Bartender during the Stonewall Riots shares his first-hand account June 5 at Sidetrack

Mon. June 3, 2019 4:25 PM by Ross Forman

tree sequoia

photo credit // sidetrack
Tree Sequoia was there that fateful night 50 years ago. He was working that June night in 1969, bartending at Stonewall in New York City.

He truly knows what happened that historic night that led to the gay rights movement which now celebrates a magical milestone around the world, literally, because of what Sequoia and others did, said, observed during the Stonewall riots.

Chicago's Pride Parade will honor the 50-year history, and more, on Sunday, June 30, when the annual Pride Parade steps off in Uptown and heading south into Boystown and, ultimately, ending in Lincoln Park.

The Chicago Pride Parade, with more than 1 million expected to attend, is rooted in Sequoia and others who brought Stonewall to legendary status.

Sequoia shares his Stonewall insight from 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5 at Sidetrack in Chicago. Sidetrack and The Legacy Project present Remembering Stonewall: An Evening with Tree Sequoia.

"This is something we have been looking forward to for some time. We are thrilled that we were able to get our schedules to mesh with Tree's – he's been traveling a lot with his story," said Victor Salvo, co-founder and executive director of the Legacy Project, which is sponsoring the event in conjunction with Sidetrack. "It will be a glimpse into what happened the night of the Stonewall Riot from one person's vantage point. I have no doubt that other insights about the roles our bars have played in the evolution of our movement will also come out."

Paul Highfield, who is a board member of the Legacy Project, met and befriended Sequoia last year and found out about his long history at Stonewall. "When we were reflecting on different things we could do to celebrate this June, Paul mentioned Tree to us. Many texts and emails later," the event was confirmed, Salvo said.

"Stonewall has become so vaunted in our collective cultural mythos, we often forget that it was regular people caught up in a dive-y neighborhood bar that just happened to be at ground zero of a movement that didn't really even have a name yet. The lack of information has produced a lot of mythology because it was a complicated event. So much has been heaped onto it, affected by so many competing agendas, that it is often difficult to identify the facts. To have Tree here to give us at least one first-hand account from inside the bar will be a refreshing change of pace. His story of that fateful night might not reflect everyone's experience, but it is at least true."

There will be an opening reception, followed by a one-on-one interview with Sequoia, possibly morphing into a broader panel discussion, then a Q&A session, Salvo said.

"It's awesome to see a piece of LGBTQ+ history coming to Sidetrack," said Sidetrack general manager Brad Balof. "Personally, I would like to get a first-hand account of the events surrounding Stonewall Inn in 1969."

Salvo, who ironically celebrates his 62nd birthday on the anniversary of Stonewall, June 28, said he personally wants to hear "what the mood was that night, how it changed – and why – as the night unfolded, and were there any individuals who stood out for what they said or did."

Noted LGBT historian Owen Keehnen, who is a co-founder of the Legacy Project (with Salvo and Lori Cannon) will be the event's moderator. Keehnen is a noted writer, "and an extremely bright and interesting moderator," Salvo said. "He will deliver a spectacular, fun, and fascinating evening."

Sequoia also will be part of Sidetrack's popular OUTSpoken series on Tuesday night, June 4.

"I'm really hoping Chicago turns out to embrace this lovely, hilarious octogenarian – Tree Sequoia, Salvo said.