Looking back, looking ahead, and why the timing was right for Cumberland Pride

What other community event features drag queens in full haute couture, live music ranging from punk to country, and a mascot in a lumberjack outfit?

The Cumberland Pride Festival, founded by Jacqie McKenzie and a group of community volunteers and presented first as a public event in 2016, will celebrate its fourth annual event on Sunday, October 18, 2020 and each of these elements will be on proud display.

“We are so excited to be coming together to celebrate Pride in Cumberland again,” says Jacqie.

The festival, initially slated for July, was postponed to October in light of Covid-19.

“As an organization, we recognize how important Pride is to our community and are always looking for ways to be engaged, to keep our spirits up, and to spread pride,” Jacqie says. “Since deciding to reschedule for October, it’s helped us find the motivation to hold more events throughout the year.”

Indeed, Jacqie and her right-hand fellow organizer Ian Robinson, did not let some pesky pandemic get in the way of celebrating Pride month in June.

“Historically, June is an important month for the queer community because of the Stonewall Riots. Here in Cumberland, we have a growing community of drag queens and artists who are out of work because of the coronavirus and it's important to recognize that, as creative minds, we need to stay connected,” says Jacqie.

Thus, throughout the month of June, the Cumberland Pride Festival held virtual events including a drag storytime, a virtual dance party, and a Pride Chorus performance. Each of these events provided an opportunity for performers and artists to earn an income while engaging with the Pride community in Western Maryland. Moreover, the Cumberland Pride Festival held a March for Black Lives in June in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

 “All of this just gets us ready for the October event,” says Ian.

“Yeah, the [drag] Queens are excited because now their makeup won’t be melting off while they perform,” laughs Jacqie.

As usual, the Cumberland Pride Festival isn’t a single-day event. In previous years, the organizers have held film screenings and performances at the Cumberland Theatre, jazz events at Dante’s in Frostburg, and dance clubs at Mezzo’s and the Embassy Theatre leading up to the Sunday street fair. This year, Jacqie says the group plans to hold a kick-off drag brunch and to expand their silent auction event.

“We don’t know exactly what additional events will be held given the need for social distancing, but we will cross that bridge when we get there,” says Jacqie. “What I can promise is that our Sunday community event will remain largely the same and we will be following the example of the Farmer’s Market with booths spread apart and other measures in place.”

The promise to hold an October event is not one Jacqie and Ian make lightly.

“As we go into our fourth year, we recognize that we have gained the community’s trust that we aren’t a one-and-done event,” says Jacqie. “As such, we feel very committed to holding an event in October.”

Certainly no one can argue that the Cumberland Pride Festival has become one of the year’s most talked about events. Besides offering a talented slate of musicians, dancers, and performers, the Sunday Street Fair has grown into a “place to be” to show off an array of rainbow fashions while reconnecting with friends. It is estimated that the event draws over 2,000 attendees yearly.

In an effort to up the fun ante, the Pride organization started identifying a yearly mascot in 2018. Last year, that proud mascot was a pink flamingo. This year’s mascot is a beaver, -- meant to “promote the idea of female leadership” says Jacqie. “We want to push that mantra because so many of the leaders of this movement have been queer women,” she says.

The beaver could also be symbolic in other ways for 2020.  This is a creature that withstands adversity and calamity with each rising tide.  Her home is desimated and yet, she rebuilds –her habitat for herself and her young stronger with each renewed construction.

Now in its fourth year, the festival is also starting to reflect on how to continue growing the event sustainably.

“We outgrew ourselves last year,” Jacqie says. Between having over 100 vendors and an entire day of activities, the organizers have realized that they need to work smarter, not harder.

“We have a growing number of drag performers, even more vendors that want to be involved, and so much community demand,” says Jacqie optimistically, “so we are organizing teams of volunteers to be stagehands and concierge and help throughout the day.”

“It all still feels a little weird,” says Ian, “but we are getting back to doing what we’re supposed to do. Be prepared. This year will be our best yet.”

Jacqie agrees, “Cumberland Pride isn’t going anywhere, we just have to get more creative. We are meant to be together and we are looking for ways for us to be together when we can.”

 “The world is changing and it can feel dark sometimes,” says Ian, “but we keep looking out for each other and keep loving each other, and that’s what Pride is all about.”

Photography for this story provided by Jackie Street/Jackie Street Photography and used with expressed written permission.

Additional photos courtesy of The Cumberland Pride Festival, Mary College, Jacki Dixon, Al Feldstein, Ken Nolan, and the Cumberland Times-News.

The Cumberland Pride Festival can be found on Facebook. Organizers will be making announcements about additional events prior to the October 18th event and can be reached at cumberlandpride@gmail.com

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