Magnitude Shakes Up San Francisco for 20 Years
Magnitude, the official Saturday night dance party Folsom Street Fair, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. From its ambitious beginnings, Magnitude set out to be a major San Francisco event. In the past two decades, the party has expanded to reach a diverse audience, provided a space for sensual self-expression and evolved to serve the interests of an international community. The following is the first of three parts to explore the history and evolution of the event.
The Land of the Living
More than 15 years into the AIDS epidemic, San Francisco, like many urban cities with large gay populations, was beginning experience an important turning point. In 1997, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first substantial decline in AIDS related deaths in the country. While far from a cure, HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy) helped to slow the progression of HIV to AIDS. The LGBTQ community started to transition from grief to hope.
“Gay men needed an escape,” said Jito Garcia in an October 2002 interview with San Francisco Examiner. Garcia created Magnitude in 1997 because “I wanted to bring the gay scene back to life. I wanted to attract people from all over the world and bring the circuit to San Francisco.” The circuit refers to a series of dance parties in communities such as Fire Island, Manhattan, Miami, Montreal, and New Orleans. He was confident that San Francisco would benefit, not only dollar-wise but morale-wise, from its own large-scale circuit event.
Garcia, a native of Brazil, moved to the Bay Area in 1983 after living in Miami for three years. He had attended several large gay dance events in other parts of the country and produced some small dance parties in San Francisco. In 1996 he produced Time, a series of Sunday late afternoon tea dances, at 715 Harrison Street, also known as Dreamland. He often collaborated with Edward McCarroll, under the banner MC Productions, also known as GM Productions. For Pride weekend 1997, Garcia partnered with Ben Parsley and Don Spradlin to produce Union, his first attempt at a Saturday night event.
Only in San Francisco
Among his community service endeavors, Garcia was also an active member of the non-profit working group that produced the Real Bad Party. Garcia was instrumental in identifying new talent and bringing DJs to Real Bad to make their San Francisco debut. In 1996, Real Bad attempted to transition from a post-Folsom Street Fair Sunday tea dance to a Saturday night grand scale event. After the volunteer-driven group faced many challenges, they opted to return as a Sunday evening party. Garcia jumped at the opportunity produce a Saturday night event for Folsom weekend. MC Productions and Jito Presents are both credited on the first Magnitude promotional materials, although McCarroll had already stepped away from the party business.
For Magnitude, Garcia recruited his friend Franco Beneduce to help bring the vision to life. The two had already collaborated on AfterShock, the after-hours party which debuted following HellBall, a Halloween-themed party, in 1996. Unlike the Sunday parties where they could ‘flip a switch” in an established nightclub with existing infrastructure and trained staff, producing a Saturday night event in a large venue required a big build out of staging, lights and sound system.
“Folsom gives people the ultimate freedom of sexual self-expression,” Beneduce said in a 2008 interview with NoiZe magazine. “That is why Magnitude could only happen in San Francisco.” Even the event name was distinct—an iconic reference to the earthquake-prone region known for rebuilding and revitalizing after tragedy.
A Place to Modernize the Miracle Mile
While Folsom Street Fair attracted large crowds from around the world, there was not a Saturday night dance party to accommodate the niche market of beautiful muscle men that frequented the national dance circuit parties. For many of these men, Folsom represented the opportunity to dress up in leather and live out a Tom of Finland fantasy. But first, they would need a venue that could accommodate 2000 or more people, similar to events in other cities.
“My first memory of Magnitude was doing a walk through at The Concourse,” recalls William Brown, a lighting and production professional, who was brought on to help create the event. The Concourse was 125,000-square-foot exhibition center located at 620 Seventh Street and Brannan, across from the Gift Center. The Concourse was razed in 2015 to make way for a new 820-unit apartment complex.
The warehouse-style space was like a blank canvas ready for an artist. “I was amazed at the beauty within the space and it gave me the freedom to not only create within a box shell, but to also capture the raw essence of a ‘NYC Meat Packing District’ warehouse vibe,” Brown continued.
It was also an opportunity to modernize the legendary “Miracle Mile” reputation from Folsom’s pre-AIDS heyday of lively bars and bathhouses. The event would need the right soundtrack to usher in the new era.
