Out in the Park returns with 'amazing night of spectacular entertainment and amusement'

Thu. August 22, 2013 10:24 AM by Anthony Morgano

out in the park, 2012

photo credit // anthony meade

Out in the Park at Six Flags Great America, Saturday, Sept. 14

Chicago, IL - Summer doesn't end with Labor Day anymore! Last year Chicago's Gay Days at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Il. underwent an extreme makeover at the hands of media mavens Derrick Sorles and Michael Snell of BestGayCities. They created Out in the Park, an exclusive, private after-hours event featuring live DJ music piped throughout the entire park, which is open -- rides and all -- solely for the ticket-holding LGBT community and their allies.

Out in the Park returns September 14, from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m., and the BestGayCities boys promise that this year will be bigger and better than last year, with three headliner performances in addition to two DJs, a new area for karaoke and drag performances and, of course, the opportunity to ride the rollercoasters of Six Flags with minimal waiting in line.

"This is two years out, and our goal is to become the largest private LGBT party in the country," Sorles told ChicagoPride.com."If we break 10,000 people this year, which is very doable, we will be the largest Six Flags private LGBT event in their network of 19 parks."

"Right now the biggest one is in New Jersey," Snell added. "They're in their 10th year and they did about 7,000 people -- they hope to do 10,000 this year, but if we do like 9,000 or 10,000 we're gonna beat them. Eventually our goal is to beat Jeffrey Sanker's White Party in Palm Springs, which is 13,000 people. When we break that, we'll be the largest [private ticketed LGBT] party in the country."

Despite inclement weather and a planning period of less than two months, last year's Out in the Park was definitely a success. The duo sold nearly 4,000 tickets and raised just under $12,000 for the benefiting charity, the Test Positive Awareness Network (TPAN). This year's Out in the Park is set to benefit Chicago House, which was selected after an application process that begins every year in January.

Grab Magazine and ChicagoPride.com return as local media sponsors and after seeing the success of last year's event several additional media outlets, including Zona Rosa and Wisconsin's Quest magazine, have donated advertising to Out in the Park this year. The BestGayCities boys also brought on Walgreens as a community partner, allowing them to distribute their promotional materials at tens of dozens of stores in Chicagoland and across the Midwest.

While many bars generally don't support events like this, believing it draws business away on a Saturday night, this year Out in the Park was approached by Scarlet Bar, Taverna 750, Lucky Horseshoe and Charlie's Chicago, all seeking a way to get involved in the event.

This swell of support, not to mention nearly a year of guerrilla and social media marketing, planning and promoting ("shaking hands and kissing babies," Sorles jokes) allowed the BestGayCities boys to really grow and expand their event.

"People last year said 'I don't ride rides and I don't dance' so we said 'fine we'll bring in some singers and do like a concert," Snell said. "You can have a cocktail, you can do karaoke; there's all these other things you can do without riding any rides. It's going to be like a big Gay Pride party with rides in the background. Come and just have fun!"

Both Snell and Sorles are nearly giddy when they discuss this year's dance party component to the evening, located once again in Hometown Square, which Six Flags renovated this past year. In addition to gutting and opening up the entire area, they added a huge stage (which the BestGayCities boys describe as akin to a mountain or skyscraper with white fabric draped across it) and catwalk to feature video mapping.

Scarlet is kicking off the dance party with a DJ, sexy dancers and Trannika Rex for the first 90 minutes between 8 and 9:30 p.m., when returning DJ Matthew Haravat will take over at the top of the new Hometown Square stage. Instead of video mapping, the huge curving screen will be used as a giant video projector which, in addition to a spectacular light show and pulsing beats, will make for a fabulous one-of-a-kind outdoor dance party.

For those who don't dance, Snell and Sorles have added additional entertainment. While the kid's rides will be closed for the evening, the duo is utilizing an area of the kid's park to feature karaoke as well as several drag performances. They've also brought in three artists for three mini concerts that will be going on throughout the night. Introducing the concerts, and performing intermittently, is hostess Kathryn Cole, a fabulous Australian drag performer you may recognize from her job the Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club.

