WeHo Pride OUTLOUD Music Festival at West Hollywood Park

To the excitement of both returning attendees and those braving Pride crowds for the first time since the pandemic, the city of West Hollywood celebrated its second annual Pride event this month. The WeHo OUTLOUD Music Festival again claimed the physical space of LA Pride’s former stomping ground (which now happens in Hollywood) at West Hollywood Park. The raging three-day headline weekend, which took place Friday, June 2nd through Sunday, June 4th drew tens of thousands.

Fans were delighted that free tickets were offered Friday with acts including musical theatre mainstay Idina Menzel, English singer-songwriter Jessie Ware and rhythmic pop “2 On” sensation Tinashe. Saturday saw “L.E.S. Artistes” singer-songwriter Santigold, the fringe-masked gay country musician Orville Peck and 75-year-old genre-and-gender-defying legend Grace Jones, who wowed with six minutes of hula-hooping. Sunday evening closed it out with a hot lineup including Chicago duo Drama and pop punk band Meet Me @ the Altar. Music Connection caught that night’s three headliners: experimental rapper Princess Nokia, indie pop band Passion Pit and “Call Me Maybe” maestro Carly Rae Jepsen.

The mainstage events all grooved under a giant disco ball, a reminder to center the origins of Pride and queer musical expression. The evening was punctuated with confetti and billowing smoke effect moments, setting a deliberate party atmosphere.

Princess Nokia

Princess Nokia (PN, they/she) delivered a definitive mood shift, bridging day into night. The 31-year-old bisexual Afro-Indigenous rapper had a commanding presence sporting a white bikini top and matching sparkly belt with boyfriend jeans. The masculine-presenting backup dancers’ outfits echoed the image, looking “so clean no effort.” They’d later dedicate the set to Tommy Playboy, a transgender former backup dancer they said was killed by a train in New York City earlier this year.

Early on, PN announced they were “starting therapy and feeling real good,” which prompted cheers. Moments later, they hit “Crazy House,” offering the lyrics “smilin’ in your face because I’m mentally unstable,” which seemed to echo the theme of Pride: celebrating queer joy in the face of anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the country. While they proclaimed that “civil rights don’t stop,” a nearby concert-goer passed around poppers to his vibing group of friends.

“Sugar Honey Iced Tea” began as the sun faded, the shade of nightfall allowing attendees to surrender inhibitions and truly come alive. The lyrics, including “Sugar Honey Iced Tea/These bitches don’t like me,” reminded the crowd that existing and living your truth may bring haters, but they’re in good company.

“I get my flowers a lot,” they later said, referencing a phrase originating in Black culture that essentially means someone showing respect, continuing “I wanna give you your flowers.” PN then tossed white roses, symbols of queer resistance during the Holocaust, into the crowd.

During their hit “Tomboy,” the crowd sang and jumped along. For many, this may have been the first song that helped them truly feel seen as their gender.

There was a beautiful moment when PN invited the crowd to turn to an adjacent person and express love. Pure queer joy radiated throughout, blending into the high-energy favorite “Kitana.” Sometime during the cooldown after, they slipped on a tee for warmth.

PN addressed doubts about their Pride presence, clarifying that they’d come up in the queer community in New York City, learning from the OGs. “I’ve been in the club,” they declared. The rapper pointed to themself, saying “mother,” and then to the crowd, saying “daughter,” using drag and ballroom language.

They concluded by sharing that the multicolored clouds floating on the screens represented heaven, calling it Club Debbie in memory of their mother who died of AIDS when PN was ten. “Everybody’s welcome in this club,” they asserted.

Passion Pit

Like a blazing blunt, the mood remained lit between sets. Attendants improvised songs to pass the time before a DJ spun tunes towards the back of the stage. Transgender model and actress Arisce Wanzer emerged in a rainbow bondage dress, teasing that she was there for trans representation. “Diversity hire,” someone from the crowd joked. Many laughed knowingly.

Some came for the indietronica Passion Pit (PP). For others, their set was a chance to chill before Carly Rae Jepsen. But once PP took the stage, that plan was abandoned. The vibe immediately morphed into a full-on rock show. The stage screens illuminated with lo-fi effects, often projecting a slightly-delayed trippy visual of lead singer bisexual Michael Angelakos. The volume was so infectious that it felt like the audience’s hearts were compelled to beat in sync.