The San Francisco Sound
Garcia enlisted DJ Neil Lewis and DJ Phil B to create an experience to capture the “San Francisco sound.” Garcia had a clear vision of the how the musical would take attendees on journey throughout the eight- hour event from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“It was a sound that rocked your body while massaging your mind—a total driving, progressive experience that was unparalleled anywhere,” recalls Leif Waters, a former Folsom Street Events board member and former chair of the Real Bad Party.
Lewis was known for spinning at Pleasuredome, a popular Sunday night party on King Street. It was located in a building in the South of Market Area across from what is now AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Phil B, also known as Phillip Bhullar, gained a dedicated fan base having spun at Aftershock and ready to play for a larger audience.
“You can see hot men lots of places, and in SF it’s not a struggle to find them clad in chaps and rearing for action. But the chance to combine that with magical music that leaves you dripping in sweat is a rare thing and Magnitude deserves to be the place where that happens,” says Waters.
Marketing the Men of Magnitude
With the venue and music secured, the team developed a marketing strategy. Using the tagline “The Black Party,” the marketing campaign referenced the infamous New York event, but with a San Francisco edge that only Folsom weekend could offer.
While many promotional materials for similar events used stock images, usually from popular adult entertainment companies, Garcia commissioned photo shoots with unknown muscle men that were not professional models. The first ‘Magnitude Man’ sported trimmed chest hair, a hint of a goatee and no visible tattoos. That groomed look—a mix of guy next door and gym buddy—was popular among national circuit regulars. Clad in a metal cod piece, metal studded armbands, motorcycle boots and a leather biker cap with metallic trim that hid his eyes, the black and white image represented the type of guys you would actually meet at the party. The fantasy was attainable.
“I had just moved to San Francisco from Boston were I had recently lost my partner to AIDS-related illness,” recalls Sam Peterson of posing for the first Magnitude. “Jito was one of the first people I met in SF as I was starting anew.” Peterson brought some of his own leather gear to the shoot and “attempted to look as sexy as possible,” he jokes. Presenting a new face was a key part of creating the new brand.
The target demographic included gym-toned men in their mid-30’s and older, different from the “club kids” one might see out on a regular weekend at the bars. General admission was $25 in advance or $30 at the door, slightly higher than the usual $5 to 10 cover for local night clubs.
At the time, circuit parties were often benefits for local AIDS-related groups. Garcia had begun dating David Lueck, an event planner at The NAMES Project, the organization in charge of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Advertising and printed collateral included reference to “A Benefit for The NAMES Project.” Since Lueck was working full-time for the nonprofit, he only had a limited role in the first Magnitude production.
Garcia had already established a successful real estate practice and collected contact information of people from all over the country that served as a mailing list for his events. It was also the same list used in the early days of the Real Bad Party. Garcia solicited friends to serve on a VIP host committee that would help with word of mouth marketing. With hosts investing $100 each, Garcia had the seed money to help cover early production costs such as security deposits and marketing promotions.
An Epic Experience
San Francisco has a way of delivering a more diverse and romantic vibe into its dance events simply because of where it is and the type of attendees it attracts.
“From the beginning, Magnitude has held a special place in my heart for many reasons,” said Waters. In part, because “the people who put it together—who take great pride in what they were doing—and the experience being built for both locals and fresh meat flooding into town to let loose. This was especially true in the beginning when the space was generally epic and the men equally so.”
The event décor included yards of black heavy mesh fabric typically used on the exterior of buildings during construction or painting. “We had them suspended from the ceilings,” said Brown. Six 35mm projectors shined images inspired by Tom of Finland, but using men from the local community. At the time, it was “very raw and edgy.”
“The projected black mesh look created balance to dance, play and lounge without feeling closed off. Regardless where you looked in the room, you were able to gaze upon delightful man candy,” explains Brown. “We also used netting in layers to capture a 3-D effect, so that with the use of six full color lasers it created many light patterns bouncing off the balloons, trussing and the mesh.” With a massive sound system, that at that time was state of the art, it all sounded and looked amazing.
The event was an immediate hit for those attended. However, ticket sales fell below expectations and the did not make enough money to contribute the nonprofit. Garcia would later make good on that promise and donated to The NAMES Project by tapping into funds made from his real estate business.
