San Francisco is hands down America’s most open-minded city, so it was naturally the first choice to host the American version of Berlin’s world-famous Love Parade. And for the past two years, the San Francisco Love Parade continued the Berlin tradition in grand style. The Berlin Love Parade reemerged this year, so the Stateside event was renamed the San Francisco Love Fest, but that’s the only big change: This is still a massive parade and street party down Market Street, San Francisco’s main thoroughfare, culminating in an outdoor festival at the end of the route — in front of city hall. Only in San Francisco.
And what could have easily been a cheesy parade in any other city became a magical event in San Francisco. Love Fest, held at the end of September, was an event for and by the city of San Francisco, given life by the town’s many eclectic residents, and it possessed by energy unlike anything I have ever experienced.
This was my first trip to San Francisco, and I was immediately surprised by the city’s urban feel. It is like a miniature New York, complete with splendid architecture, excellent mass transit, and walking neighborhoods that blend into one another. But the people are different. They are incredibly friendly and impossibly eclectic. It wasn’t unusual to see costumed citizens walking around on a Friday afternoon as if they were headed to a late-night rave. Everyone gets around on foot, so the streets are always busy with pedestrians. It was a perfect setting for the Love Fest.
The parade began just after noon, with twenty separate floats making their way down Market, each pumping a different vibe. House, breakbeats, drum ‘n’ bass, and trance streamed down the city’s main street for miles as thousands of onlookers and participants danced, snapped photos or gawked at the endless procession of creative outfits, naked hippies and candy ravers. Each float had a different theme, and some were more elaborate than others. Some standouts included a bus called the Love Monkey, which was right out of a hippie fantasy; an erotic pirate ship; and a completely pink float filled with completely pink people.
The parade ended a few miles down Market in front of City Hall, where each of the floats parked around the square for a massive festival. (Where else in the world are a bunch of techno-loving freaks allowed to have an all-day festival in front of City Hall?) Not only was the entire square turned into a massive rave with beer gardens and some of the best beats I have heard in a while, but the City Hall itself was converted into a VIP room complete with a bar and deejay. The festival was a beautiful event, with a cross-section of the city’s population in attendance. Break-dancers mingled with old gay couples and 70-year-old hippies. Teenage punks danced with grandmas. The day took on a life of its own thanks to the diverse and interesting people in attendance.
As day gave way to night, a variety of after parties sprung up, each offering a sampling of the San Francisco nightlife. But what stuck with me was what had happened that day. The Love Fest felt like a dream: The lines that separate us disappeared; the confines of society and government control withered away. Love Fest was about giving a city back to its people. And what a beautiful dream it was.