Ultimately it might be impossible to say by how much attendance was down at Sunday’s gay Pride Festival in Lee Park.
But according to Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, we do know this: Approximately 5,300 people paid $5 each to get into the festival.
Beyond that, Doughman estimated there were 700 unpaid attendees who received complimentary wristbands through festival vendors or groups that marched in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, which would bring the total crowd to 6,000.
In previous years, about 7,500 people attended the festival, according to Doughman, which would mean a 20 percent drop — in line with what organizers predicted after they decided to fence in the park and charge admission for the first time.
But Doughman said precise attendance figures for previous years — or even this year, since we don’t know how many who received complimentary wristbands actually showed up — simply don’t exist.
And even if they did, he added, they wouldn’t really matter. In Doughman’s view, critics who predicted disaster for the festival as a result of the $5 admission charge clearly were proven wrong. And the Tavern Guild, which organizes both the Pride parade and festival, was vindicated.
“We got tons of compliments from people who were in the park, not only vendors but just from people who attended,” Doughman said. “It may have been less headcount, but we think the quality of event was highly improved.”
For one thing, Doughman said, fewer people meant more room to roam in Lee Park, which had almost reached its capacity during the festival in recent years. And banning outside alcohol all but eliminated growing problems such as underage drinking, public intoxication and fighting — not to mention the dangers of glass containers.
Most importantly, while attendance was down, money raised for Pride beneficiaries was way up. Fifty-three hundred people at $5 each equals $26,500. Subtract $4,000 for the temporary fencing, but then add net proceeds from beer sales, which hadn’t been tallied as of Tuesday but appeared to be up.
“I think it was really a solid success,” Doughman said. “I feel we did make the right move and for all the right reasons.”
So did anything go wrong with the revamped festival? According to Doughman, the only logistical problem occurred shortly after 4:30 p.m., when thousands suddenly arrived from the parade and overwhelmed volunteer staff at the four entrances to the festival — and particularly the main one on Hall Street.
But the lines moved relatively quickly, Doughman said, and the entrances had been cleared by shortly after 5.
“We’ll make adjustments next year on making it easier to get in the park,” he said. “Next year it should be even smoother.”
And, he promised, the $5 admission charge won’t go up.