Garcia also worked with a music production group to produce a two-set CD of the night’s soundtrack and distribute it on the underground market to circuit regulars. “There were supposed to be only 1000 printed,” says Lueck. They later learned there were 10,000 copies. The combination of the Magnitude Man image on the CD cover and the distinct San Francisco sound reached more people than the actual event. Listen to the Music of Magnitude: Part 1 - Part 2
A Destination Weekend
When The NAMES Project restructured in 1998, Lueck was laid off and joined MC Productions full time. While Beneduce continued his role leading onsite production, Lueck tackled the business side. Garcia also launched a new real estate business, Monarch Realty on Market Street, and Beneduce served as its office manager. “There was a lot of interweaving” of the two businesses, recalls Lueck. The events business grew with the ongoing Time tea dances, AfterShock and Black Christmas Party.
Magnitude, the event and the CD, had received positive buzz among circuit e-lists and chat rooms, a precursor to today’s social media. Digital marketing and the internet were still in their infancy, but the website proved to be a great way to reach a national market and build the mailing list. Lueck focused on expanding the host committee, increasing sponsorships, and establishing promotional partnerships with other individuals and organizations producing circuit events. The Host Committee helped to drive ticket sales as well as display names that served as an endorsement from people across the country. With large parties that attracted upwards of 2500 attendees, access to the VIP lounge was a premium.
For Folsom 1998, Jito Presents added Link, a Friday night uniform-themed kickoff party, along with Magnitude and AfterShock to create a weekend pass and market the events as a destination. Garcia and Lueck also received approval from SMMILE (now known as Folsom Street Events) for Magnitude to be listed as “The Official Black Party of the Folsom Street Fair.” In exchange, Garcia agreed to make a cash donation to SMMILE to support their community grants program. But he opted to drop any mention of a community benefit on marketing materials to avoid any appearance that Magnitude was a nonprofit event.
Garcia selected Buc to lead the music journey. Buc had national fan base that could attract the important east coast party goers from New York, Washington, DC, and Miami. Also known as Jimmy Buccalo, he preferred not to have DJ before his name because he considered himself just a regular guy to loved music.
That second year Magnitude moved to The Galleria, part of the San Francisco Design Center, which had previously hosted large scale gay events for Halloween and Pride. In addition to the stage and dance floor on the main level, the space included three levels of balconies overlooking the main floor with enough room for socializing with longtime friends or cruising new ones. The infamous glass elevators allowed attendees to stay connected to action, or at least have a view of it.
All the hard work paid off. “Wow, look at all the people having a great time,” recalls Lueck as he looked over the balcony at the packed dance floor. That night the producers knew they created something special that would become part of the national circuit calendar.
Sex, Drugs and Growing Pains
In the years that followed, Magnitude benefited from growing popularity of circuit events. With the success also came challenges.
In 1999, Neil Lewis returned as DJ at The Galleria. In addition to Link and AfterShock, Real Bad was added to the weekend pass. Ticket sales continued to grow and attracted a more international guests from Germany, The Netherlands, and other parts of Europe. In the U.S., party producers had to deal with the increased use of recreational drugs and the medical emergencies they sometimes required.
Online forums such as Party Safe and Electric Dreams provided a place for candid non-judgmental discussions to address the proliferation of recreational drug use, and in some cases drug abuse, at circuit party and rave dances. An informal meeting of party producers was held in conjunction with The Winter Music Festival to discuss the challenges and share solutions.
“We were on the front end of making sure we had nurses on staff,” says Lueck. There was balancing act to be sex-positive event and be a responsible production company. “A promoter can only control so much,” Garcia told the San Francisco Examiner interview. “We search everyone. If we catch you with drugs, you don’t get in. If someone’s caught inside doing drugs, they’re asked to leave.”
The event returned to The Concourse in 2000, while Neil Lewis continued as DJ. Tony Mills, International Mister Leather 1998, became the new Magnitude Man. Mills was a popular Colt model, earned an M.D. in 1986 and specialized in HIV. He was older than the young models that appeared on circuit promotions at the time. It marked evolution of the Magnitude Man and the event.
Land of the Free. Home of the Brave.
In 2001 the event returned to The Galleria. Susan Morabito of New York took the helm of the sound and Allan Parkinson of Sydney designed the lights. For the first time, marketing materials featured three Magnitude Men to help promote Link and AfterShock. The image used for the main Magnitude promotions featured one guy biting the nipple of another. As with the first Magnitude poster, the image portrayed what you might see, or even experience, at the event. It was a daring departure from the stand and pose photos of other circuit parties. A few LGBT publications and websites declined to run the image concerned that their non-circuit readers might find it offensive so alternate photos were sometimes used.
