JoJo Siwa brings good ‘Karma’ to joyous crowd at 23rd Chicago Pride Fest

When asked to characterize her performance at Chicago Pride Fest on Saturday, local drag queen Ebonii Michaels used the following description: “energy, combustion and spreading love.”

“And sexiness, of course,” she added.

That description could easily apply to the overall event, which takes place at Halsted and Addison in Lake View, and continues Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Now in its 23rd year, the fest typically attracts tens of thousands of people, and many packed the area on Saturday afternoon for performances on three stages — especially for headliner JoJo Siwa. (Natasha Bedingfield, the other main act, was scheduled to perform Saturday night.)

Attendees, many dressed in rainbow colors and other bright attire, brought warm and friendly vibes to the fest, which featured about 150 food and merchandise vendors. They snacked on tacos, empanadas, Asian cuisine and Italian beef. Vendors sold clothing, tasteful erotica art, “kinky earrings” and decorative tumblers.

Drag queen Mimi Marks performs during Pride Fest along Halsted Street in Northalsted, Saturday, June 22, 2024.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Pride Fest
Chicago Pride Fest

When: Continues on June 23

Where: On Halsted from Addison to Grace

Tickets: $15 suggested donation


But it wasn’t just about having a good time, said Mark Liberson, who chairs the festival committee.

“It’s an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate, and also to continue to push towards securing rights for people who in our community are still being marginalized and not being welcomed into society fully as they deserve to be,” he told the Sun-Times.

Liberson also wants people to take note of the more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills being considered in state legislatures in the United States, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. He also pointed to the 17 transgender and gender-expansive people violently killed in 2024, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Providing a safe space for young people was also a priority for the fest, which included a Teen Pride Space. Olivia Thiel, 17, who lives in the South Loop, performed there Saturday.

“During non-Pride season, you can’t really get into many gay spaces because of age,” she said. “So, I think it’s really important that teen drag queens can show off their drag to a larger audience because we’re just stuck doing it in our bedrooms.”

Vendors such as Skokie-based The Twinkling Talisman also worked to create a welcoming space.

“I try to be as inclusive as possible,” said owner Tiffany Price, who makes bracelets representing the colors of many LGBTQ+ flags. “As a queer woman of color, representation is everything, and I want everybody to feel as beautiful and as happy as they possibly can because this world can be an ugly place.”

Bracelets that represent different Pride flags are for sale at the Twinkling Talisman booth. Owner Tiffany Price says: “As a queer woman of color, representation is everything, and I want everybody to feel as beautiful and as happy as they possibly can because this world can be an ugly place.”

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Vero Mcculloh, 27, of Buffalo Grove ventured to the event in search of such an environment.

“It’s been a super-transformative year for me, and I feel like I have buckled down a lot in embracing my identity,” said Mcculloh, who uses they/them pronouns. “I feel really drawn to being around people like me, [but] who are all shapes, sizes, colors, generations, everything. That is not how it is in the suburbs.”

Mcculloh was also there to see Siwa perform her song “Karma.”

“It’s all over the internet, transcending over people’s algorithms,” Mcculloh said. “It doesn’t matter who’s watching what. You’re going to see it or someone imitating it.”

Siwa, 21, did perform “Karma,” and the crowd went wild when she did her signature dance, a mainstay on TikTok. During the high-energy show, the “Dancing With the Stars” and “Dance Moms” alum took swigs from a bottle of Fireball and poked fun at some of the controversy surrounding her, including her previous comments about wanting to start a new “gay pop” genre, and accusations that she stole songs.

After her performance, Siwa told the Sun-Times that she uses humor to deal with the criticism.

“I know my deep morals and deep values,” she said. “My position on this earth is to entertain the world, and with that comes some messy territory, and that’s OK.”

Having performed at several Pride events throughout the U.S., Siwa said Chicago was her favorite so far.

“This one really did stand out,” she said. “It was so entertaining for me onstage. I saw more posters dedicated to me and stuff for me.”

Drag queen Joan Jullian performs during Pride Fest along Halsted Street Lake View on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The crowd also responded to the drag performers, including Michaels, who sang to songs from Beyoncé and Dua Lipa. Host Mz Ruff N Stuff — who was celebrating her 60th birthday— led crowd singalongs to songs by Miley Cyrus and Sabrina Carpenter with fellow queen Mimi Marks.

A standout performer was Joan Jullian, who dazzled in a sheer bejeweled dress. Attendees audibly gasped at her beauty.

Overall, the drag showcase was as diverse as the crowd, which Michaels said was a highlight of Chicago Pride Fest, along with the unity around a common purpose.

It’s a safe space for all walks of life,” she said.

The audience at a drag show cheers. Pride Fest Chicago is in its 23rd year.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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