During last year’s two-day Made in America music festival, more than 80,000 people packed Ben Franklin Parkway to see international superstars Burna Boy and Bad Bunny; millions of dollars went to the largest festival in Philadelphia, as well as the Philadelphia economyas a result.
The first Sweet Juice Fest in Germantown last summer, on the other hand, was much more modest. The musical acts were all local, upcoming artists. Attendance was intimate and limited, and the setting was a porch. But the Sweet Juice organizers like it that way.
“We really want to bring community and engagement back to the music and arts scene,” said Mel Harris, Sweet Juice co-founder and CFO.
Sweet Juice is a gay-led artist collective that focuses on community engagement and involvement; this is their flagship event. The second annual Sweet Juice Fest will take place next Saturday, July 22 at Rigby Mansion at 523 Church Lane, from 1:30 pm to 9 pm due to lack of funds while tickets last.
This year’s festival will feature musical performances by artists such as Shamir, american trappist, Brittany Ann Tranbaugh, Samantha Riseand the youth music program rock to the future. Visual art is also an important piece of Sweet Juice; there will be an interactive art installation, art vendors and a “chill out” area to take a break from the music where festival goers can paint or draw. The festival will also feature food vendors and a drag performance by Eugene Riderher Betta.
“We want to make sure that everyone in Philadelphia has the ability to participate in music and art and have a creative outlet,” Harris said.
Music as a community practice
It was important to the organizers of Sweet Juice that their offerings go beyond the arts and other traditional festival add-ons. They want to build a community for people who love to perform and experience music and art, particularly BIPOC, queer and gender expansive people.
in sweet juices websiteexplains the group, “[we] I hope our events inspire casual music fans to get more deeply involved in their neighborhoods and strengthen the network of artists, individuals and organizations working to address inequities here in Philadelphia.”
“Any time queer art is made, it’s radical because it goes against the social norm.”
They work to highlight community organizations at their events and include cooperative elements like clothing and record swaps. Sweet Juice leaders said much of their community focus stems from the fact that they are all gay.
“There is a cultural and political aspect of queerness that has to do with collectivity, that has to do with sharing resources, that has to do with collective responsibility… that goes back to black trans women who have led the community. LGBTQIA. [plus] movements long before our time,” Harris explained.
Samantha Rise had to miss last year’s Sweet Juice Fest, and ‘bummed out’ wouldn’t exactly describe her feelings. “It was a huge point of devastation for me,” they said, admitting to having been “fanboys” of the collective and its festival since last year. But now that Rise is part of the lineup this time around, they’re thrilled to join.
“Music is a community practice. It is meant to be shared, it is meant to be collaboratively interpreted, created and appreciated.”
“I was so anxious and excited to say yes. I would have volunteered or introduced myself in some other way…but being an artist feels really special,” they said.
Rise is a singer-songwriter living in West Philly who describes his music as a mix of American sounds, Philly R&B, and a “cosmic country vibe.” But activism and community building are just as important to his work: They’ve worked with groups like TAKE ACTION Philadelphia and has directed programming for girl music groups in the past.
“Music is a community practice. It’s meant to be shared, it’s meant to be collaboratively interpreted, created and appreciated, just like all the spaces where we do it,” they said.
“I can’t think of a better space or venue than Sweet Juice.”
When the friends behind Sweet Juice were originally thinking about what their collective and festival would be called, they wanted to bring their identity to the fore.
“We were going to be Lethal Lesbians,” said Katie Hackett, co-founder and musical director of Sweet Juice. But unfortunately, the name has already been taken by an Israeli film festival. They decided on Sweet Juice because they envisioned a sensual and juicy environment for their events, where they squeezed more juice out of the power that untapped performers sometimes have. But even with the name change, they wanted to maintain a radical spirit.
“Any time queer art is made, it’s radical because it goes against the social norm,” Hackett said. “It feels great to work with people who have a similar mindset and similar goals and who [can] they all relate to each other.”
While Sweet Juice is excited to continue building on the success of last year’s festival, they are careful to keep those commitments to counteract the appearance of a traditional music festival. Growth often comes at a cost to ideals.
“What’s really important to us … is making sure that when people come into our space, they feel cared for,” Harris said. “It’s really hard when you start growing up not to quickly veer off into these capitalism-focused, money-generating events.”
As they look to the future, they are thinking about how to grow while remaining accessible and continue to lift up their underrepresented communities. Also, goats.
“We are always full of ideas. For a while, I thought, we have to bring goats to the festival so the kids can pet them,” Hackett said.
“Eventually we would love [that]. I would love to have goats. I love goats.