Saturday, December 16, 2017
Events

After Orlando shootings, St. Pete Pride performers resolve to keep party vibe alive

Elliott Yamin won't lie: He had second thoughts about coming to St. Pete Pride.

First came the June 10 murder of The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie as she signed autographs after a concert in Orlando.

"That incident really hit close to home," said the American Idol Season 5 favorite, "because I started to think about the situations I've been in where, god forbid, that could have happened to me."

Then came the June 12 massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, an assault on the LGBT community that left Yamin so rattled he called to check on security at the Flamingo Resort, where he and fellow Idol finalist Blake Lewis are performing Saturday night.

"I had my reservations about even coming," said Yamin, who is straight. "I've never played a Pride event before. Knowing that there's still so many people out there who don't accept that lifestyle, and knowing that violence occurs sometimes, it's heartbreaking."

The Pulse shootings remain a big charcoal cloud hanging over what's normally a gorgeous rainbow tableau in St. Petersburg. Less than two weeks after the attack on Pulse, this weekend's St. Pete Pride, one of the largest LGBT gatherings in the country, will go on as planned, albeit with more security than ever before. The city will deploy extra police, both uniformed and undercover, and emergency responders will be on high alert.

But will performers feel up to performing?

The entertainment world has reacted to the Orlando tragedy in different ways. Nearly every celebrity on social media has spoken out about the shootings with a mix of sorrow and outrage. Some have stepped up with donations or special performances. This week, Orlando was slated to host fund-raising concerts by country acts like Cole Swindell and Billy Currington and rockers Imagine Dragons and Nate Reuss, with all proceeds going to victims and families through the OneOrlando Fund.

But that doesn't mean some performers aren't nervous. During a June 15 concert in Charleston, S.C., the band Death Cab For Cutie walked off stage amid technical difficulties and fan rowdiness, in part because, as bassist Nick Harmer told Billboard: "We're all feeling a little skittish after Orlando."

St. Pete Pride's signature entertainment event is Friday's SP2 Concert with dance singer Deborah Cox on an outdoor stage at 2600 Central Avenue. Jennifer Real, who's also performing there, said that immediately after the shooting, she was struck with an unexpected "fear about performing in gay clubs," which she often does.

"I think all of us thought, Oh my god, I'm never going to do this again," Real said. "But I'm not going to let fear overwhelm or overcome me."

St. Petersburg band Karmic Tattoo is also on the bill, playing a Pride event for the 10th time. Even though singer Lisa Noe has friends who lost friends at Pulse, she hasn't wavered about performing.

"I haven't really felt nervous about it other than just the normal performance anxiety that I get before a show," said singer Lisa Noe. "I choose not to live in fear of things that may happen. I like to deal with the things that are happening."

Both Real and Noe expect the mood at this year's Pride to feel significantly different from last year's event, which came on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples could legally marry.

"I feel like there's going to be more kindness, more people reaching out to give each other hugs," Real said. "I see it as people coming together and being stronger."

Noe said she'll probably address the tragedy from the stage, as many performers have, often in touching ways. On June 15, Brendon Urie of the band Panic at the Disco came out for his band's June 15 set at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre draped in a rainbow flag. Two nights later at the same venue, Keith Urban opened his encore with a moving solo rendition of U2's One, dedicated to the victims in Orlando.

"Although I didn't know anybody in that horrific incident, I did, because they're just guys and girls, brothers and sisters," Urban said. "They had dreams, hopes, plans, just like every one of us."

Another American Idol alum, Blake Lewis — who's also straight but has a passionate gay following — will take part in the St. Pete Pride parade before his and Yamin's gig at the Flamingo. He's not at all worried about security.

"I can't be fearful of hypothetical situations, which a lot of Americans seem to do," said Lewis, who performed at Pulse a few years back. "Immediately I was like, Bring me there now. I'll go sing for them now. Lightning doesn't strike twice."

Yamin's internal debate about whether to keep his Flamingo gig didn't last long. He said he's even flying in early to hang with some gay relatives who are coming from Fort Lauderdale.

"I'm honored to be part of this event," he said. "There's no time like the present to stand up for those in that community, and maybe do what little part I have in this to bring joy for a half an hour to someone who's coming out to listen to some music and enjoy all the festivities."

The same is true for Lewis.

"All I want to do is hug all the victims and do whatever I can, whatever it is, to put a little light in their life," he said. "If I can put a little sparkle in their day and reach out and sing some songs, it makes my heart happy."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

     
   
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