It's definitely the season for bears in gay Atlanta as the annual Atlanta Bear Fest delivers a long holiday weekend of fun with pool parties, dance parties and more.
Fresh off Atlanta Bear Pride, there is no down season for these bears. This year's event, Survivor Bear: South Pacific, celebrates the various cubs, grizzlies and otters of the region, as well as their numerous followers. We caught up with recently with John Beck, who has served as the president of Southern Bears for six years, to get a sense of how the sexy weekend event has changed over the years, what’s in store for this weekend, and how to best enjoy the busy fur-filled four days of events.
Tell us about the beginning of Atlanta Bear Fest.
It’s put on by Southern Bears, which started 20 years ago. It used to be called Bear All. What we noticed, though, is that at events such as this locally and throughout the country, attendance was going down. We took a year off and came back as Atlanta Bear Fest. I think it meets the needs of the bear community better.
What will be taking place over the weekend?
On Friday, we’ll have a Meet and Greet Pizza Party at our host hotel and an open bar, then DJ Eric spinning on the deck at the Atlanta Eagle that night. On Saturday, we’ll have a pool party during the day with DJ Eric and then the dance party Bubba Bang at The Eagle. On Sunday, we’ll have a pool party with DJ Eric, a photo shoot at the pool, games there, awards for Best of Show, and then a shuttle to the Eagle. We wrap up on July 4th with a farewell cookout at the Eagle and then dancing.
What is the most popular event?
No doubt – the pool parties.
Are there any major differences in this year’s Bear Fest?
Not any dramatic differences. I think we have a formula that has worked well for us.
Can you talk briefly about beneficiaries?
As long as I have been around, we have donated to beneficiaries. Lost N Found Youth is a beneficiary. They are a group that we like and like what they do. We usually also work with a charity that saves animals too.
Tell us about your relationship with the Atlanta Eagle.
[Atlanta Eagle owner] Richard Ramey and [former Atlanta Eagle co-owner] Robby Kelly were the ones who actually started Southern Bears. We have always felt welcome at the Eagle, and appreciated what they have done for us, They have supported us and given us a place to be. They have never told us no when I have asked for something.
What will the Bubba Bang event be like?
Actor George Unda from “Where the Bears Are” will be there. We want to get as many people as we can there. This should draw people in.
What do you expect attendance to be like?
We normally have about 200 to 300 people, especially if the weather is nice for the pool parties. We are not a huge bear run but we don’t want to be. People do come from neighboring states, a lot of different places. It depends on the year. We’ve had people come from Germany.
Why is Atlanta Bear Fest important to the community?
It takes place over the Fourth of July. It raises money for charity. We are trying to be out there and more visible. We are friendly to anyone. You don’t have to be a bear or cub to come out.
Is bear more physical or a state of mind?
As far as I’m concerned, if you want to call yourself a bear, I don’t care. There are some people who are really serious about it. I can’t speak for the entire bear community, but I think the bears here are a friendly, tight-knit group. We like to get together and have a good time. We are very non-judgmental.
Has the bear community become more mainstream?
I think more people are aware of it. Many people 10 years ago didn’t know much about the bear community. There have been TV programs to bring it into the open. There was a time when it was a cliquish, closed-knit group, but I think we welcome anyone.
How can attendees maximize their fun this weekend?
We try to be very, very friendly. My advice is to walk up to someone and talk to them. Or just be part of the group. No one is going to yell at you or bite your head off. Be part of the festivities.
Top photo by Brian Hughes