Drag queens walking on stilts, crowds dancing to pulsating beats, and the aroma of fresh food filled the streets of Little Havana as Gay8 Festival returned.

Miami’s famous Calle Ocho hosted the largest Latin LGBT+ festival after a year off due to the pandemic. Judging from the crowd, they were ready for its return.

“The event exceeded all of the team’s expectations,” 4Ward Miami’s Damian Pardo said. “So for us it went very well.”

4Ward puts on the annual party, and this year’s theme was Liberty For Cuba. The event stretched nearly a half-mile, with at least eight stages entertaining the crowd. Two main stages bookended the area: one with live performances and the other with top DJs including Tony Moran.

Several side-stages pulled people in with DJs and shows. Wigwood brought their experimental queer performers to one of the stages, and Fay What?! hosted the Girl Central stage, which was packed with women, lots of gay boys, and community allies.

“Girl Central at Gay 8 was such a wonderful and fun time,” Fay said. “To host the Girl's stage was an honor. The afternoon was a true testament to Lynn Bove’s legacy. The stage was named after Lynn’s GIRL Central, but to look into the endless crowd of L, G, B, T, and Q+ all dancing in endless celebration showed the true inclusivity of the festival as a whole.”

Calle Ocho and the side alleys only got more packed as the afternoon morphed into night. Earlier in the day a stand-up comedy show was held in the lobby of the Tower Theater.

Overall the vibe felt festive but not uncomfortably crowded.

“There is definitely a flow depending on where you are at,” Pardo said. “The interior parties pull people, so the crowd might seem less packed. The vibe is fun in a chill way with people just being open and accepting. Our hashtag reflects the vibe #LiveYourStoryHere.”

4Ward promotes diversity and inclusivity, and civil rights. Pardo said the message was not lost on the crowd.

“The theme is incorporated into everything we do regarding the festival. Our festival-closing featured a float accompanied by crowds dancing and chants based on the theme. At the night’s end, you could hear thousands of people chanting ‘LIBERTAD’ from the main stage and all the streets. It was magical, emotional, inspirational and uplifting, all in one. A beautiful moment.”

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