A groundbreaking new music festival is coming to Houston next month.
Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival—the first of its kind in Space City—takes place at Stampede Houston on April 30 from 3 to 7 p.m. Organized by The Normal Anomaly Initiative (TNA), the event features a full lineup of Black entertainers as well as the launch of 14 local Black businesses.
“As a Black, queer-led nonprofit, we are committed to providing authentic and safe spaces for our community to not only celebrate, but also to contribute to the culture,” says TNA founder and executive director Ian L. Haddock, adding that his organization’s festival will “bring together communities, creatives, corporations, and changemakers from Houston and beyond to engage in conversations and connections that will further empower our Black-queer-plus ecosystem.”
Haddock expects around 2,000 people to attend the festival, which is half of Stampede’s maximum occupancy limit. TNA will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 safety guidelines by checking temperatures at the venue’s entrance and recommending that attendees get vaccinated before the event. The organization will also host a COVID-19 prevention town hall on the day before the event.
Kicked off by local drag performer Porsche Paris, the Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival will be hosted by several local and national entertainers, including Krystal Smith, a local woman of trans experience and entertainer; Khaos Talks, a vlogger from New York City; and Brandon Sanders, a promoter from Miami.
The event’s musical acts include local and regional entertainers such as ShaunWes, Tré Ward, Vockah Redu, and Sissy Nobby, and national entertainers such as SevnDeep, Durand Bernarr, and Dawn Richard from Danity Kane.
Ward, a pansexual performing and visual artist, is excited to perform at the festival—especially because as a child growing up in Houston, he never saw Black entertainers on stage unless they were background singers or dancers. “To now see an entire festival headlined by some of the most amazing LBGTQ Black artists in the country is my wildest dream, and to be a part of it is a dream come true,” he says. “Because of this festival, some young child will be able to look up at a stage or teleprompter and say, ‘I can do that, because they did.’”
The 14 businesses that will appear at the event are a part of TNA’s Project Liberate, a six-month program designed to help Black entrepreneurs learn how to develop and launch their businesses.
At the start of the festival, attendees will get to take part in different attractions on the first floor, including a mechanical bull, axe throwing, pool tables, and more. They can also interact with several immersive installations by Project Liberate participants.
For example, people can enter a barber shop owned by Jonathan Cole, who will cut hair and share how barber shops must become a safe space for all. Attendees can also take part in Kelle’ Martin and Jayla Sylvester’s installation, which features art being sold by local artists and a digital interactive element that allows individuals to view the art for sale online.
“The Black Queer AF Music Festival is important to me because representation matters. Each of us deserves space where we can be ourselves without consequence,” says Martin, a cisgender gay man who uses he/they pronouns. “I believe that the [festival] gives us a chance to change the narrative, have fun, and support what members of our community have to showcase to the collective.”
Haddock hopes the event kick-starts discussions that lead to real change, for example, how people can launch their business, navigate life during a pandemic, and learn what it is like to be Black and/or queer. He also hopes the festival inspires community, since the Black and queer communities have experienced tremendous loss.
In late February, a club promoter and gay man who Haddock thought of as a little brother died. About two weeks later, Haddock’s best friend and “work wife,” a Black lesbian woman, died in a car accident.
“We really need each other to find answers, love, compassion, and community, and this event is one of the ways we can begin to see that come to fruition,” Haddock says.
While the organization and the festival focus on the needs of Black queer folk, Haddock wanted to make sure all are included and welcomed at the event. “I’ve been waiting for a moment that was created by us and for us, but didn’t exclude anybody,” he adds.
TNA will give free tickets to the festival to anyone who joins TNA’s biweekly sex-ed classes. The event will provide HIV testing sites, PrEP referrals, Lyft codes to anyone who does not want to drive, and more. Due to grants and fundraisers, TNA will also be able to host the Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival in 2023 and 2024.
Haddock says the event is important because it is “a party with a purpose” and pays homage to Houston’s LGBTQ history.
“The first gay Pride week here in Houston in the ’70s was full of events. Some were celebratory, and some were the start of political movements. We endeavor to merge those two worlds—celebration and advancement,” Haddock concludes.
What: Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival
When: April 30, 3–7 p.m.
Where: Stampede Houston, 11925-B Eastex Fwy.
Tickets: normalanomaly.org/BQAF $25–$75 (use code “Presale” for $10 off)
Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival is sponsored by ViiV Healthcare accelerate Initiative, Gilead COMPASS Initiative, Impulse Group Houston, COVID-19 Prevention Network, Legacy Community Health, AIDS Foundation Houston, and OutSmart Magazine.