Just weeks before the event, the tragic events September 11 rocked the world. Garcia and the team discussed whether or not to cancel the party as air travel was temporarily suspended. The national and international markets were critical the event’s success. And with the country still grieving, even the locals might stay away.
As major sporting events and other large scale gatherings resumed, Magnitude planning continued. That night guests were greeted with simple statement that acknowledged the tragedy as vertical banners spanning two floors flanked each side of the Galleria stage. Big white letters on a black background simply read, “Land of the Free” on stage left and “Home of the Brave” on stage right. The patriotic sentiment took on a dual meaning for Folsom weekend known for its freedom of expression.
In 2002, DJ Neil Lewis and Phil B returned to The Galleria, along with Alan Parkinson and William Brown. By its sixth year, the event was the hottest Saturday night ticket of the Folsom weekend.
At this time, the Bay Area was experiencing a housing boom driven, in part, by the dot-com industry. Garcia decided to retire from events to focus on his real estate business. He approached Folsom Street Events to take over the event and Magnitude entered a new era.
Better Together: FSE and Magnitude Join Forces
After six years at the helm of Magnitude, founder Jito Garcia decided to pursue other professional interests. Billy Worthen, who joined the Folsom Street Events (“FSE”) board in 2001, took the lead to ensure a smooth transition from a privately-owned, for-profit dance event to the non-profit organization. There were some FSE leaders who questioned the feasibility of taking on a circuit party which would continue to list Garcia as a consulting producer.
“There are a lot of Pride organizations that just do their Pride celebration and nothing else. So I think that what people were concerned about is that we were taking on a different animal. Throwing parties is very different than throwing a street fair,” said FSE Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis.
A Time for Transition
In 2003, marketing materials retuned to promoting that a portion of the proceeds directly benefit FSE community grants program. Reference to The Black Party was replaced with the tagline “Underground” along with the words fetish, fun and frolic, which were more aligned with the FSE brand. DJ Mark Anthony made his Magnitude debut that year, which also marked 20 years of the Folsom Street Fair.
Magnitude moved to 888 Brannan Street, also known as the GiftCenter Pavilion and JewelryMart, across the street from The Concourse. The five-story GiftCenter, built in 1912, is on the National Register of Historical Places. Similar the Galleria, the GiftCenter features a glass atrium and views of the main floor from different level balconies.
“Rather than bring people through the front door, we brought them in through the loading dock and up five flights of stairs to the top,” recalls Worthen of the effort to create an Underground experience. “You had to walk all the way up and your boots made all the clanking noises, and you didn’t really know where you were.”
A cage hung in the middle of the dance floor, and three columns of construction scaffolding were placed on the main floor. A large video screen over the dance floor played scenes from new sponsor Hot House. Another new sponsor, DungeonBeds, set up their furniture on the second floor, creating the first-ever DungeonBeds Lounge.
Popular hook-up site Manhunt also signed as a sponsor creating opportunities to reach new market segments. The weekend pass included Temple on Friday night and Sanctuary, early Monday night, two events produced by Gus Bean of Gus Presents. In addition to Magnitude and AfterShock, the pass added the VIP Leather Lounge at the Folsom Street Fair.
A Place to Play
In its eighth year, Magnitude experienced many changes to evolve with changing attendee demographics. DJ Mark Anthony returned to spin, but by 2004 the national circuit party scene had become less about elite muscle boys and more about men looking to connect in a variety of ways. In addition to Manhunt, online networking site Big Muscle joined as a sponsor and an unofficial marketing message easily became “Meet me at Magnitude.” The Magnitude Man image also evolved to represent this new era.
“When we took over, Magnitude was about the idealized hot man on the poster. Super amazing, post-AIDS, muscular… all of it was hot, hot, hot,” says Worthen. “It wasn’t necessarily about you. It was the at the height of circuit parties. It had gotten sterile because it was kind of pretty. The posters were a little shiny, and I wanted to make it more nasty.”
In 2004, images took on the more edgy tone of FSE. The main poster featured a tight shot of one model, clad leather collar and chain in a leash, licking the nipple ring of another model. “We tried to pick images that you thought you could be in or wanted to be in or invited to be in,” says Worthen.
That opportunity to watch or participate came in the form of the new Play Space, replacing the elite VIP lounge and tiered pricing. The marketplace had changed and younger attendees questioned the $150 ticket price so producers offered a flat rate $80 ticket, with discounts as low as $40 for early online buyers.
