WerQfest is a Beacon for Black Queer Art in the Midwest

Jun 16, 2024 | People Make the Place, Stories

WerQfest is an arts and culture festival dedicated to creating safe spaces, uplifting artists and amplifying voices in the Black queer, trans and non-binary community. Preparing for a milestone, WerQfest is celebrating its fifth anniversary on Saturday, July 13, 2024, at The Big Top in St. Louis, MO.

Started from an idea during the pandemic to keep a community connected virtually, WerQfest, now grown to an impressive, full-scale entertainment production featuring national and local acts, is a movement with momentum. And it’s putting St. Louis on the map as a hub for Black queer art in the Midwest.

“Black queer artists are starting to be a part of the larger conversation,” said Tre’von (Tre) Griffith, one of the founders and producers of WerQfest (the other being Shelton Boyd-Griffith). “It’s about inclusivity but also about the great art that’s coming from our city.”


Griffith recalls a turning point during WerQfest in 2023 when he spoke with an attendee who had driven down from Chicago with five other people. It was an indicator of a trend that this beloved, local festival is catching the attention of people both within and beyond the St. Louis region searching for a supportive space that centers the creativity and talent within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Griffith recognizes and welcomes the festival’s emerging, broader role. But as someone who grew up in St. Louis, he remains committed to telling the city’s story and building infrastructure and opportunity for local artists. And he knows about being a local artist.

As a kid growing up in St. Louis, Griffith was a part of the fabric of St. Louis’ music and theatre scenes. Since he was five years old, he performed at prominent places like The Black Rep, STAGES St. Louis and the Sheldon Concert Hall. While attending college in Boston, he often visited New York City and saw queer culture in a new, affirming light – thriving, less obstructed and part of daily life. When Griffith returned to St. Louis and tried to pick up where he left off, he realized something was different.


“I hadn’t necessarily spoken my truth or came out publicly. When I did, I instantly saw the shift in terms of how I was positioned,” Griffith remembers.

He didn’t get callbacks for roles or gigs. People viewed booking him as more of a risk. As someone who was tapped into the artistic world already and maintained professional relationships, Griffith was able to create his own opportunities with added effort.

“But not everyone has that,” Griffith noted. “If I was having those issues – and I was in those rooms – I could only imagine the challenges my friends were experiencing. It was a wakeup call. Here’s a void. How can I fill it?”


WerQfest is Griffith’s response to that question he posed to himself after returning from Boston and New York City. Since then, the festival has become a beacon that rises above intolerance and is moving the needle in meaningful, tangible ways for artists who have historically been marginalized. Black queer artists have always created powerful, engaging and entertaining work. The festival is helping take it from house parties and more underground scenes to its rightful place in the spotlight.

Paige Alyssa, a St. Louis based singer, writer and producer who recently released a popular new single, Soft Boy, performed at the very first WerQfest. They recall how there wasn’t much of an infrastructure to allow Black queer artists to showcase their work.

“WerQfest has always been from the beginning a place where Black queer performers could come and have a space of their own,” Paige Alyssa said. “A lot of times it’s hard to break into commercial spaces with our music because sometimes certain people don’t understand our culture or the art we’re creating. Having a platform like [WerQfest] is really special.”


Paige Alyssa discussed how WerQfest provides a special platform for creatives to be their full, authentic selves, and they appreciate the festival as an important launching pad into the music industry.

As WerQfest breaks down barriers for artists, another goal is to welcome a wider audience beyond the people for whom the festival was built. All are encouraged to attend, as long as they share the values of acceptance, support and an appreciation for self-expression. Paige Alyssa has an inviting message for people who might be unsure if they should attend.

“Come and be liberated,” they urged. “If you want to experience joy and be in a space where you know that you’re going to be received by the community – however you show up – then you should buy a ticket. On top of if you like good music, because the lineup is crazy this year.”


The lineup for WerQfest’s fifth anniversary includes queer icon Kevin Aviance, rising R&B superstar serpentwithfeet and St. Louis scene favorites Tre G + Friends, KVTheWriter, DJ Nico Marie, Wuhryn Dumas, Vanessa Frost Experience, Stazi, Rachel Bouzier and Rachel Bouzier.

Attendees will also have access to an afterparty in collaboration with Dick Appointment, and a curated marketplace, WerQplace, with Spicy Broccoli ft. Golliday and TreHitz.

“I could’ve done WerQfest anywhere. A lot of people have asked me why I love St. Louis so much,” Griffith said. “When you think about our city, we have rich arts and music history. And personally, I want to be a part of that story. That impact to me would be like my younger self having the thing that I needed back then. I didn’t have a WerQfest growing up.”

Now, people do. Get your ticket today at www.werqfest.com and follow them at @werqfestl.

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis is a proud partner and supporter of WerQfest.

Photo credit: WerQfest