Photo by Andrew Jorgensen

Brooklyn LGBTQ based nightclub “The House of Yes” descends on the Bonnaroo, showing the Gay Pride side of the festival. 

Bonnaroo music festival takes place in Manchester, Tennessee over the weekend of June 13th-16th. It’s an outdoor camping and arts festival that has grown over the years to become one of the biggest music festivals in the summer circuit. Having hosted in previous years performers like U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lorde, The Killers, Muse, Pearl Jam, … you get the idea. The festival grounds has a village of “Barns” with all kinds of activities, and different features to experience, providing something for everyone.

What does Bonnaroo offer that Burning Man or Cochella cannot? This is the second year the Bonnaroo festival has been honored to host The House of Yes.

The House of Yes, is an LGBTQ based night club in Brooklyn New York. It was founded by Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke. It evolved from a circus theater to a full on self-expressive party spot where all are welcomed, creative self-expression is encouraged and celebrated. The space hosts acrobats, cage dancing, drag queens, performance art, dancing bubble parties, and more. Costumes or not, it’s a safe place for anyone to push the limits of their own comfort zone, and find who they really are, where they can enjoy being themselves with nothing but love and support from everyone around them.

Watching a House of Yes documentary on YouTube, we were beyond impressed. It’s a “Cirque de Soleil” atmosphere, with regular incredible performers, but also a place where anyone can go and dance, watch a show, or even meditate and do yoga in another part of the venue. It’s as exciting to watch as it is to see the beautiful people and their experiences. Check them out if you are in New York, just for the experience and show.

The Bonnaroo festival has invited House of Yes to not only host an installation in a “barn” for shows and dancing, but also to lead a Pride Parade through the festival. This would probably be one of the more exciting places (in the entire country) to be that weekend.  Might be worth your while to look into going while there’s still camping spots and tickets available. While you’re there, among the Phish, Brandi Carlile, and Walk the Moon sets, check out the House of Yes barn, and fly your flag high.

I had a quick interview about the planned festivities and the LGBTQ offering by House of Yes with Kae Burke, and Sophie Lobl 

Jeremy Hinks: So, as I see I have Sophie Lobl from Bonnaroo, and Kae Burke from The House of yes here. Sophi, you’re one of the “Curators” and Talent buyer for the Bonnaroo festival and Lollapolloza Stokholm and a few others, and Kae, you are the Goddess behind the Arthouse “The House of Yes”.  And as I understand, The House of Yes, has taken a plaza at the festival, and will be doing a “Mobile” or on location Cirque de Soleil performance, and also a Gay Pride Parade at the festival. I just need to know, because it’s an all ages festival, this will be “family friendly,” right?

KB: Yeah, as far as a pride parade goes, we are obviously discussing peoples sexual preferences, but, no nudity, no pornographic behavior, just rainbows and butterflies. The parade is going to be middle of the day, more like an afternoon roaming pageant. We do some saucier stuff in the barn, but I would say mostly “burlesque” at best, and mostly lots of “circus”.

Well, what I have seen for the circus part in the documentaries on the “House of Yes” and it’s fantastic, I can see that adding so much to the flare of the entire festival, and just the dynamic of the festival itself.

SL: Absolutely, All of the programming and activities on the campgrounds are going to be family friendly, all ages, and the pride parade and the “House of Yes” the main message is going to be “inclusiveness for all”, there will be the burlesque, but there is also late night programming at other parts of the campground, its whatever you want to see.

Yeah, like you said, you work Lollapalooza, in that situation, there is no way to do it all.

SL: I would say though that “House of Yes” is our most creative programming, we are really excited about it.

Well, you have John Pryne on the lineup this year. He was at the ORIGINAL Woodstock. This man is NEVER going to die. I was looking at the lineup, it’s like Coachella meets Lollapalooza, so as far as an event, it’s the whole openness to the community. But the “House of Yes” being there is representing the community, and giving a different, interactive experience. It’s not just at a festival, someone getting on a stage with a guitar, and tearing it up. I see this as an installation interactive art piece. I have to say I’m jealous, I remember hearing of Bonnaroo as a large great festival. The only complaint I’ve ever heard about it was when U2 played there a few years back, and everyone said their set was too short. I’m a huge U2 fan, I’ve shot them on multiple tours, and seen them 46 times, so, I probably would have complained too.