"It's not like you're sitting down in a theatre, you're passing by," Sorles said of the concerts, which will be held on the Mardis Gras stage just off the Midway. "Whoever's performing, you can stop and if you like it you listen for a song or two and then you go on. That's the beauty of amusement parks. That's the way it should be -- you've got lots of things to choose from, lots of flow."

The three performers are all on the cusps of their careers and all offer something different for partygoers. Isaiah Grass is one of underground pop music's latest sensations, with a unique style and a powerful voice that will surprise any listeners who might think he's just a pretty face. Jess Godwin is increasingly well-known around Chicago; a passionate, dynamic singer combining Alicia Keys, Sarah Bareilles, Norah Jones and Stevie Wonder for music that is both soulful and energetic.

Rounding out the list of performers is singer-songwriter Eli Lieb, who was recently named one of the top 10 most eligible bachelors by OUT Magazine (and by the way guys, he's single). A native of neighboring Iowa, Lieb began his career in New York with a folksie-indie sound that gradually gave way to a more pop/electronica feel when he returned to Iowa to write his debut album, titled "Eli Lieb," which was released in 2011. Now residing in L.A., Lieb is excited to return to the Midwest for Out in the Park.

"I love Chicago -- one of my best friends lives there so when I'm in Iowa I spend a lot of time Chicago," Lieb told ChicagoPride.com. "My friends have even told me that they're playing my video, 'Young Love,' in Boystown and at Sidetrack, which is always so exciting to hear."

When Six Flags caught wind of the new line-up and skyrocketing ticket sales, they gave Out in the Park an extra hour at the beginning of their party -- so even though most printed materials say 9 p.m. - 1 a.m., the party actually starts at 8! Unlike last year, the park will be closed at 7 o'clock and the public will be emptied out an hour before Out in the Park begins.

The supporting Boystown venues are also throwing a host of pre and post parties throughout the weekend. Scarlet and the Lucky Horseshoe are both hosting parties on the night of Friday the 13th and Taverna 750 is holding a pre-Out in the Park Brunch on Saturday before the event and a post-Out in the Park Brunch on Sunday after the event, followed by a Sunday Liquid Brunch at Scarlet.

Charlie's is home to Official Glow Afterparty starting at midnight on Saturday and also has two busses going to the park. They will be leaving at 6:30 pm on Saturday and returning at 1:30 a.m. -- seating is limited and tickets will go on sale September 1st for $25.00 per person (includes drinks and shots for the ride there and back and a very special gift for each guest).

The tremendous success of Out in the Park its first year out and its rapid expansion going into year two is largely due to the persistent guerrilla marketing strategies of Snell and Sorles -- no doubt you've seen them promoting at Pride and Market Days this year or sitting underneath their Out in the Park banner at Hollywood Beach. The duo has even attracted the attention of the St. Louis Six Flags, which is bringing them on to create and promote a similar party for them in May or June of next year.

With September 14 quickly approaching, Snell and Sorles are asking all of their followers to go on Facebook and invite friends who haven't already been invited to Out in the Park and buy their tickets early!

"Our tagline is 'it's an amazing night of spectacular entertainment and amusement,'" Sorles said. "Really what I would like ppl to understand is that at the end of the day we can put ourselves on the map as being the biggest private LGBT party in the country. That should be our goal because then, once we get there, people start paying attention."

Out in Park is open to all ages, but you must be 21+ to take advantage of the multitude of cocktail specials available at the park throughout the evening. Tickets are available for $38 by visting www.SixFlags.com and entering the Promo Code "OUT."

In addition to the busses leaving from Charlie's, Dougie Collins is also organizing two busses via Facebook to transport folks from Boystown to Gurnee and back again. For more information about Out in the Park, visit www.gaysixflagschicago.com.

Related: (PHOTOS) Out in the Park, 2012

On the Web: BestGayCities.com