If you traveled back in time about two decades and told people that an LGBT pride festival in Fort Wayne would one day draw more than 10,000 attendees, they'd call you delusional.
Even the originators of Fort Wayne Pride probably never dreamed it would be as successful and widely welcomed in largely conservative Indiana as it has become.
"I have seen this shift about how Pride is perceived in the community," said Nikki Fultz, director of Fort Wayne Pride. "People are more willing to sponsor, more willing to help promote it and more willing to attend. It's been a national shift as well, but also it's the community itself. A larger crowd has been embracing what we're doing and that's been nice to see."
This year's edition of the festival happens July 21 and 22 in Headwaters Park.
Fort Wayne Pride has outgrown its tentative, apprehensive beginnings to become one of Fort Wayne's premier summer festivals.
It not only attracts a multifarious and multifaceted collection of celebrants and supporters, but it attracts nationally recognized talent to its stage.
Featured acts this year include Colorado alt-folk trio Edison which features Maxwell Hughes, formerly of The Lumineers.
For many years, Edison were a duo consisting of Sarah Slaton and Dustin Morris. Hughes joined in 2015 because, as he told the Albuquerque Journal, he "was drawn to the sound they were creating."
"When we came together, we were on the same page," he said. "It's been interesting to see how the band has grown ... I'm having fun being part of this trio, and being on the road again is fulfilling.
"[Lead singer Slaton has] just got a powerful voice, haunting in a lot of different ways," Hughes told the Amarillo Globe-News "It's just beautiful, beautiful to listen to."
Slaton told Denver Westworld that Counting Crows and Death Cab for Cutie are two of her main songwriting influences.
The band's songs are often inspired by the evocative and widely divergent locales they encounter on tours, she said.
"We all quit our jobs and took a van around the country," Slaton said. "We would stop to write in different places."
"'Back & Forth' was written on a dock on the Chesapeake, and you can hear that sway in the rhythm that the water brought out," Slaton told The Country Scene website. "On the other end, you have 'Water in the Well.' That was written out in the desert and brings space and loneliness into the song that was stirred from the feeling of being out there."
Asked by the Sound Dessert website what the band's "we made it" moment would look like, Slaton responded that there are many such moments.
"I personally think you continuously hit those moments," she said, "because there's always room for improvement. 'We've made it' by having the opportunity to travel and play our music, but we continue to work hard and look to build a sustainable career long-term."
Performing after Edison on the evening of the 22nd is soulful singer-songwriter Johnathan Celestin.
In an interview with the Davis Enterprise, Celestin described his sound as "edgy, pop, rock; a little bit of everything."
Influences cited by Celestin include Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, Sam Cooke, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton and Bob Marley.
"My musical style is pretty open right now,' he told PrideSource magazine. "It's very R&B-pop, very visceral of all music, honest, vocal heavy. My music for the most part showcases my vocals. But I'm actually looking to open up my palette in terms of the type of music I'm doing. My new single, which is coming out in a month or so, is called 'Quicksand.' It has small elements of EDM (electronic dance music) in it. I'm trying to fuse more sounds together."
Like Edison, Celestin said he draws songwriting inspiration from his surroundings.
"I live life and then I experience things, then I try to write about it," he told the University of North Georgia Vanguard.
Celestin said his music illuminates and celebrates marginalized voices. He loves playing Pride festivals, he said.
"It's always big energy and lots of love," he said. "I think a lot of times people come to Prides to celebrate. It's a celebration and that's important, but a large part of my show is that I aim to impart to people a message of encouragement. There are a lot of people going through a lot of things, so I try to make sure while I'm there I impart some kind of encouragement. I want to leave people with that. I want people to remember how I made them feel."
Celestin said he wants his music to empower the listener.
"Within the LGBT community," he said, "where suicide and drug use are disproportionately high, Pride festivals are not only perfect opportunities for celebration, but also perfect spaces for uplifting and fortifying queer communities with self-worth, value and love."
Other national acts performing at Fort Wayne Pride this year are self-described "one-woman looper band" Kristen Ford, hip-hop duo The Blu Janes and R&B singer Alise King.
Fort Wayne Pride's live music line-up is peppered with local faves as well, including Sum Morz, Chris Worth, Night to Remember, Finding Friday, DJ T.A.B. and DJ Trend.
The festival ends, as it has from its inception, with a drag show, Fultz said.
With its beer tent, food trucks, vendor market, KidSpace children's play area, cornhole tournament and Pride March, Fort Wayne Pride offers a little something for everyone, she said.
Fultz added that the event will go totally smoke-free for the first time this year.
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