what's the deal?

Summer Rites - a free "queer" jamboree being staged this Saturday in Kennington Park, London - is the latest addition to the hectic lesbian and gay social calendar. Organised by Kim Lucas and Wayne Shires, it is a reaction against the National Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival which, they say, has got too big for its marching boots.

Pride is now the largest free music festival in Europe, and the organisational implications of that fact (security, administration, facilities) mean that its freeness is under threat. Director of the Pride Trust, Teddy Witherington, warned recently that attendees would have to cough up pounds 3 each to enable the festival to pay its own bills. This year, the target was more than met, but the question of Pride's exponential growth is still a bone of contention.

Having secured Witherington as consultant, Lucas and Shires see Summer Rites as complementary to Pride, but directed towards a more local constituency. Paraquoting the Righteous Brothers, Kim Lucas explains: "Pride's lost its London feeling; it's so huge that it's become an international event.

"People complain to me that they don't meet anyone they know there. Summer Rites is a local, community-based event: we're not advertising outside London."

a political gathering?

The organisers claim inspiration from massive gay events such as Sydney's "Mardi Gras" and New York's "Wigstock". However, while these are carnivalesque reworkings of the protest march, Summer Rites has a distinctly apolitical emphasis on "music and fun in the sun". There will be some stalls from political organisations, but like the beer tents and the burger stands, they're all paying for the privilege.

seems like the revolution

is over?

Maybe. And there's a chance that all this uncontroversial laid-backness might not be the best way of (as the press release has it) "serving London's diverse and exciting Lesbian and Gay population". My Soho straw poll produced little more than bewildered dunnoes. However, it might only be evidence that the battle has been won: in London clubs like "Popstarz" and "Misshapes", gay lads look like straight boys looked before straight boys all started to look like gay lads. Got that? They're dancing ineptly to Britpop and talking about football. That any sort of conversation is possible is something of a cultural revolution in itself. So, in response to this tendency, the Summer Rites open stage will have strong representation by Indie bands, as well as a more obvious emphasis on house music and torch songs. And if you fancy a dance, clubs will be setting up their own High Energy beer tents: the S&M brigade will be able to sweat under a canvas version of the bar, "Fist"; and "Queer Nation" will beer you up against a background of garage and funk.

so it's the scene, alfresco? "That's exactly what it'll be," enthuses Kim Lucas. But if the idea of Old Compton Street in a field fills you with terror, then Lucas assures that all musical proclivities will be catered for. As well as the usual bass-thumping, the festival will offer the gentler pleasures of line-dancing and C&W.

Musically, the running order is a heady mix of Upside Down, Bonnie Tyler, Echobelly and (quelle surprise ) Jimmy Somerville; there'll be cabaret from Shirley Bassey and Karen Carpenter soundalikes, Mr Gay UK and Donna McPhaill; the lederhosen of the Clone Zone will be on display in a thigh- slapping fashion show.

And there'll also be fund-raising activities on behalf of the Landmark Centre for people affected by HIV/Aids, the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, and the Food Chain.

for charidy, then?

Yes and no. All the main attractions (such as the "Love Muscle" disco tent and the "Heaven" funfair) are branded by the giant London bars. Smirnoff, Naya water and Lucky Strike cigarettes have exclusive concessions, and a Ben and Jerry's "Scoopmobile" will cruise about the park (presumably selling peace pops rather than cleaning up after pets). The more cynical might point to the way in which events such as the "Soho Pink Weekend" have slowly turned from upbeat celebrations of activism to occasions at which beer company tills ring more loudly than calls for equality. Lucas is adamant that the sponsors will not turn the event into an unseemly scramble for the pink pound. "They're only dangling their toes. They've not given us a huge amount."

the details

Summer Rites will be conducted in Kennington Park, Saturday 3 August, between 1pm and 9pm. Creche facilities are available. Nearest tubes: Oval, Kennington, Vauxhall. For further details ring 0171 733 2902.