Bear Pride ready to scruff up gay Atlanta

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When Heretic's Alan Collins and Bearracuda's Matt Mikesell envisioned a weekend event bringing together bears from all over, they had no idea what to expect last year. But now Atlanta Bear Pride is becoming a popular tradition that brings out the fur and fun.

The weekend – three days, seven parities and six venues – is a celebration of hairy, sexy men and their followers that draws a big crowd from across the country. And a portion of the weekend – Ready 4 Hope's BearBQ on Saturday – is a party with a purpose that helps raise funds for HIV efforts.

“We have guys coming from all around, even the West Coast. It’s amazing how it has exploded over the last year,” says Collins, the Heretic general manager who co-founded Atlanta Bear Pride with Mikesell.

We dished with Collins about Atlanta Bear Pride, what to expect and how fans like you can make the most of the bearlicious weekend.

How did you and Matt start working together? 

Matt and I started working together almost six years ago when he brought his Bearracuda party to Heretic for the first time. He and I quickly formed a strong professional and personal relationship. Matt, hands down, has the biggest bear party brand in the world hosting events in more than 50 cities and 15 countries. At the end of 2014 when we were both crazy busy planning the first Annual Bearracuda/Heretic Cruse and running our businesses, we started talking about doing something else together. That's when Atlanta Bear Pride was born – 2015 was the first year.  We really didn't have huge expectations but boy, did this city surprise us. It was incredible. The momentum over the last 12 months has been unprecedented. Atlanta Bear Pride fever is in full force.

Can you give us a rundown of the events? 

The Atlanta Bear Pride Kickoff Party is Bearracuda Atlanta on Friday night at Heretic with DJ Louis Lennon. That is followed by an after hours party at Xion with DJ Mike Pope. Saturday afternoon is the Ready 4 Hope BearBQ & Beer Bust at the Heretic and that night is Bear Invasion Atlanta with DJ Sean Mac and DJ Tony Ruggiero at Jungle. The after hours party is again at Xion, with Dee Martello, aka Twisted Dee, spinning. And then on Sunday there’s a Bear Bruch at Argosy East, a Beef Bar at Mary’s that afternoon and then our closing night party with DJ Marc J. Cubs at the Atlanta Eagle. Manifest4u will also be open all weekend with discounts.

Tell us more about the Ready 4 Hope BearBQ.

Mike Woodside and his group of volunteers are amazing. They have done so much and raised so much for local HIV charities in just a few short years. Matt and I are honored to have such a great event as part of Atlanta Bear Pride. It is one of the most popular events of the weekend.

What makes the Atlanta Bear Pride event special?

Whether it's Bearracuda, Bear Invasion, BearBQ, or any of the other events and venues, you can expect to feel welcome no matter who you are, how you identify, what you're into and what your body type is. It's a weekend filled with incredible people from all parts of the community, looking to have a great time. Check your attitude at the door, open yourself up and see how the bear community does it.

Tell us about the local bear community.

I have been at the Heretic since 1994 and the bear community has always been our core clientele.  It wasn’t called the bear community back then; it was the Leather and Levi guys. We had to morph into what is called the bear community now. The bear community is loyal. They arrive early, they drink heavily, they stay late. The bear community doesn’t give a shit what you look like. They don’t give a shit what you are wearing as long as you are there to have a good time. They are much friendlier than other portions of the community. I don’t mean that in any kind of derogatory way, but I feel the community is more welcoming.

Why is Bear Pride important to LGBT Atlanta?

When we were planning this, we realized that what had happened in the night life was that people did not have to go to the gay bars to meet people like themselves. What we had to deal with is that everything now has to be a special event and that raises the expectations of our customers. Eventually we were looking to create something in Atlanta. With Matt doing Bearracuda, it made sense to do a bear pride. People joined together to celebrate and they loved it. There are a lot of people who don’t identify as a bear that are right there on the dance floor with them. It’s a beautiful thing.

Is bear more physical or a state of mind?

My initial answer is that it would be physical, but there are so many different aspects of it.  And it really depends on what city you are from. In Atlanta, we have our circuit bears and we have our chubs – all different aspects. But it is more integrated here. If you want to call yourself a bear, that is fine. I would be considered a bear, but I don’t know what kind I am. There are so many classifications! I consider anyone with a mustache, a beard, or chest hair, anyone who might be a bigger guy, a bear.

What can people do to maximize their fun this weekend?

Get there early! Each event will be at capacity and a there will be a line.

Atlanta Bear Pride is Friday, April 22 through Sunday, April 24. Check the Facebook invitation, the event website and our Gay Agenda for all of the details and a full schedule.


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