S: Oh yes, I booked them for the festival, they are great, I love that you’re a fan.

What brought you guys together on this, it’s out of the general norm for a festival. Sophie you said you had worked for Lollapalooza, and they would have that kind of thing there. I had been to several over the years. I remember a couple years back, Perry Farrell tried to go back out on the road without the Lollapalooza production, and had a circus freakshow/sideshow. And I heard the freakshow circus was great, and Perry’s vocals were not.  Sounds like this is a lot less the “Alternative Culture” but how did you get this together.

S: Well, Lollapalooza is a city festival, no longer touring obviously, and Bonnaroo is a huge camping festival. It was decided we needed programming in the campgrounds, not just on the stages, so last year we had 10 plazas, “barnyard” structures built, and we had individual producers come in to produce. And House of Yes was one of the first that came on board. Kae, you want to explain a bit more about that?

KB: Yeah, we had been collaborating with Jay Rinski, from “Little Cinema” and we had some friends at “Superfly” and in the production ideas, the conversation centered around more “experience” driven, and more participation and experiments, that are more than just standing in a huge crowd looking at a stage. And that’s something that we at House of Yes believe in, we don’t design parties with HUGE massive dance floors, and one big DJ. So we have our own “Campground” concepts within our own club, where you can go and get your face painted here, or your tarot read there, so House of Yes kind of feels like a micro festival in a night club every night. It gave us the opportunity, like at the club, we have our own venue and our own stage. So the best part for us was being able to transport the House of Yes, with our own programming to our own “Pop Up Venue” which is the barn in the Plaza.

Well, I was going to say, because Brooklyn is a static venue, this sounds seriously dynamic, because like you said it’s popping up, then you are putting a gay Pride Parade in the middle of it all.

KB: YES, so much of what we do is influenced by the “Burning Man” culture, and through that participation. So last year with the barn we had the most fun participating with people on the streets, who were just walking by, like it was its own city. People were going to get food, or whatever, it was about wandering and exploring. The coolest part was having conversations outside the barn on our “Stoop” (Brooklyn term), and so much a from the burning man, about just inviting people to be a part of “Gifting,” and inviting everyone to be part of the action with you. At House of Yes, we have a very strong Queer component from myself, and my collaborators, and also the people we attract. So last year when we were at Bonnaroo, we saw just this vast diversity, and every kind of person is at this festival. For us, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were the queer club… if you’re here, you’re queer, come party with us”. So, we were taking it outside of our little barn, and making sure that people felt invited to be a part of this moment. It’s called a pride parade, because we are proud, we are still dancing, but we don’t have the same equal rights.

(In addition to the pride parade, they’re hosting a camping zone known as SheRoo, a space for women and non-binary Bonnaroovians to camp alongside one another in unity that will benefit the Tegan & Sara Foundation.)

I get that, I’m in Utah, one of the most oppressive states for LGBTQ people.  I am an outspoken ally almost warrior for the community.  Especially in Utah. I agree that the battle is nowhere near over.  But this sounds like it’s “Our offering, don’t be afraid, come celebrate the beauty and diversity with us.”  I think that wonderful. “This is the Gay pride Side of Bonnaroo.”

KB: Yes, creating that space, and outspokenness of the Bonnaroo wonderland, Sophie got so excited about this idea, and really has made it possible, but also the highlight of our offering. And I’m sure there will be eighteen-year old’s who are going to Bonnaroo for the first time, and might still be in the closet. And this might be the place where they can feel safe, and not afraid for the first time in their lives, if they are in the south in that homophobia all the time.

Wow, that is so beautiful, that is powerful, what a wonderful offering. You are giving an opportunity to those kids, to ANYONE. What a place to do it at. I mean, there you have The Lumineers, John Pryne, PHISH. I mean, the whole festival is so happening, and who knows that young kid could come out, meet someone there and fall in love for the first time. We could only hope. So, Sophie, how did you get in touch with the House of Yes, and get involved here?

S: They were already in, by the time I got involved, I am just so supportive of what they do, and as we saw how successful it was before, and could be, we started developing the idea to make it bigger, and more involved.

