Thousands of people gathered at UC Irvine on Saturday for the 13th annual Orange County Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival. But to many in attendance, the festival had more the feel of an old-fashioned street fair than an urban celebration.
"There is a real neighborhood feel here," said Jeff Stanton, 37, of Santa Ana. "It's just more of a place to get together once a year and to identify."
The event, held in Aldrich Park behind a temporary fence, was sponsored by the Orange County Cultural Pride, a gay and lesbian group based in Orange. Organizers said they liked the out-of-the-way location.
"We can feel free to be who we are," said Pat Lamis, 54, an associate board member with OCCP.
Throughout the day, people strolled through the park, put down blankets and opened their coolers, relaxing to live music. Vendors sold gay pride rainbow stickers, hats and jewelry.
Organizers said they are trying to increase attendance at the two-day event, which has been declining in recent years. They promoted it on the Web and took out advertisements in newspapers and on cable television.
The first festival in 1988 drew about 12,000 people, organizers said. Last year's event drew 8,000.
Robert Brandenburg Jr., 34, of Mission Viejo said the Orange County event is less crowded and more relaxing than gay festivals in Long Beach and Los Angeles.
He said the festival has matured over the years into something akin to a relaxing day at the park.
"There is still a need for it. Like everybody else, [some people] become more established and move to Orange County to buy a house and blend in," he said. "I don't feel like I need to shout from the mountaintops any more. I just want to come here to have a good time."
The festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.