Behind the Curtain
The legend lives on... twenty-nine years
This year, over 2,000 hot leather-men and friends will gather at an extraordinary event in San Francisco… REAL BAD XXIX. The party is one of the most eagerly anticipated events during the world-famous Folsom Street Fair weekend. It will take place on Sunday, September 24, 2017, immediately following the Folsom Street Fair.
Although many people have joined the circle of friends who honor this legendary tradition, some may not know the details of its origins. The tradition began in 1989 when a group of friends came together to host a celebration of life. Jim Guequierre and his lover Jeff Swenton—who were renowned for throwing great parties—decided to host a gathering at their home before the Castro Street Fair. They served margaritas to their friends, starting a tradition that continues today with the annual kick-off margarita party in July. Though the first REAL BAD was small, those who attended knew the event was special and that it would continue for years to come.
By 1991, the party had grown, and organizers Jeff Stallings and Marc Lagasse had inherited the tradition. That year, they decided to turn the party into a fundraising event following the Castro Street Fair. They also decided to make REAL BAD III special by introducing fresh DJ talent to San Francisco. To that end, they invited Atlanta-based DJ Buc to play at the event. This was the start of another unique tradition. Each year, the DJ invited to play at REAL BAD is new to Bay Area and West Coast dance floors.
In the early 90s, many event organizers in the LGBT community focused primary on raising money for AIDS- and HIV-related organizations. The organizers of REAL BAD, however, wanted to emulate an East Coast organization with a broader focus—Grass Roots Gay Rights Fund (GRGRF). The goal of that organization was to support groups defending LGBT rights and working for policy change. Inspired by GRGRF, Grass Roots Gay Rights West (GRGR/West) was founded in 1991 to pursue similar goals in the Bay Area through the REAL BAD party. Over the 28-year history, GRGR/West has donated over $2.5 million to local nonprofit LGBT organizations.
With REAL BAD III, the event organizers decided the party had outgrown the capacity of a private home. It needed a space that could provide a safe and comfortable environment while maintaining the intimacy and soul of the event. REAL BAD moved from the Castro to a vacant club space at 174 King Street, behind the venue formerly known as Club Townsend. The move was an ambitious undertaking for the REAL BAD Working Group, an all-volunteer team that organizes the party. The donated space on King Street was virtually empty. After the debris was cleared out and lighting and sound systems were installed, the new venue was a success. In the following years, REAL BAD moved to other San Francisco venues as the party evolved. It has been held in numerous locations, including 715 Harrison (formerly known as Dreamland) and the party’s current location, 1015 Folsom, a world-class club space that has hosted the event continuously since 1999.
As the event grew, the organizers made another significant change that helped shape the character of the party. In 1995, the organizers moved REAL BAD from Castro Street Fair weekend to Folsom Street Fair weekend, and it became a closing party for Folsom Street Fair. This change made it possible to invite more out-of-town friends, who come to San Francisco for one of the biggest fetish gatherings in the world. Since the mid 90s, REAL BAD has been the premier closing event of Folsom Street Fair weekend.
Over the years, the Grass Roots Gay Rights Foundation has continued many of its traditions, including the introduction of fresh DJ talent. DJs such as Susan Morabito, Michael Fierman, Warren Gluck, and Julian Marsh—who had built their reputations on the East Coast—accepted the invitation to play at REAL BAD. Many DJs from around the world have gained international recognition after being chosen to play at this event. Lydia Prim, Rob Davis, Reed McGowan, Edu Quintas, and most recently Fabio Campos, have stepped into the spotlight with their REAL BAD performances.
The Grass Roots Gay Rights Foundation strives to create cherished memories of the weekend for all who attend. With that in mind, the Working Group follows the DJ-selection tradition with great care and pride. A rigorous decision-making process—including a blind review of demos—enables the Working Group to find top-notch DJs who can steer the party through a well-composed landscape of rhythms and emotions.
The Margarita Party
Each year, pre-party publicity and ticket sales get underway at a kick-off margarita party in June. At this afternoon gathering, hosts pledge their support for the event, and they commit to sell tickets to friends. The kick-off party and host program continue the tradition of intimacy that defines REAL BAD. At the kick-off, details about the REAL BAD party are revealed to the public, including the DJ selection and the beneficiaries of the event.
Initially, the organizers chose a different beneficiary each year, and they selected organizations dedicated to the advancement of LGBT civil rights. The beneficiaries received grants from the event proceeds, and many nationally recognized non-profits were recipients. Over time, the success of REAL BAD allowed for a second organization to receive funding from the event proceeds each year. In 1998, GRGR/West began distributing a portion of the proceeds to a Bay Area, HIV-focused group—a tradition that continues to this day.
REAL BAD is underwritten by local and nationally recognized LGBT businesses that appreciate the role REAL BAD plays in the community. The event does not receive major corporate funding. This policy remains faithful to the focus of GRGR/West. The REAL BAD operating and production costs are covered by the event sponsors, in-kind donations, and funds from host registration. This allows 100 percent of general admission ticket sales to go directly to the beneficiaries.
REAL BAD XXIX continues the traditions of the event, including the organizers’ dedication to offering the highest caliber dance party. Most importantly, REAL BAD and GRGRF continue to funnel grass-roots support to worthy non-profits. The circle of friends may have grown over 29 years, but their mission to “BE BAD… DO GOOD” remains true. We invite you to experience this legendary event immediately following the Folsom Street Fair.