One Fruity Day

FruitFest Festival organizers Corey Gresen, Rico Sabatini, and Liz Tymus talk about Madison’s newest queer Pride celebration.

Four years ago Rico Sabatini and Corey Gresen, the co-owners of queer nightclub Plan B, decided to join forces with local event producer Liz Tymus to throw an outdoor Pride festival in the heart of the city’s near east side. The occasion has brought some serious queer flavor to the Madison festival scene and continues to expand its offerings year by year. Below, the trio explains the origin of the idea for Fruit Fest, and what the day has meant to them and the community as a whole.

Who are you (each) and where are you from/how long have you been in Madison?

Corey Gresen: I was born in Wausau, and then went to the DePaul School of Music in Chicago, followed by Los Angeles to work for Interscope Records. I came back to Madison in 2007.  Rico Sabatini: I have lived in Madison for almost my entire life. I didn’t fall far from the tree. Liz Tymus: I’m from Racine County, and came to Madison in 2000 for undergrad. Upon graduating from UW in 2005, I made one attempt to leave, moving to the Czech Republic to accept a full-time position with Artel Glass. After three months of living as an expatriate, I found my way home to Madison and have not left since.

When and how did the idea for Fruit Fest initially form? What was the motivation to see it happen?

Corey: My motivation to see it happen came from hailing from Chicago and LA where the Pride weekends are huge, and I was surprised to not see a bigger LGBT celebration in Madison, especially since there is such a huge queer presence here. Rico: Liz, Corey, and I were sitting around talking over a few beers after a long night (the same way the idea of Plan B came about), about the idea of having some sort of rooftop or parking-lot party. Liz wanted to do an iQ (indieQueer) type event, and it morphed into a bigger idea that continues to bear more fruit every year. Liz: I’ve always had an interest in event production, specifically queer music and club life. I quickly took to Rico and Corey, throwing out over-the-top party ideas. Inspired by the rooftop idea, Rico, Corey, and I seemed to have simultaneously decided on a summer festival to be the joint efforts of Plan B and iQ and the Williamson Street neighborhood. The name “Fruit Fest” took over as we planned for our first year.

How do you think the event supports/serves the LGBTQ community in Madison?

Corey: I think it’s helped many LGBTQ members of southern Wisconsin celebrate their diversity; people who don’t usually get to go to other celebrations around Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. Rico: It has filled a void in the Madison LGBTQ community that was lacking a traditional, well-put-together Pride festival. Madison Pride has been hit or miss from year to year, and we wanted to create a free festival, in June, that would allow people to display their pride in the heart of the Willy Street neighborhood. Liz: The first year of Fruit Fest was greatly inspired by reading a news bulletin that the organization of Capitol Pride had encountered a great financial setback. We wanted to create a sustainable festival, reliant on sponsors and not attendants to carry the financial burden. This way we can keep it FREE to the public. Fruit Fest is a place to celebrate our queer community. Simple as that. 

How has the event made a difference in your life and/or the lives of people you know?

Corey: It has become a part of Madison’s queer community. Many have started to look forward to the event each year. My father, who lives in Wausau and is a gay man, looks forward to Fruit Fest all year long. He has told me that it’s his only celebration of who he truly is, and that he super enjoys the community of queer people he meets at Fruit Fest each year. Rico: When I first started planning Fruit Fest, I had no idea it was going to be as challenging as it was, so it forced my disheveled self to get a lot more organized. I am proud of what Fruit Fest has come to embrace as not LGBT-specific, but a festival that embraces our allies and the families and neighborhood we live in. A man came up to me last year who was disabled and in a wheelchair. He said he has been out for 35 years and lives on Jenifer St. He has not been able to come to a festival to celebrate due to his disability, and Fruit Fest changed that. To me that made the entire work to make Fruit Fest happen worth every drop of sweat. Liz: I have a five-year-old daughter who spends the majority of the festival day in the kiddie pools or watching the drag queens strut their stuff. For her, she has never not had this day where her moms and her chosen aunties and uncles come together to celebrate our community.

Where can people go to find out more about this year’s event, either just to attend or to participate/support/volunteer in some way?

Facebook has the most current and up-to-date information. Also www.fruitfestmadison.org. There, people can sign up to volunteer and ask us questions about the day.