The White Party in Palm Springs is traditionally one of the hottest weekends on the party calendar. This year, with unexpectedly grey skies, it was still raining men in the desert resort city. Story and photography by Marc Andrews.
Every year the Californian desert town of Palm Springs plays host to one of the biggest circuit events on the US gay calendar – the White Party. Held every April over three days, it’s always a sexy, sweaty, wet-speedo affair that is renown for not just making and breaking couples, but also for being a place where you can still party in style and without a care.
Somehow 2016’s White Party weather didn’t get that memo. Gloomy skies, cold gusts of wind and the occasional heavy downpour meant that most attendees had to seriously think twice about stripping down to their skimpy wear. Still, come rain, hail, or shady weather, the lycra lovers were out in force despite the elements, and despite the lack of a contingency plan by the organisers.
The host hotel was the Renaissance and when things were scheduled on-site, such as the must-be-seen-at-in-very-little Pool Party, there were secluded corners where those who wanted to hide from the chill could huddle and also cuddle. As it turned out, most attendees seemed to barely notice the weather, fortified by a conviction that they were going to have the time of their lives – and they had the party supplements to help them get there.
Over three days, the White Party is not so much a constant calendar of events as one long party that flows from one locale to the next with little chance of rest and recovery (or, heaven forbid, carbs) in between.
The official events kick off on a Friday afternoon in April with the Splash Pool Party, followed by the Commando-Military Ball in the evening. Arriving in town early the next day we immediately hit the T-Dance Pool Party on the Saturday, where DJ Tracy Young was spinning the wheels of steel. While the heated pool remained virtually empty, the hot tub was buzzing with activity, as were plenty of hotel rooms where private parties appeared to be the way to go to escape the crotch-shrinking chill factor. We were given our free White Party goodie bag containing condoms, energy pills, protein supplements and a bag of popcorn sponsored by PrEP – which many took to calling PrEPcorn.
If there’s one upshot of a rainy White Party weekend in Palm Springs it’s that you have much less chance of getting sunburnt while dancing as the heavens pour down. Actually, scratch that, an even bigger upshot are the constantly wet speedos all weekend long. Hurrah!
The atmosphere during the weekend is definitely more social than sexual. Although the White Party may have had a certain prim air about it, American gay parties are much more about people coming together than people cumming together. While there was a smattering of internationals who had flown in, most of the party faithful were Californians and other Americans who made up the bulk, and the beefcake, of the partygoers.
As one party finished, another, if not a myriad of others, would commence. The big White Party itself, with the perplexing title of “White Party Game Of Thrones”, was held at the Renaissance Hotel’s spacious Convention Centre. Headlining was Israeli DJ/remixer Offir Nissim who is the man (in lots of make-up) who managed to turn some of Madonna’s dire recent singles into sparkling club classics. As you would expect everything was in white. Thankfully, because the venue was indoors the inclement weather couldn’t spoil the heaving, heady and hedonistic party. It was, essentially, everything you have ever heard the White Party is, and would want it to be.
Surprisingly, especially for one so used to these things in Australia and Europe, there was no pat down by security to check for drugs or anything “suspicious”. In fact, it was almost alarming that security was only interested in seeing if you were bringing food and drink into the venue (not allowed, because the hotel wants to charge you inflated prices for these). We could have brought in guns, knives and a whole range of designer party enhancers and no one would have seemed to care. The hotel staff seemed well-versed in how to deal with a gay party crowd. They realised there was the scent of man-on-man, and often man-on-men, sex in the air and just made sure everyone was doing it behind closed toilet door stalls, in the middle of the dance floor, or in some discreet corner out of range of the CCTV cameras.
That said, most people who come to the White Party are here to giggle in a gaggle of gays. Big groups of friends gather here or rent houses nearby, and make it their big gay annual reunion. The beauty of having a house of your own, of course, is that you can have a wild private pool party out of eyeshot of any potential party poopers.
The next day the Sunset T-Dance was held just down the road from the Renaissance on a vacant lot that had been turned into a fairground from 4-10pm. There were rides (including two Ferris Wheels), food and beverage stands, and thousands of tired-but-still-going-for it party lovers. It all ended with a David Bowie tribute, which demonstrates the resonance the straight-ish British artist had with his American gay fans, plus a 20-minute big bang of flashy fireworks to fill the desert night sky full of gleaming stars.
It may not have the scale or impressive scope of Barcelona Circuit Festival’s Water Park. It may not have the music-to-die-for of Berlin’s Berghain, or the sexy Mediterranean vibe of Mykonos, but the White Party is exactly what it promises. It’s a friendly, fun and slightly frivolous event that (usually) can guarantee perfect skies and glorious sunset highs. While the weather this year didn’t quite come to the party, the men who did certainly weren’t going to let that stop them – and there were plenty of disco casualties by the time Monday came around, far too soon for many ticket event holders. See you there again next year… in white!
White Party Fast Facts!
>> Palm Springs was recently ranked #1 hippest mid-sized city in the US due to it being LGBT-friendly, Baby Boomer-friendly, foodie-friendly and millennial-friendly.
>> The White Party (WP), which bills itself as “The world’s premier gay dance festival”, started in 1990 and is considered America’s biggest circuit party. There are also White Parties in Miami, New York and Chicago.
>> A VIP ticket for the Palm Springs weekend cost $US480 plus tax. 30,000 gays and their friends this year paid for the privilege.
>> A deluxe list of A-class themed events included a Commando Military Ball (camo underwear), Xlsior Mykonos World Tour Pool Party (speedos), and Splash at the Wet And Wild Water Park (wet speedos), with kids and families banned for the day.
>> 15 DJs featured on the party playlist including headliner Offer Nissim and Aussie Dan Murphy. There was also a performance by sexy yoga master Francisco Ramos. Dance artist Erika Jayne, whose alter-ego is Erika Girardi from The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, was the star performer and crowned Queen of the White Party.
>> Israeli hottie Eliad Cohen hosted the closing party under his burgeoning Papa brand, which has branched into swimwear and more with the Papa logo and ubiquitous moustache design.
>> While there was plenty of ES, CA-RIO-CA and Addicted swimwear on display, it was a few blow-ins from Europe wearing the hottest gay label of the moment, Boxer Barcelona, which had heads, and more, turning.
>> Alongside the White Party was a three-day event actively promoting PrEP and offering treatment within 72 hours of exposure (bareback sex). One of the bars in town also offered, as an alternative, The Black Party, where you dressed in leather or less to impress.
More: Visit www.jeffreysanker.com