Magnitude had always been a sex-positive event, but the Play Space took it another level. There was much discussion about what was safe, what was okay and what was going to happen. “The first time we did it within 20 minutes of opening two guys from Berlin went up there and started playing in the corner and it just set the tone for the next hour and a half and that’s what made it hot. That’s why it worked,” reflects Worthen. In addition to sling, the area featured a DungeonBed and other areas to live out your fetish fantasies.
A New Look and Feel
With a few successful years completed, FSE introduced a new look for the event brand in 2005. “We wanted to create a new logo that reflected the changes in the event and the target market,” says Raffaele Trudu of Deriu Design. The new typeface was influence by tribal design with a modernize metallic finish. A stylized capital “M” evoked a mask-like image, more masculine and mysterious than its processor. The silhouette of three models, whose faces were obscured but clearly interacting with each other, represented the new Magnitude Men.
“The feel of the event also evolved with the success of the Play Space,” says Trudu. “We had entered the era of online hook-ups made possible through sites like Manhunt, Big Muscle and Big Muscle Bear (who just happen to be event sponsors), and Magnitude was the destination to meet in person.”
DJ Joe Gauthreaux made his Magnitude debut in 2005 and returned in 2006 to keep the dance floor full all night. Embracing the uninhibited experience, 2006 marketing promotions featured a model unzipping the fly of man’s fly with his teeth with the hint of pubes just below a pig belt buckle.
The event returned to GiftCenter for the final time in 2006. “I wound up upstairs on one of the landings where only I could go and looked down [on the dance floor], and the party was a hit,” recalls Worthen. “It was packed, everyone was having a great time, and it was just that moment ‘it worked.’ And that moment of that’s why you do it. “
Dawn of a Decade
As Magnitude entered its 11th year in 2007, the event had grown from 850 guests to more than 2,000. A big part of the increase came from attendees from European countries. For the first time, the marketing poster featured color photography with a group of six men a gathered around a marble urinal at the infamous Armory, and one man on his knees.
“I had that image in my head for probably ten years and finally got to shoot it,” says Worthen. “It is one of the things I am most proud of in my design career. It’s an art shot and it says everything it should.”
The popularity of the Play Space also brought challenges in finding venue. In some ways, the location needed to accommodate two events: a dance party and demo zone. The event moved to Sound Factory at 525 Harrison Street. In addition to the large dance floor, the space offered several smaller lounge areas and chill spaces.
“There are a lot of people who have come to appreciate and expect the demo space and so we try to make the most of that,” says Moshoyannis who joined FSE in early 2006. “What that means is we bring in adult film stars, we bring in people who are interesting and exciting, who want to demo BDSM play in various forms. Unlike the fair, it’s usually in a private area so that it’s not in view of the general public.”
Making his Magnitude debut was DJ Paul Goodyear, who was friends with the founding DJ of Magnitude Neil Lewis, who died in 2004. Based in Sydney, Australia, Goodyear was a well-known talent at the large scale events down under and brought an international vibe to the City by the Bay.
“I actually preferred playing at Sound Factory. I thought there was a closer connection with the crowd,” says Goodyear of the DJ booth located near the dance floor. “There was definitely more of a connection with everyone else on the floor, feeling that vibe,” compared to other venues.
Goodyear worked closely with event manager Franco Beneduce to stay tuned into the Lewis sound, but bringing it more current. “I would go in and play some progressive, play some tribal, I’d play some new productions I was working on at the time. I remember showcasing a mashup of Paul Crowley doing “Wicked Game” and the theme from Brokeback Mountain,” he recalls.
“At Magnitude I never wanted to finish the crowd on just banging something relentless. I wanted it to finish on a good, positive vibe. So many parties you go to and the last song just means nothing, it’s just some relentless thing. I always want to have people leave the party thinking ‘ooh, that was great.’”
From the beginning community has always been an important part of Magnitude and the music. “Everyone being there together as one. It’s just that community feeling, and you don’t get that many places in the world anymore,” says Goodyear. “That’s what I love about San Francisco so much. Community.”
As the popularity of Folsom Street Fair continued to grow, Magnitude attracted a cross section of gay men, and some women, from around the world. For many, the Street Fair represented one day where they could explore and express their sensual desires including kink, fetish and gear.