So, have you been to the actual House of Yes, in Brooklyn? I see these performances and the art on YouTube and it just looks phenomenal, so much beauty, fun, expression and sheer “Being” there.

S: Yes I have!!

Screenshot from House of Yes website

We had a similar club in Boston, the Avalon Ballroom, where we had concerts, performance art, acrobats, silk ropes, it was great a very “Micro Cirque de Soleil”. And it looks like that but so much deeper and incredible than what we did at the Avalon. So, who are you taking with Kae, performers?

KB: We are bringing 40 of our resident performers, five or six drag queens, the circus troop. One was actually in cirque de sole, acrobatic contortionists, performing an immersive cinema to “The Neverending Story”. We are bringing that to life through performance and cinema spectacle, and some sideshow performers. I don’t we have anyone involved that isn’t part of our core House of Yes group on this one. Can’t forget the production team, the design décor people, people that we call vibe investors, they are not trained dancers, acrobats, or performers, but their energy is so magical, that they are down there almost as “Energy Hosts” and their job is just to manage the energy, to make sure that everything is flowing well, “Let’s keep the dance floor hopping” or “Lets chill out over here” or get chairs for people that just walked in.

Drag queens and singing too, right?

KB: Yes, and the production team, the drivers, lighting, and production crew are a huge part of it as well, but, yes, the Drag Queens and circus performers as well, are a huge part of the pride parade. For us it’s a family event, and we will all be going in the Pride parade, and grabbing festival goers along the route to join us, and it’s going to be a big roaming street party.

Right, so Brandi Carlile, PHISH on two sets, BTW, everyone go see the drag queens, go see the acrobats. Something for everyone, it looks like everyone is trying to show “A lot of love” for this. Is it going to be boring in Brooklyn that weekend?

KB: Well, we are keeping our core crew at House of Yes, mostly who went last year, so we are keeping everyone busy at home too.

So, it’s going to be hot and sticky, Tennessee in June. It’s going to be fun. And this is your invitation to come and be part of the community, come be transparent, come and enjoy the positive vibe, and diversity.

KB: Well, some people who don’t identify as queer, come be an ally, come support those people who are trying to express themselves. We are all trying to discover ourselves in some aspect, so the parade is in fact more than just about sexual preference.

Hey, even a boring straight colorblind guy would be welcome. Let me ask you both, what would you say to the young person, afraid, in a vulnerable state, afraid to come out?

S: I would say it is so important that you are able to be who you really are, to find the place where you are welcomed, and accepted. Actually, that is our biggest effort with bringing House of Yes to Bonnaroo is to give that feeling of community whoever you might be, to find acceptance, this is the kind of place we hope will be that for everyone. No matter what you have back at home that’s negative that’s going on, we want you to have a wonderful time, away from all that at this weekend. Allowing your flag to fly, and try something new, that’s the main reason we are bringing House of Yes to the programming this year.

KB: I would say, you are not alone, and you can create your own family.

Which is what it looks like you successfully pulled off in Brooklyn, I hope you can do that at Bonnaroo, thank you so much for the conversation ladies. 

The parade will be:

When:  Saturday June 15th at 4:30pm-6:00pm
Where: Plaza 3 – House of Yes & Little Cinema

And for more on House of Yes in Brooklyn…

About the Author: Jeremy “Jacques” Hinks

An indie GONZO music journalist in Salt Lake City, and an Anarchist behind the Zion Curtain. Jeremy Hinks is an obnoxious Type-A Male, who is embarrassingly straight and a staunch LGBTQ Ally with little tact, and a big heart. He has supported his LGBTQ friends since he was a teenager.

He has photographed on multiple tours U2, The English Beat, Peter Hook & The Light, and is somehow making a name for himself photographing Pink Floyd Tribute bands, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Britfloyd, Dead Floyd. He is one of the photographers for the LOVELOUD Foundation in Utah, an organization to bring awareness and support for the young LGBT community in Utah, and to bring an end to the epidemic of suicides there.  

He also drives a Vespa, and wears kilts, is rarely seen wearing pants, should be considered armed and dangerous, so do not approach without extreme caution.


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