The band opened with “The Reeling,” asking “Is this the way I’ll always be?”  Next up, “Take a Walk”, a song everyone, die-hards or not, could sing. A galaxy filter layered over the screen, giving it an open and freeing feeling. Third, “Eyes as Candles” had the crowd clapping along as what resembled the contents of a lava lamp flowed on the screens.

Angelakos revealed it was his first show in four years. “I didn’t feel like playing shows until OUTLOUD came along,” he admitted. Fans cheered, pleased he was back. At one point, he mentioned that with everything going on in the world (alluding to the avalanche of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation or perhaps the controversial arrest of two transgender activists at WeHo Pride the day before), that his “job is to try to create as much fun as possible.”

He teased the audience about “Sleepyhead,” saying that “song is so fucking old,” adding, “it’s good to get old together.” The unspoken meaning rang clear: the queer community had been deprived of huge segments of generations due to the AIDS crisis. The crowd cheered in agreement.

PP then picked up “Carried Away,” elevating the crowd. Supported by fans, Angelakos shared that this is the first show for which he’s been sober. He was “nervous” earlier but said “it’s been great.” Likely a population with experience numbing its hardships with alcohol, drugs, including community consumption of mind-altering substances at this very event, could relate.

Highpoints towards the end included “Higher and Higher” and show-closer “Sleepyhead” as blue fire visuals blazed.

At the set’s culmination, the band took a bow and hugged center stage, celebrating a moment four years overdue.

Carly Rae Jepsen

As the crowd awaited Carly Rae Jepsen (CRJ), although the temperature dropped, the mercury in West Hollywood Park rose as fans filed in. As WeHo Pride organizers filled time, one called CRJ “the Queen of Queers.” A person of color from a nearby group quipped, “Well, I think that’s Beyoncé, but okay,” prompting laughter. Nevertheless, any hint of CRJ’s set had this same group squealing with excitement, reminding this writer of the joke that only gays can hear CRJ songs.

When CRJ finally appeared, she opened with “Surrender My Heart.” Her hair danced in the breeze as she wore a light pink tux-jumpsuit that had chiffon-like coattails for yards even after she removed her jacket. A shiny black hat fastened to her head, giving high school marching band vibes, while arm warmers’ black band-stripes matched the rest. Electrified by her set, the crowd cheered.

“Run Away with Me” kicked in and the crowd erupted in song. The lyrics “take me to your city” reflected the zeitgeist, many inevitably remembering their first moves to a big city to find community away from judgemental hometowns. “Secret” also held obvious special meaning.

At one powerful moment, CRJ climbed a platform; her coattails undulated behind her, much like a cape. She danced with her band and grooved through “Take Me Higher,” “Too Much,” “Julien,” “Talking to Yourself” and “E•MO•TION.” The crowd jumped in unison.

Finally, she delivered “Call Me Maybe.” Everyone, whether they’d come to see CRJ or otherwise, joined in. When she sang “before you came into my life I missed you so bad,” it was as if she was speaking to her gay fans, many of whom had been there since day one.

Later, she shared that the next bop, through its own evolution, was a “pickup song” turned “life mantra.” There was a reflective mood shift while she began with a prelude but once the beat picked up, festival-goers danced like their lives depended on it. After all, they “didn’t just come here to dance.” Because Pride is a riot. Pride is a protest. Pride is living truthfully in the face of adversity. The chorus delivered an intensity devoured by the crowd.

CRJ asked if the audience had time for a trip to the moon and broke into “The Loneliest Time.” A drag queen dressed in rainbows emerged and spun intensely, tossing wigs and clothing into the crowd while continuing to radiate kaleidoscope vibes.

By the end, even though feet were sore from so much standing, jumping and dancing, the spent crowd wandered into the night with a confidence and contentment perhaps not felt since last Pride.

Coming Up

Events happen all month through the WeHo Pride Arts Festival including a free concert June 25th with Grammy-nominated artist Sophie B. Hawkins called “Free Myself: A Conversation and Concert,” taking place at Plummer Park with WeHo’s Lesbian Speaker Series and Summer Sounds.