Magnitude expanded from a circuit party of pumped party boys to a diverse community gathering of exhibitionists and voyeurs. The 2008 marketing campaign featured the tagline “Work Hard. Play Harder” and three men stripping off business attire to reveal leather harnesses and jock straps. It was the first time an African-American was featured on Magnitude marketing materials.
“I try to create an event that I would want to attend,” said Franco Beneduce who managed on the event since it began in 1997. When Billy Worthen stepped off the FSE board, Beneduce took on the lead producer role for the first in 2008, guiding the event through some major challenges.
The event moved to the Regency Center, a restored 1909 neoclassic landmark, with three levels of gathering space. The balcony overlooked the dance floor and stage while the lower level hosted the Demo Space. Production and set-up required an army of volunteers.
“The Regency had some challenges with the sound and décor because we were not able to mount certain equipment,” said Production Designer William Brown referring to historic preservation restrictions of the recently restored building. “The stage was beyond fun allowing the entire room to view from the dance floor. We had live demos on stage and video screens so you got a real close up of the entertainment as it happened.”
DJ Paul Goodyear returned to collaborate with Beneduce. “Since the crowd is bit older, they may not be up on a lot of the new music,” said Benduce. “We always throw in a section of classic dance anthems from the past decade to remind folks of the Circuit heyday.”
San Francisco Edge
Magnitude returned to the Sound Factory in 2009 and continued in that space through 2012. As the event grew, especially with the addition of the Demo Space, finding a venue large enough to accommodate multiple uses was challenging.
“Sound Factory has a unique layout so you can design and set-up many different vignettes, demos displays and dancers,” recalls Brown. “One of the best times was went we set up giant 3-D ‘coreplast’ shapes that were mapped in 3-D technologies for projections and low level fog which created a really cool stage show that incorporated 14 lasers by Kyle Garner of Laseronics.”
The music expanded beyond the San Francisco sound to offer a more renowned talent with international fans. In 2010, DJ Manny Lehman (Los Angeles) made his Magnitude debut. In 2011, the event featured two DJs for the first time: DJ Ted Eiel (Chicago) and DJ/Remixer Joe Gauthreaux (New Orleans). In 2012 Eiel shared music duties with Jack Chang (London).
“The scale of the event was the most impressive and easily the largest circuit event I had done,” said Eiel. “I had been going to Folsom Street Fair for years, entering the scene back in the Neil Lewis days,” he said referencing the original Magnitude DJ. “San Francisco has a different sound than other events—more melodic and trance oriented. Pleasuredome and Club Universe were in full swing and I loved the sound.”
For Eiel, his most memorable and touching moment was in 2012. “I pulled Franco aside during sound check and told him I has laid out the end of my set to be in honor of Neil Lewis, as he was incredibly influential on my sound.”
Attendee demographics range from 30 year-olds to 50 years with representative from either side of the spectrum, according to Beneduce. Unlike New York’s infamous Black Party, Magnitude is part of a much bigger experience where attendees come to San Francisco for a week or more.
“I’ve seen just about everything you can imagine—and then some,” Beneduce told Noize magazine. “But what really shocks me is that there are still gay people in the day and age with puritanical minds who judge the way that other gay people express themselves sexually.”
Beneduce died unexpectedly in May 2013, following a stoke caused by an aneurysm, leaving many of those who worked with him heartbroken.
“He was very strong character and knew what he wanted,” said DJ Paul Goodyear. “I had an amazing amount of respect for him. He could be very opinionated, as we all know, but he knew what he wanted and I loved that about him.”
With attention to every detail, Franco was a perfectionist says graphic designer Raffaele Trudu. “But the most important thing to him were the guests. He was committed to creating a customer experience that made every individual feel like a VIP.”
“Franco was the heart and soul of the event,” says Brown. “He had a true passion for production and producing a cutting edge event. He believed Magnitude is not about him or me, it is about us—as a community—coming together so that you enjoyed yourself.”
The Beat Goes On
With 2013 event planning already underway, finding the right producer was critical. And with Beneduce gone, many of his long-time team members also needed to take a break.
“I had no idea what I was going to be embarking upon in as far as the infrastructure Franco created for Magnitude but I took it on,” says Michael Beatty who stepped in as lead producer. Beatty had experience producing large scale events in Denver including Pridefest, a benefit for The Center serving the Colorado LGBT community, and previously served on the FSE board.
