June Pride Month festival that began in 1979 at Fair Park heads back downtown two years after being revived on Cedar Springs
In 1979, after cities around the country began celebrating gay Pride in June to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, Dickie Weaver told The Dallas Morning News, “Gay Pride Week in Dallas felt like somewhat of a somber affair.”
After nothing more than a drab candlelight vigil was planned to commemorate Pride in 1979, a group of a dozen friends — including Weaver, John Thomas, Ray Kuchling, Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo — decided to each kick in $150, rent the Hall of State in Fair Park and throw a party they dubbed Razzle Dazzle Dallas. They had no idea if anyone would attend.
As it turned out, about 1,000 people showed up, including Eartha Kitt and an entourage of chorus boys who were appearing in Timbuktu, the Dallas Summer Musicals show running at Fair Park Music Hall that week.
Current Razzle Dazzle board member Jimmy Barlett, who was the DJ for many of the early celebrations, said the first one was mostly decorated with glitter. So much glitter rained down during that party that people got it on their shoes in the Hall of State for years, he said.
And Razzle Dazzle was so successful, it made an unexpected profit, which was donated to the Dallas Gay Alliance, the city’s first LGBT advocacy group.
In the 1980s, Dallas’ official gay Pride parade began in September to mark the anniversary of a court ruling striking down the state’s sodomy ban. But Razzle Dazzle continued in June.
Each year, it changed venues, moving from Fair Park to Downtown to Market Center until the late 1990s when it became a street party on Cedar Springs Road.
This year, the Razzle Dazzle Dallas Main Event returns to its roots when the Saturday night Main Event moves from Oak Lawn to a Main Street Garden in Downtown Dallas on June 8.
But the festival has not abandoned Oak Lawn. A Cedar Springs Merchants Association Wine Walk takes place on June 5 followed by a pub crawl on June 6. MetroBall, the annual fundraiser for the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund returns to S4 on the Strip on June 7 with headliner Thelma Houston, Grammy Award winner for her 1975 disco hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”
Bringing in headliners has been a Razzle Dazzle Dallas tradition since the festival’s early days, but hasn’t always been successful.
In 2003, the organization lost quite a bit of money bringing in the Village People and was unable to enforce a gate fee because the event was held on a public street. It marked the beginning of an eight-year hiatus for Razzle Dazzle until a successful 2011 reboot.
The idea was to reintroduce Razzle Dazzle to the community in a familiar place — and then reinvigorate it each year by changing venues, according to current chair John Cooper-Lara.
Cooper-Lara called the new Main Street Garden a state-of-the-art park equipped to host a variety of functions. That wasn’t the case in many of the early Razzle Dazzle venues.
Before the buildings around the School Book Depository became known as The West End, Razzle was held in an abandoned warehouse in that run-down section of Downtown.
Another early Razzle was held at the old city auto pound on Inwood Road between Maple Avenue and Harry Hines Boulevard.
AIDS Services Dallas President and CEO Don Maison volunteered that year before joining the board. He said to prepare the site, they put on a new roof and rewired the buildings.
Bartlett remembered driving the performers, Uptown Girls, in on a scissor lift while they performed their hit, “I Know I’m Losing You.”
“Great venue,” Maison said. “But God was that a lot of work.”
Within a few years, the focus of Razzle changed from a Pride event to the largest annual fundraiser for local AIDS organizations.
In 1987, the Morning News reported Razzle “attracted some 7,000 participants and raised more than $40,000 for five gay organizations.”
Gay and AIDS were used interchangeably at the time and little help for the newly formed AIDS Resource Center or Oak Lawn Community Services came from outside the LGBT community.
In the late 1980s, Razzle grew into a large marketplace for gay-owned businesses and a showcase for dozens of gay and lesbian groups and AIDS service organizations that had popped up over the past few years.
In 1991, organizational and business booths filled Market Center Hall on Stemmons Freeway.
The disco was in an upstairs balcony, and Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance celebrated its 15th anniversary with several booths that were staffed by some of its 800 members, according to the Morning News. Attendance topped 10,000.
Another year, party-goers walked through a paper tornado transporting them from Dallas to Oz, which was inside one of Fair Park’s exposition halls.
