The MattUnleashed Report
by Matt Kalkhoff

Many of the reports I've read so far on CPI ( about Cherry 7 have focused on the remarkable spirit of camaraderie and overall friendliness so prevalent in Washington, DC this past weekend. I couldn't agree more. Although I really enjoyed certain aspects of each of the individual parties on different levels, it is the many wonderful new people I met and great friends I spent time with that really made the weekend so memorable. Although I lived in DC for 2 1/2 years before moving to New York and helped produce several previous Cherry events in varying capacities, I can't recall ever feeling more "at home" than I did this past weekend.

I left work early on Friday to meet up with my "blind date"/travel partner, Phillip - a friend of a friend named Scott(y) who lives in Los Angeles (yes, it's rather convoluted, I know!). Anyway, Phillip is in New York temporarily taking care of a sick friend, so Scott(y) hooked us up so neither of us would have to travel alone. As anticipated, we both hit it off very well and had a great time on the trip down to DC (he's as crazy as me, if not more so!).

Upon our arrival, we stopped by the welcome center at the Rouge Hotel to pick up our passes and then made our way to our respective hosts' apartments to settle in. It was a little odd for me at first staying in my old apartment in Dupont Circle - my friend Martin moved in when I left for New York - exactly one year ago to the day! But it worked out perfectly as Martin ended up staying at the host hotel so I had the place all to myself for the weekend. I later met up with Anthony and Tom from New York to attend a pre-party hosted by Patrick & Joe, two of the Cherry board members, and then we all made our way to Club K29. Several people have commented negatively on certain aspects of the club, but I didn't really notice so much since I didn't spend much time dancing (Joe Gauthreaux's music sounded great, but I was really in more of a social mood that night and wanted to conserve my energy for the 4-5 other parties to follow). I definitely thought the energy level was much higher than any Friday night welcome party I had attended in the past, though, and it looked to me like most everyone was having a pretty damn good time.

Moody's birthday party on Saturday (theme: Moodonna) was just over the top. Touched for the very first time…indeed! Cherry may coincide with my birthday as well, but Moody's Metropolis Fund benefit at Club Five (or whatever the heck that club's calling itself these days) epitomizes the ultimate birthday celebration and I was honored to take part in the festivities. Rick Mitchell spun his customary high-energy concoction of vocal-heavy selections vigorously mixed in his own unique style for a highly diverse and enthusiastic crowd. The shows were all fun and campy with the exception of Power who never ceases to amaze me with the most brilliant and visually stunning performance art imaginable.

After a little downtime back at the apartment, I made my way over to the Old Post Office Pavilion before the main event started to see if the guys needed any help with set-up and to avoid what could possibly have been a nightmare entry (extra security, threat of rain, etc.). This also gave me a chance to chat with Roland Belmares and his boyfriend Ken, Ross Berger, and a few of the Cherry crew members before all the craziness began. The party got off to a rather slow start (the music didn't start until about 10:00 - about 20-30 minutes after guests started entering the venue - and the dance floor didn't fill up until after 11:00), but once the party kicked into high gear, it never let up. We found a great vantage point on one of the balconies to watch Circuit Mom's show, but as others have pointed out, something just wasn't right with the show. The elaborate concept was interesting, but there appeared to be too many unavoidable factors working against the performers, not the least of which was the sound level at the top of the staircase where the performance took place - the music was barely audible!

Down of the dance floor, however, the sound was fine and my friends and I never once had trouble finding room to dance. Sure, it got really crowded at times, and making our way through the crowds and around the perimeter presented its own challenges, but I have yet to attend any major circuit party where that is not the case. As beautiful and dramatic as the venue is, I actually hope that this really is the last year they hold the main event at the Old Post Office Pavilion. It's just too damn bright in there (the mgmt continues to refuse to turn off the hall lights on the upper levels) and security really was unnecessarily excessive this year (damn federal buildings!). The other show by Rainbow Warriors was captivating, but as others have pointed out, seemed a little too short. Overall, I had a lot of fun and enjoyed most of Roland's set, but again, it was the friends I was with and the many new people I met (including countless CPI members) that provided most of the fun.

Luckily I brought an umbrella to the event because when I left at 3:30 to head over to after-hours, it was raining. I finally ran into Phillip and his friends outside who were glad to take refuge under my umbrella (at least those who could fit). We had to wait a little while to enter the club as the after-hours party wasn't scheduled to start until 4am. But Platinum was in full swing by the time we made it inside (we were still dry, unlike most people, but that wouldn't last for long!). A few people have also commented about the A/C being turned off - well, they're right! Not only did the same thing happen last year, but when the club was renovated a few years ago and the name changed to Platinum, I read a story in one of the local magazines wherein the owner was quoted as saying he had installed a state-of-the-art air conditioning system that would keep the entire club cool regardless of the number of people inside. I even experienced its capability myself during one of their regular Saturday night parties. It really is outrageous at best and criminal at worst that they would shut it off during our one gay event held there each year. That being said, it was perhaps one of the best sets I've ever heard Susan Morabito play and the crowd was just incredibly friendly and frisky! I lasted until about 7am before heading home for some much needed sleep.

I actually made it up on time on Sunday to catch the boat cruise on the Potomac with DJ Ra. The weather, which had been pretty crappy for the past 15 hours or so, finally let up and we were all able to enjoy clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s - just perfect for our three-hour cruise. A special surprise was an appearance by Kevin Aviance who not only took command of the carpeted staircase and dance floor (in heels and a smart sequined pant-suit, no less) with a few numbers, but who also served up a rather witty monologue that worked beautifully in the intimate setting. It was perhaps the best performance of Kevin's I've seen to date. Ra did the best he could with the sub-par sound system, but I spent most of my time out on the ship's decks enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery (both on board and on shore). It was also the first opportunity I got to catch up with Martin who was so incredibly busy all weekend overseeing each of the events.

After a few more hours of sleep, I made my way down to Nation for the closing party with Abel. We had planned to stop in at the stripper bar Wet beforehand, but were disappointed to find that it was closed. So we went directly to Nation around midnight and immediately hit the dance floor. Abel was in top form all night and my friends and I were thrilled that he opted to play on the circuit end of the spectrum (i.e., lots of high-energy vocals) as opposed to the tribal end (i.e., incessant non-vocal tracks that are often difficult to distinguish from one another). The main show was simply breathtaking - a written description couldn't possibly do it justice. Let's just say it was very trippy, very bizarre (in a good way), and extremely well executed. The white fabric that was draped over the entire dance floor as the performance troupe made its way to the main stage from the rear of the club was a particularly nice touch, and the mélange of musical snippets that culminated with Madonna's "Impressive Instant" was absolutely flawless. The abrupt 6am closing was unfortunate (we were all under the impression that the party would last until at least 8am), but we still all left with very big smiles on our faces.

A brief stopover at Paul Richards' festive after-hours house party and lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Lauriol Plaza, concluded the weekend's festivities before we made the journey back to New York. Cherry is one of the few all-volunteer circuit weekends left wherein 100% of the proceeds benefit the gay and lesbian community, so it was especially gratifying to witness such immense success. It's also good to see that the committee was able to produce such amazing events even without my assistance! I can't wait to see what the boys have in store for us at Cherry 8 next year!

© 2002 Matt Kalkhoff