One of the first challenges Beatty faced was to expand the event footprint at Factory to include the business next door, Terra Gallery. Then assembling the production crew, some who previously worked on Magnitude. Health and safety became an important part of planning, especially for Beatty who worked with serval HIV/AIDS programs over the years.
In 2013, Chang returned along with Tony Moran (New York) in the main room. When the music is bold and beautiful, it provides the best high of all and people forget they have to top up or push themselves to the next level.
“The music does it for you and I firmly believe the better the music, the fewer incidents we would have at dance parties” says Leif Wauters, a long-time Magnitude attendee. “This would all equal a happier and healthier party world.”
With the transition year complete, Beatty set out to plan for 2014. Finding the right venue that can hold 3000 people, but not break the event budget was difficult. With nonprofit events such as Pride celebrations around the country under scrutiny for financial management, it was important that Magnitude and Folsom Streets Events deliver grants to the community it serves.
Moran returned and was joined by DJ Tom Stephan (London) to provide music in the main room. Marketing materials featured the large “M” of Magnitude being inked on the back of male with the drop of blood hanging off the tattoo needle.
For the first-time ever, Magnitude moved to Treasure Island, a former naval base four miles from downtown San Francisco. In addition to a full build out of stages, lights and sound, the production included buses to transport guests, food trucks and space heaters for outdoor lounge areas. The Demo Space was located in located in two large tents in the back of the venue taking advantage of the warm September weather.
The main building exterior was lit with state of the art LED lighting fully changing colors, including the Leather Pride flag colors says Brown. “It could be seen from downtown San Francisco as you came across the Bay Bridge for the event. People were just in awe!”
Inside “you could see the sweat building up and running down the bodies and you could smell the raw essence of testosterone in the room,” adds Brown. From the upper balcony looking below was a sea of full men packed from end to end of the room. “I knew in that moment it was a game changer. We evolved into something bigger, better, more dynamic”
Taking Magnitude for a Ride
In 2015, the event moved to Ride, also known as The Midway, at 900 Marin Street, an industrial area in the outer Dogpatch neighborhood. The warehouse-like space with exposed steel beams and large dance floor is reminiscent of former SOMA dance clubs.
DJ Danny Verde (Italy) and Pagano (Italy) made their Magnitude debut and provided the global sound for the increasing international guests. Marketing materials featured three men dressed in business attire, sailor cap and classic leather representing the muscle bears replacing circuit boys.
“Every year there is that moment that, literally, my heart swells, my eyes water, and I get goose bumps,” says Beatty. “When the music starts then joy begins, because at that point six months of work is done. I can breathe. And you think, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ It’s all about joy.”
Still Shaking Up San Francisco
As Magnitude enters its second decade, the event continues to evolve. Beatty moved to Palm Springs after obtaining his barber’s license. Jenn Stokes became lead producer, the first female in that role.
“There’s a dance party, stage entertainers, and demo space to play or watch. There’s something for everyone in our community,” says Andrew Caldwell. After volunteering for Magnitude in 2013, he joined FSE as an associate board member and now oversees the organization’s special events including Magnitude and Bay of Pigs during Up Your Alley weekend in July.
In 2016, music masters include Joe Gauthreaux, Citizen Jane, Paul Goodyear and Jack Chang. For the first time, the Play Space is sponsored by NastyKingPigs.com, a hardcore fetish website for men. Marketing materials feature three men in classic leather gear, include the first-ever Asian model.
“Guests have always been cared for at the parties while being allowed to be a dancing pig,” says Wauters. “There are so few massive leather parties in the U.S. and being rooted in a town full of sexually liberated, hairy, tattooed guys means you can be yourself more than anywhere else.”
Parties like Magnitude and Real Bad don’t really happen a lot in the United States, says FSE Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis. “I’m not talking circuit parties because there are a lot of those, but the ones that bring a sexy edge to it—you could probably count on one hand the number the parties that have a sex vibe to them.”
“There is something liberating about expressing and exploring your sensuality,” said Caldwell. “And for some people Magnitude and Folsom Street Fair are the only time they experience that. The event is always evolving—different DJs, new volunteers and a cross section of younger and older community members attending.”
What hasn’t changed is that Magnitude as always been led by very charismatic and visionary people with great passion for the event and the community says Wauters. “Every one of them has brought so much to the and it remains an exciting common thread.” And because of that, guests feel that they are part of something special that could only happen in San Francisco.