Reed Hunsdorfer, that year’s Razzle president, told the Morning News he hoped to raise $100,000 for 10 AIDS organizations.
In February 1992, Razzle Dazzle sponsored a concert with Dionne Warwick at the new Meyerson Symphony Center to raise additional desperately needed funds for its beneficiaries.
“We got soaked,” said Evilu Pridgeon, who served as president of the event several years during the ’90s.
But the main event in June had corporate sponsors that covered the $33,000 Razzle budget so that all proceeds went to beneficiaries.
“To some of them, it’s not a massive amount of money,” co-organizer Scott Cisney told the Morning News that year. “To others, we support them for the entire year.”
By 1998, Razzle had moved to Cedar Springs Road. While the festival still raised money for AIDS organizations, new medications were helping people live longer and some of the desperate scramble for money had subsided.
“It’s not about death or people dying; it’s about people living,” Pridgeon told the Morning News that year.
The newspaper described that year’s event as taking place on “a cool evening after a severe heat wave” and included a “casino, a bazaar, food and drink areas, and, of course, dancing.”
Cooper-Lara expects both this year’s Main Event and MetroBall to include all of that — and more.
The Friday event at S4 includes a silent auction featuring art, airline tickets, hotel packages and a Mavericks game package.
On Saturday, the band The Bright headlines at Main Street Garden on the Round-Up Saloon’s stage with sets from three additional bands. Meanwhile, the Caven stage will feature entertainers from the Rose Room, the Turtle Creek Chorale and The Women’s Chorus of Dallas, with Patti le Plae Safe hosting. Viva Dallas Burlesque entertains throughout the park.
The prelude to the weekend parties includes two weekday events. On Wednesday, June 5, the Cedar Springs Merchants Association presents a wine walk and on Thursday, June 6, a pub crawl covers the bars along the Strip.
Razzle Dazzle Dallas rundown
Wednesday, June 5
• First Wednesday Wine Walk on Cedar Springs Road, 6–9 p.m. Take advantage of many specials and Wednesday-only sales. Purchase a wine glass at the merchant booth in front of Buli Café and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine from participating merchants. Show a VIP Passport for half off the glass purchase ($5).
Thursday, June 6
• Jagermeister Pub Crawl on Cedar Springs Road, 9–11 p.m. Crawl around the clubs on Cedar Springs with the Jager Boys beginning at the Round-Up Saloon, then on to Woody’s Sports Bar with JR.’s Bar & Grill being the third destination. Cowboy dance lessons, great music, hot bartenders.
Friday, June 7
• VIP Welcome Party, Sue Ellen’s (3014 Throckmorton St.), 5–7 p.m. Open to all VIP Passport holders, Razzle Dazzle Dallas sponsors, partners and staff. Complimentary hors d’oeurvres courtesy Caven Enterprises with a cash bar.
• MetroBall, S4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road, 7 p.m.–midnight, Fundraiser for Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund starring Grammy Award winning music legend Thelma Houston. $25 in advance. $30 at the door.
Saturday, June 8
• Main Event, Main Street Garden, 1902 Main St., 7 p.m.–midnight. Cirque/burlesque entertainment, aerialists, DJs, dancing, carnival games, adult beverages, community and vendor booths, food trucks. Party on the main lawn with headliner band The Bright from 8–11 p.m. $5 admission. Parking $5 or free shuttle from DART Market Center Park and Ride or The Strip.
• VIP Festival Pass, $100, includes admission to MetroBall and MetroBall VIP Lounge, Main Event with complimentary valet parking, complimentary drinks, hors d’oeuvres and snacks and VIP lounge access, VIP welcome party on Thursday night and gift bag.
• Tickets available online at RazzleDazzleDallas.org or at The UPS Store on Cedar Springs, 3824 Cedar Springs Road or Razzle Dazzle Dallas Admin Office, 2525 Wycliff Ave., #124.
• AIDS Arms
• AIDS Interfaith Network
• Cedar Springs Beautification Project
• Legacy Counseling Center
• Legal Hospice of Texas
• Resource Center Dallas
• The Women’s Chorus of Dallas
• Turtle Creek Chorale
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 31, 2013.