The lumbering Trump, devouring all he surveys, may be bad for Cuban tourism but Havana will still be celebrating with a big blow-out concert this fall. Melissa Etheridge, Ben Folds, and Rufus Wainwright have all signed on to host fan camp fiestas sponsored by the city this year. And while Etheridge and Folds have already appeared, Wainwright’s Wainright Libre tour, billed as a music and art live event, is slated to take place September 21-25.
Wainwright is clearly ready. “I first went to Havana in 2013, expecting it to be romantic and dreamlike,” he told me when we recently talked about his impending return visit. “But when I got there, I was struck by how big and sprawling it is. The city is a rival to New York, historically. The wealth of the place, accumulated over so many centuries, and the architectural styles amazed me; it was like discovering a treasure trove. Of course there is good, bad and ugly. There is still tremendous poverty. Like any place, there are many sides to it. But in the end, my expectation of that romantic, dreamlike city came true in spades.”
Wainwright though isn’t just any musical ambassador. He is also an openly gay performer who has long advocated for LGBTQ causes. And that means his upcoming visit suggests, in itself, a cultural sea change in Cuba. It’s a change he has observed. “The third time I went to Cuba, I experienced the gay world there. Gay life is not as defined there. Sexual lines are blurrier there, for good reason. But we went to the Las Vegas nightclub in Havana and the drag show there, really as much cabaret and political statements as drag. It was fabulous.”
Wainwright Libre participants will get a lot more than drag. Packed so tight, it’s threatening to split at the seams, the package offers one jammed Cuban party. There are visits with leading Cuban visual artists in their galleries, tours of the top museums, a joy ride through Havana in one of the city’s classic convertibles, cigar and rum tastings, rhumba and salsa dance parties, private workshops, a culinary buffet, and a four-night stay in a city center hotel.
The back beat to all this will be a constant musical loop. The tour includes a private, solo show with Wainwright preceding the big climax of the four-day marathon: a second public show featuring Wainwright performing with revered Cuban musician, Carlos Varela and a full orchestra.
“A day on the beach will just be gravy after that,” Wainwright said.