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Pride

LGBTQ Power & Pop Music at NYC's Pride Island Festival

Pride Island
Photography: Hunter Abrams

A weekend stacked with artists for a new generation of queer music lovers. 

Last year, ahead of the 30th anniversary of NYC Pride's annual Dance on the Pier, executive director Chris Fredrick was teasing something a little different for the organization's 2017 festivities. At the time, it seemed like New York's marquee Pride events--the Friday night rally, the Dance on the Pier--would have to find a new home due to the city's development plans for Pier 26. Fredrick viewed the change as an opportunity to rethink and reinvent the NYC Pride experience.

"My motivation going forward is to create an event that is much larger than the Pier Dance," he said. "Whether that means it's a multistage experience or a multiday experience, everything is on the table going into 2017."

True to his word, this year Fredrick and his team debuted Pride Island, a three-day festival of live music and DJs overlooking the Hudson River. NYC Pride's Sunday PrideFest street fair has always included live performances on its main stage--this year's lineup includes LeAnn Rimes and legendary girl band Betty--and the announcement of which pop diva will close out the Pier Dance is as highly anticipated as it is controversial each year. (It was singer/songwriter Nelly Furtado this year).

But Pride Island promised something new: a mini music festival featuring a stellar lineup of pop luminaries, both vintage and emerging. It sounds like ad copy, sure, but there literally was something for everyone.

After Patti Labelle and Deborah Cox kicked off Pride Weekend on Friday night, Saturday's bill was stacked with emerging artists and niche pop acts designed to appeal to a new generation of LGBTQ music lovers.

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Roisin Murphy (Photography: Hunter Abrams)

If you've been to the Dance on the Pier at any point in the last few years, you get the general set-up: a bank of bar tents and vendors on either side of the pier; the main stage at the middle, overhung this year with paper lanterns; the VIP area at the far end. Not much has changed in that respect.

R&B singer Gallant had the unenviable task of getting the party started, as folks trickled onto Pier 26 on Saturday afternoon. The 25-year-old singer owned the stage with his energetic performance, his velvety voice pitch perfect. But he had a frustrating tendency to play to his band rather than the audience, performing a significant chunk of his set with his back turned to the crowd. The early afternoon audience may have been small, but seemingly lost in his own musical world, it felt like he could have made more of an effort to connect with those gathered at the foot of the stage. Still, Gallant made some new fans. "I'm downloading this!" a friend enthused.

Next up, Irish singer Roisin Murphy played a rare New York set for a significantly larger crowd. "It's a privilege to be here with you," Murphy, a house and ball culture devotee, told the crowd. Her short set was dominated by moodier cuts from her more recent albums--and outfit changes, a hallmark of her live shows. "It's the end of this era for me," she said. "Next time I come to New York I'll be a new woman with new music and new outfits."

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Olly Alexander of Years & Years (Photography: Hunter Abrams)

By the time British electro trio Years & Years took the stage, Pier 26 was packed with shapely guys in tiny shorts and not much else. Years frontman Olly Alexander, on the other hand, wore head-to-toe pink sequins--making a strong case for the 26-year-old being cast as the lead in the inevitable all-gay Jem & the Holograms reboot. "I don't know if you guys know, but I'm a homosexual," Alexander teased the crowd. "I love dick. It's amazing. It's so nice to be able to be my fem, alien, witch self!"

The band struggled through some technical difficulties during their otherwise high energy set, which included a sultry cover of Britney's "Toxic." Alexander remained good humored throughout, adding an extra piano ballad and joking that he felt a bit like Mariah Carey on New Year's Eve.

Headliners Tegan and Sara closed out the show with the longest set of the night. The duo has undergone a significant musical evolution over the past 10 years, from a crunchier, folk-tinged pop rock to a glossier, synth-heavy sound. But their set didn't skimp on their earlier work. Songs like "Livingroom" and "Nineteen" were updated and seamlessly blended with newer tracks "Closer" and "Boyfriend."

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Tegan and Sara (Photography: Hunter Abrams)

Like the other acts, Tegan and Sara seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, attempting to play matchmakers from the stage. "If you're next to someone who's not happy about being single, put your arm around them--with permission!" Sara suggested.

"I love Pride!" Tegan--the "gayer" of the sister act, according to Sara--gushed. "Sometimes I'm even faking Pride."

On this particular Saturday night, surrounded by shirtless dudes, with the rainbow lights of One World Trade Center looming in the background, no one had to fake it.

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