The PrideFest Parade: Milwaukee’s Most Fabulous Secret


How Milwaukee Got Down With the 2013 PrideFest Parade

Written by Kelly Lucia for Eventgroove

It was Sunday, June 9th, and much of Milwaukee was hung-over from a weekend full of festivities. But the city roused itself before noon, drank a bloody mary, and prepared for one of early summer’s most anticipated events: the Milwaukee PrideFest Parade.

The Parade is the culmination of the annual festival, PrideFest, which celebrates the incredibly diverse culture of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in Milwaukee over a weekend in early June.

For many people from the Midwest who’ve been to Milwaukee’s famous Summerfest before, PrideFest takes place on familiar grounds: since Summerfest doesn’t begin until the last week in June, PrideFest is conveniently held in their outdoor space, which gives attendees a great place to party.

But the Parade itself extended into an entirely different part of the city.

Strutting their stuff down 2nd Street, the Parade line-up consisted of many Milwaukee small businesses and LGBT organizations, all thrilled to be participating in an event that celebrated freedom and understanding above all.

A Bird’s Eye View

A few local promoters and I had the unique opportunity to participate in event-planning for one of the small businesses in the Parade this year. Being from Chicago, where the Pride Parade is one of the most highly celebrated in the entire country, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Milwaukee at first.

But what I had the chance to be a part of was more than a pleasant surprise.

The day of the Parade was hectic: many of us were trying to set up decorations, blow up hundreds of balloons, and get Sabbatic Bar ready for hordes of thirsty patrons before they arrived.

Sabbatic (along with their sister bar, Ten Bells), actually had a bus in the Parade itself, and there was serious preparation that had to go into that. Bus rider’s bodies were painted with neon colors, and everyone was given balloons and fed rum and pizza. The Parade was off to a great start to say the least.

Spirits were high, and once the actual Parade began, everyone seemed to be even happier. The mood was one of celebration, and the weather was perfect for the outdoor extravaganza to get on its way.

Sabbatic Standard Early June 037


Event-Planning 101

The day of the PrideFest Parade turned out to be a great one, but that payoff didn’t come without effort. The owners and I (along with the other local promoters) had started planning our event for the Parade weeks in advance. We wanted to get people into Sabbatic for the Parade, but, as a Milwaukee small business that supports the LGBT community, we also wanted to be represented in the Parade itself.

After the owner procured a bus with banners and one of the promoters helped round up some troops to sit in and ride down 2nd, we immediately defaulted to Facebook. Luckily, Sabbatic has a Facebook page with over 1,000 friends in addition to their business page (with over 1,000 likes), so I created an event through their social media tools, and invited everyone that was connected to us online.

In addition, I shared the event on the Facebook pages of Sabbatic’s two sister bars (Ten Bells and the Standard Tavern), which helped to boost the RSVP rate significantly. We put it out on blast that we’d have live DJs and no cover, which are two huge selling points in this industry.

Our Parade bus was generously sponsored by DonQ Rum, which also helped to bring the event even more notoriety.

We had one of our local (and gifted) friends design a digital flyer for us, which, in addition to the Facebook event, was a great way to share information. Often, it seems people are more likely to look at an image than simply read a bunch of text.

How to Make Money from a Free Event

The best part about the PrideFest Parade and Sabbatic’s after-party was the fact that everything, other than the beer, wine and liquor of course, was 100% free. Despite the fact that we didn’t sell tickets or charge a cover at the door, we ended up doing very well, especially for a Sunday (we don’t have brunch, and everyone goes to brunch on Sunday).

Arguably, we ended up making more money than we would have if we had charged a cover or sold tickets. Because people could come and go as they pleased, it encouraged many to come back and keep buying more beverages.

My experience at the PrideFest Parade was fabulous to say the least. The music was loud, the people were friendly, and everyone seemed to work together to make the most of this incredible celebration.

I, for one, can’t wait for next year!


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