What started out as a small get-together among friends has turned into a legendary event.
You can't really talk about gay dance festivals without bringing up Jefferey Sanker's name. He's been doing it for 30 years after moving to Los Angeles. He recently spoke to the Hollywood Reporter and recalls his California beginnings working at West Hollywood's legendary Studio One. Inspired, he started looking at the desert as a venue.
“I went out to Palm Springs and thought wouldn’t it be a cool idea to get people out of the nightclubs and into the beautiful desert,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. He says the original party was way before social media and only included a few friends.
“It was 500 people at the Marquis Hotel for three days and we had one DJ for the whole weekend," he told the publication. "We had pool parties and it was so hot we put ice cubes in the pool.”
But that was three decades ago and the White Party has turned into a massive event with tens-of-thousands of attendees, even the swimming pool remains. This weekend titled "Legend" is yet another example of Sanker's expertise. It starts on Friday with "Splash," a music-fueled pool event with DJ Backlow. The rest of the weekend is jam-packed with non-stop entertainment, some well into the morning hours.
And no one rests on Sunday either with a tea dance and fireworks spectacular. He hints that ageism isn't present when everyone's having a good time.
“At the tea dance, we have 22-year-olds and 82-year-olds,” Sanker says. “There’s no other event around the world that has such a diverse age range. The customer who was 25 is now 50 and they still want to go out and have a little fun.”
Headliners for the White Party have included Jennifer Lopez, Kesha, Mary J. Blige, Kyle Minogue Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande.
He recalls when Lady Gaga gave up a national television gig to do his party in 2009.
“We had a contract for the White Party signed six months before and she had blown up and got an offer to do Saturday Night Live. Her manager called me, and I said, ‘She’s a friend and I’ll release her. I’m happy for her,’” he remembers. “She decided not to do Saturday Night Live and did my party instead, just to support the community. It really said something amazing about who she is. And, of course, she was on SNL two months later with Madonna.”
This year White Party guests will get to hear the legendary Deborah Cox and RuPaul Drag Race's Shangela who he says is a modern legend.
Guests will also get a "big surprise" from another star who is not listed on the lineup.
“It’s hard to give yourself accolades,” Sanker says, “but looking back thirty years ago, Sonny Bono was the mayor of Palm Springs and they were not gay-friendly. But we toughed it out and look at how gay Palm Springs is now, with a lot of people buying homes.”
Palm Springs becomes a bustling mecca of hot men and music lovers during the White Party. This year the Host Hotel has already sold out. That type of revenue is a gold mine to the city, and they really appreciate him for it.
“They give me a proclamation every year,” Sanker explains, “and they gave me a star on the Walk of Fame. My parents liked seeing it, so that was nice. There’s hardly anything that’s lasted as long in gay culture that people are still so passionate about."
Sanker makes sure his talents also give back to the community. He's produced special events for Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing (GLEH), The Trevor Project, and Desert AIDS Project.