What Does it Take to Put on the Folsom Street Fair?

Working out the kinks, for kink.

The Folsom Street Fair starts early. Setting the alarm for 2 a.m. this Sunday morning, Edwin Morales, the president of Folsom Street Events,  will be giving directions into a headset by 3 a.m., and the rest of the board will arrive by 3:30 to make sure SoMa’s streets are ready.

“My tradition is I watch a version of an old video on YouTube of Tina Turner doing ‘Proud Mary,’ the first recording she did of it after she got divorced from Ike,” he says. “This is the last thing I do before I go to bed.”

The world’s biggest BDSM festival occupies the stretch of its titular thoroughfare between Eighth Street and the Central Freeway, plus substantial portions of Ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th streets in both directions, and various alleys in between. Hundreds of thousands of kinksters are expected to attend, and the fair’s footprint will be much the same as in years past.

The main change since 2016 will be the introduction of amusement-park-style serpentine gates, so people don’t have to dodge traffic as they queue to get in. Looking ahead, Morales’ biggest worry is that the city’s planned beautification along Folsom might significantly disrupt the 2019 fair by reconfiguring the layout of the street.

But there are more important matters to deal with this week. Starting Friday night, Morales and his team will be on-site to direct loading and unloading and do a walk-through with the fire department. On Saturday, he’ll stop by the San Francisco Armory with coffee and encouragement for the set-up crew at Magnitude, the official pre-Folsom party, and then he’ll be in bed early — 7:30 p.m. at the latest.

Once on-site, he’s there mostly to make sure nothing goes wrong. Up Your Alley — Folsom’s “dirty little brother,” held every July — was so well-run this year that Morales says he had relatively few fires to put out. Folsom’s gates open at 11 a.m., and people will pour in: straight and queer, exhibitionists and voyeurs, hardcore BDSM practitioners and titillated newbies. It’s hard to get an exact count, but with an average of one in 10 people donating to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence stationed at the gates, the best estimate is around 375,000 attendees, which is the approximately the population of Bakersfield or Iceland crammed into a few blocks of Western SoMa. If it’s within your means, you should absolutely fork over 10 bucks to a nun in whiteface, because Morales estimates that between $290-$350,000 will go back to 30 LGBT charities in exchange for the volunteers they provide.

That’s a small fraction of the weekend’s $180 million economic impact on the city, from hotel taxes to bar tabs. Kink is huge. But as it’s gotten increased mainstream exposure, the number of gawkers photographing people without asking permission has also gone up. And then there are the stroller people.

“This is why we love our partnership with the Sisters,” Morales says. “They’re sassy, but they’re lovable. They’re pretty direct, and they’ll let people know this might not be an appropriate or safe event for you to bring a kid with a stroller to.”

Apart from that, the main concern is people getting too NC-17 in upper-story windows that face the street. The fair works with SFPD to hold things to a reasonable amount of brazen indecency, and Morales has but one request for the horn-dogs.

“Please don’t cum out the window,” he says. “I’m pretty sure I got rained on a couple fairs ago.”

Compared with other fairs of its size — and considering many fair-goers are drunk, horny, and on drugs, in direct sunlight all afternoon — Folsom has remarkably few people who require medical attention.

“The fetish community, in general, is extremely responsible,” he says. “It’s pretty heartening to check in on the medical tent and see only three people in the beds — and it’s ’cause they’re drunk and tired from dancing all weekend.”

An army of broom-pushers deploys at exactly 6 p.m., and it’s usually around 10:30 p.m. when the last barricades come down. After a 20-hour day, Morales’ tradition is to go to Orphan Andy’s in the Castro for some chicken and waffles. He allows himself this late-night indulgence because last year, his Fitbit clocked 32 miles of walking — but fried food isn’t the only kind of junk he has to worry about.

“We’re really close to zero-waste,” Morales says. “I think we had 200 pounds of trash last year.”

Has he ever considered taking that tiny portion of landfill and making some fetish-themed outsider art, so that nothing goes to the dump at all?

“The stuff that ends up having to get thrown away is not the kind of thing I want to touch,” he says.

Folsom Street Fair, Sunday, Sept. 24, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m, on Folsom Street between Eighth and 13th streets. $10 suggested donation; folsomstreetevents.org.

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