As some in the local gay community call it, Folsom Street Fair weekend is the "high holidays," whereas Pride weekend is just "the holidays." And the high holidays are upon us once more. Whereas Up Your Alley in July is more for the G in LGBT, Folsom is for everybody, including straight people, who arrive dolled up in their fetish gear or just in jeans, prepared only to gawk in greater and greater numbers every year. The fair is, in fact, the third-largest single-day outdoor event in California, spanning 13 blocks and drawing upwards of 400,000 people. It is also the world's biggest leather and fetish fair. (Read a brief history of the fair, which we published last year, right here.)
So, come Sunday, if you've never been, you're in for some sights! Before SF became the tech capital of the U.S., it was the gay and kink capital, and you'll see the evidence in broad daylight all afternoon along Folsom Street. Below, some words of advice, and further below, a few events that newcomers and old-timers should consider, as the weekend kicks off tonight.
You May See Some Things You Can Not Un-See
For the uninitiated and unprepared, there are going to be some things out in the street, in front of God and everybody, that will scandalize you. The fair has gotten a little more tame in recent years, but only a little, and you will likely see older gentlemens' naked and/or engorged genitals, piercings where you thought they couldn't go, grown women (and men) on leashes, bloodied backs and hindquarters covered in lash marks from a whip or other implement. You also might see actual sex acts, but I'm making no promises. The easily faint or offended should probably steer clear.
You Do Not Have To Wear Leather, Or Be Gay
Folsom Street Fair is open to everyone, and is hardly a gay event. Kink transcends all gender and sexual identities. And if that sentence made you snicker or cringe, welcome to San Francisco. You don't have to costume yourself along with the leather-, rubber-, and latex-clad hordes if you don't choose to, but that stuff is certainly encouraged and will get you more attention. It's fine, though, to just wear jeans and non-open-toed shoes and be a tourist at the fair. But please read that again: non-open-toed shoes.
Leave Dogs And Kids At Home
I can't stress this one enough, and it seems like an obvious one, but every year, people bring their damn dogs and kids — which could both be trampled, permanently scarred, or worse. And don't even think about bringing a stroller (for dog or kid). It's hard enough as an adult to push through some 400,000 people packed into 13 city blocks, though if you want to act like a puppy or baby, that's encouraged. There will be a canine course and playpen space waiting for you.
Do Not Try To Drive Through Town On Sunday
Just don't. All of SoMa is basically going to be off-limits to traffic creating consequent traffic snarls in every direction all afternoon.
Ask Before Taking Photos
This is not your opportunity to look edgy on Instagram at the expense of someone'e privacy. You will see weird and titillating demonstrations of sex acts, but even if it's at an official festival tent, you should still ask before taking someone's photo — unless they have a mask on. But as we noted last year, if they're porn stars, it's fair game.
Ask Before Touching
Again, this should be obvious, like elementary-school-rulebook obvious. You should ask or wait to be invited (at least implicitly) before touching anyone, and that includes clothing, jewelry and gear. Most people are happy to tell you more about what they're wearing (or not wearing).
Don't Point, Giggle, Or Gawk
Don't be an idiot. It's just like if you were invited to a party and there were celebrities there. Yes, people want to be looked at, but respectfully and without judgment. Take in the scene, and don't creepily stare at one person for too long. This is San Francisco and some people don't take kindly to prudes.
Act Cool If You See A Coworker
San Francisco can sometimes feel like a small town and Folsom is no exception. You will likely see someone you know, maybe even a coworker, potentially in a compromising position. Whatever you do, don't spread any gossip and don't run away. If it's appropriate, say a quick hi. If it's not, keep walking and pretend you didn't see them.
Bring Sunscreen And Water
You may shed some layers while at the festival (there's an area to check your clothes) and you don't want a harness tan when you go into the office on Monday. Bring sunscreen and reapply throughout the day (but if you forget, or lose it in the back of the Powerhouse, they've always got some free sunscreen at the medical tent). And while you can buy water at the event, it's cheaper and easier to bring your own and refill throughout the day. Oh and don't drink any water bottles filled with yellow liquid — unless of course that's your thing.
The Fair Is Not The Only Thing
There are a bevy of events happening all weekend long, and thousands of kink-loving tourists in town for the festivities. The Armory is doing special tours all weekend, there's a HUGE gay dance party in Dogpatch Saturday night called Magnitude, and much, much more. See some event ideas below, and see even more here, via 48 Hills.
It's Free, But You Should Donate
Support the folks who have kept Folsom Street Fair running for 30 years and pony up at the gate. If you pay $10 or more, you'll get $2 off every drink, and proceeds go to benefit local groups including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who man the gates. Pun intended.
Now, some event ideas...
Friday, September 25
SomeThing's Tiara Sensation Pageant @ The deYoung Museum
Now an annual tradition, this always hilarious and creative drag bash takes over the lobby of the deYoung, with host Vivvyanne ForeverMore and the crew from the weekly Friday party at the Stud, SomeThing. Drag performance artist Martha T. Lipton (the failed actress) will be stepping down and handing off the Miss Tiara Sensation crown to someone else, and yes, cocktails will be served (cash bar).
Blasthaus & Lights Down Low @ Mighty
Fans of house, and acid house, will be flocking to Potrero for this Friday party at Mighty, featuring Bulgarian DJ KiNK, and Gui Boratto.
10 p.m. Tickets here, $25
Swagger Like Us Presents Fetish @ The Elbo Room
This will be the place to be for queer hip-hop fans and their friends, featuring resident DJ
davO (Double Duchess) and guests Bianca Oblivion (LA) and OND4.
647 Valencia Street, 10 p.m., $10
Saturday, September 26
Haus of Towers Presents FOR F*CKS SAKE @ Empire Room
From the people who brought you Phallus in Wonderland during Pride weekend, including bearded drag queen Grace Towers, this latest tongue-in-cheek affair touts this symbol ⚧ and will feature porn stars, drag queens, and music from DJs Michael Magnan (NY), Adam Kraft, and more.
555 Golden Gate Ave., 9 p.m., Tickets here, $20-30
Pound Puppy @ F8
It's a sexy, ravy party with a puppy theme from DJs Taco Tuesday (Oscar Pineda) and Kevin O'Connor, along with guests Carlos Souffront and Scooter McCreight (Toronto).
Folsom and 8th, 10 p.m., Tickets at door
Magnitude & The Midway
The big, leather-ish, circuit-y affair of Saturday is the official pre-party for Folsom Street Events, and it's also geared toward the gay men who are here more to party than to don their finest gear first thing on Sunday. This year's DJs are Danny Verde (Italy) and Pagano, and it's out in the Dogpatch.
900 Marin Street, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., $125. Tickets available at Mr. S Leather and at Phantom and Chaps in the Castro, along with a limited number at the door.
Sunday, September 27
The 32nd Annual Folsom Street Fair
The fair takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Folsom Street from 8th to 13th Streets, with many vendor and exhibitor booths, beer stands, food stands, dance areas, and music stages. Fun music acts this year include AVAN LAVA and 80s band Missing Persons, and there will be lots more to see and hear.
Suggested $10 donation
Deviants Adult Arcade @ Mezzanine
The now official, annual afterparty of the fair, just a few blocks away at 5th and Jessie, this dance party features Honey Soundsystem and headliner DJ Harvey.
444 Jessie Street, 6 p.m., $40 at the door, or at the Folsom St. Events Merch booth.