The first-almost impromptu-Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom took place 23 years ago. In that more innocent time, red shirts and public displays of affection felt boldly political.
Since then, Gay Days Weekend has grown into the largest annual LGBT event in the nation, drawing tens of thousands-as well as millions of dollars-to Central Florida. With no blueprint, and the addition and subtraction of multi-varied entrepreneurs and events, GDW has had more twists and turns than Space Mountain.
But in 2013, much of the talk is about the return of Johnny Chisholm. With a porn star name and the reputation of a Wild West gunslinger, Chisholm brings drama-and promise-to GDW.
By the time Chisholm landed at Lake Buena Vista in 2005, GDW was already a mega-event on the gay male party circuit. Tens of thousands attended Beach Ball at Typhoon Lagoon, Jeffrey Sanker’s One Mighty Party at Disney/MGM Studios, Mark Baker’s Sunday night Colosseum party at Hard Rock Live and his after-hours parties on I-Drive.
In 2005, Chisholm booked the huge Buena Vista Palace resort and established it as a fantasy beachhead for the national and international gay party circuit. And by 2007, he was the master of “One Mighty Weekend,” attracting upwards of 6,000 to theme park spectacles on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
By many accounts they were some of the most dazzling, over-the-top parties in GDW history.Â But by 2009, Chisholm’s big budgets caught up with him. Disney and Universal refused to do business with him-reportedly due to unpaid bills-and he was forced to relocate his parties to lesser venues. He announced a return in 2010 that never materialized. He hasn’t been seen at GDW since.
Mark Baker sought to resurrect the GDW circuit in 2011-with one party co-produced by Watermark-and again in 2012, but was unable to find the same magic and produce needed attendance for the expensive parties.
So many wonder if, despite his previous problems, Chisholm’s return will reboot the GDW circuit. It’s certainly rebooted the drama.
Once again dubbed “One Mighty Weekend,” Chisholm will host Reunion Pool Parties at the Buena Vista Palace and Magic Journeys after-hour parties at Arabian Nights. Many wonder how he was able to re-establish himself after the wreckage of 2009. Now that he has, few believe his vision stops there.
But no one, including Chisholm himself, will talk about it.
Watermark reached out to Mark Baker and GayDays.com, and neither returned our calls. Just Circuit Magazine responded to questions and then denied permission to use the answers out of concern that Chisholm would be characterized negatively. A lengthy email supporting Chisholm, his positive impact on GDW and his many contributions to charity, was strictly off the record.
Chisholm’s response was even more cryptic. He initially agreed to answer questions submitted several days ago via email. But as our deadline approached, an assistant claimed that he was too busy planning events during Memorial Day Weekend to respond. After another inquiry by Watermark, Chisholm called editor Steve Blanchard, stated that he was recording the conversation and that it was strictly off the record and could not be used either in quotes or as background.
So Watermark’s-and your-questions remain unanswered:
- Will you produce a theme park-based mega-party again?
- Are you partnering with anyone to produce One Mighty Weekend?
- What do you want people to know about your withdrawal from GDW after 2009?
- Did you have difficulty establishing credit in Orlando after that experience?
- What’s your take on the future of GDW in Orlando?
Chisholm’s difficulties in Orlando are public record.
In August 2009, Production Resource Group, a local entertainment tech company, obtained a judgment against Chisholm’s Reunion Events for more than $300,000 in unpaid fees. A month later, Universal sued him for debts totaling more than $200,000.
In October 2009, Chisholm’s production company filed for bankruptcy in a Pensacola court, claiming debts of more than $1.7 million and assets of less than $50,000. Notable creditors included Disney Resort Destinations and Universal Orlando.
Chisholm filed a lawsuit in Escambia County against Orlando resident Tony Hayden alleging that comments on his website, TheCircuitDog.com, were defamatory. Hayden was ordered to remove the comments, and he discontinued the blog.
Ads for One Mighty Weekend appear in Watermark and its glossy guide to GDW. But in apparent anticipation of this article, Chisholm denied us press privileges, including permission to photograph his events.
Chisholm has re-established credit and credibility, at least with the Buena Vista Palace, Arabian Nights, and the many vendors required to produce and promote his events. Will that extend to the fickle circuit crowd?
Some remember expensive, unused tickets to Beach Ball in 2009. Others recall his extravagant once-in-a-lifetime parties fondly, and hope Chisholm will resurrect GDW and One Mighty Weekend as a staple of the party circuit.
We’ll know much more in a few weeks, but that information won’t likely come from the mouth of Johnny Chisholm.
Susan Clary and Steve Blanchard contributed to this article.