are facing and fun demonstrations, allows an opportunity to speak with young entertainers who are successful. “These role models offer unique perspective and hope for many young people who may be struggling,” stated Seymour.
Lynne Conchieri, GSA advisor at Springfield’s High School of Commerce, stated that they are still talking about last year’s event in her GSA. “Riverfest 2011 showed our GSA that life as a LGBTQ individual can be FUN! We especially enjoyed the entertainment and the youth tent activities. The atmosphere at Riverfest was loving and supportive. It doesn’t get any better than that! We are anxiously awaiting Riverfest 2012!”
All of the money raised funds the Coalition’s programs throughout the year and essentially returns to the community, explained Seymour. Last year, the Coalition was able to provide programming surrounding the first National GSA Day event, a “Loving Your Gay Teen” parent workshop, as well as films and forums, including one featuring LGBT student athletes. The Coalition was also able to provide a $500 college scholarship to a deserving young person and cover transportation costs so schools could attend LGBT events.
Funds raised will also support a new program this year, funded in part by a grant received from the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, that will work to change the public’s perception of transgender women.
Riverfest takes place to celebrate the pride of western Mass., according to Seymour, and has the opportunity to move around the state. “This is our second year in Holyoke, after starting out in Northampton. We’d like to expand it to other parts of western Mass. and reach communities that may not be able to support their own pride event.”
More information about the weekend’s events can be found at www.rainbowriverfest.org.