A few weeks before the first day of summer and the opening of the New York show, Mann bounces around the venue, a massive converted parking garage known as the "UnConvention Center" at Manhattan's Pier 94. He greets well-wishers, poses for photos, and schmoozes with vendors, all the while keeping an eye out for any potential crises in his sprawling dominion. Hard to believe that this energetic figure in a fur-lined psychedelic robe and leopard-print hat adorned with streamers and an image of the Mona Lisa is nearing 60.
"I'm 56 — going on 12," Mann says.
For New York native Mann, bringing the Exotic Erotic Ball to the Big Apple is more than just a homecoming; it's a redemption of a promise he made to his mother, who died last year at 94.
"She said 'Perry, my one wish before I go is for you to bring the ball home.' She actually came to an Exotic Erotic Ball back when she was about 88," Mann says. "She loved it. It's funny how when people get older, sometimes they don't care anymore about conventional mores."
Still a novelty in New York, the Exotic Erotic Ball is an institution in San Francisco, where Mann started the festival in 1979 to raise campaign funds for his friend, the late Louis Abolafia. Running as the Nudist Party candidate for president, Abolafia ran with the slogan "I have nothing to hide."
"We actually had a simultaneous dream that there'd be thousands of people frolicking in various states of dress and undress, costumes and garb," Mann recalls. "We came up with the Exotic Erotic Ball, and the rest is history."
A mix of masquerade, burlesque and rock festival rooted in the free-love/free-expression ethos of the 1960s, the ball features live music, adult film performers, exotic dancers, bondage-themed sideshows and contests for best fetish costumes.
"It's very exciting putting on the ball and then being onstage and seeing tens of thousands of people out there," Mann says. "They work very hard to get their costumes ready. It's a place where people can come and literally let it all hang out — if they're big enough," he quips. "Or even if they're not big enough."
In 2004, Mann and event producer Howard Mauskopf set up a trade expo as a distinct part of the festival, with its own hours. This would give participating vendors — a cross-section of carnal capitalists hawking everything from S&M gear to vibrators to body painting — and prospective customers an environment more conducive to business, without the hurlyburly of the ball. Mauskopf says that overall festival sponsorship quadrupled over the previous year with the addition of the expo.
"The premise to the festival has always been simple," Mann says. "We give people a safe haven to act out their fantasies, within the law, of course. We have people from all walks of life, all persuasions and ethnic groups. We have gays and straights and bisexuals. We even have trisexuals. You know about trisexuals, right? They'll try anything. Pretty much at the ball, anything goes, as long as it's in good taste. Or it tastes good."
The musical lineup for the festival's New York debut includes 1980s synth-pop sensation Thomas Dolby ("She Blinded Me With Science"), funk pioneer George Clinton and King Norris, fronted by Fred Norris of "The Howard Stern Show."
Among the adult entertainers are Tera Patrick, Taryn Thomas, Flower Tucci, Sunny Lane, Taylor Wane and two starlets with Brooklyn roots, Carmen Luvana and Joanna Angel. Most of the adult performers are guests of festival media sponsor Genesis magazine. Genesis's booth emerges as the de facto nerve center of the event, with a constant stream of fans and vendors on break surrounding the girls and snapping away at their cellphone cameras.
A group of off-duty New York cops, not the type of men to wear their hearts on their sleeves, look awestruck as they approach blonde gonzo queen Brooke Haven at the Genesis booth. Their poker faces melt into smiles as adoring as that of any star-struck teen. Haven basks in their attention.
Adult actor Kenny, modeling for NYCBodyArt.com, is covered from head to toe in garish orange paint and black stripes. He's in huge demand for photo ops as he roams the floor.
The Exotic Erotic Ball's popularity over the years — more than 20,000 people attended the 2005 festival at San Francisco's Cow Palace — has allowed Mann a "bit of a better lifestyle." As a champion of carnal freedom, he's had access to a lifestyle not unlike that of Hugh Hefner.
"Obviously, not to his degree," Mann says. "I had a bit of that. Not as much as some but a lot more than many."
These days Mann sees himself going through a metamorphosis, maybe somewhat like Larry Flynt in the late 1970s, where his religion is playing a larger part in his life.
"I actually look at myself as a completed Jew," he says. "As wild as it was in the Quaalude days, and pre-AIDS days, and the threesomes and the orgies which I partook in — unfortunately there wasn't video at the time — now I'm looking for a monogamous relationship. I'm just kind of holding out, so to speak. You know, it's not the same where you just knock off a piece of ass. That was exciting [at the time]. But it hit me a couple of years ago, and now I'm a little more selective and a little more discerning."
Mann was once married to a New Zealander. They didn't have any children. "My children are all the people at the ball," he says.
Perhaps his year-round work on the Exotic Erotic Ball helps keeps him young. "It's all about freedom and freedom of expression," Mann says, whose other main creative outlet is songwriting. He's written more than 200 songs to date.
Over time, Mann hopes to bring the festival to Miami's South Beach. He's also working with powerhouse mainstream talent agency ICM to explore a worldwide tour that would include the Netherlands, England, France, Brazil and Japan.
"We have a reality show that's in the works, too," he says. "It'll be called the 'Exotic Erotic Freedom Bus.' The 'Make Love, Not War' tour. Kind of like an erotic 'Real World,' if you will."
"Make Love, Not War" is not a mere a 1960s catch phrase for Mann. Louis Abolafia, Mann's counter-cultural mentor and the spiritual godfather of the Exotic Erotic Ball, coined the slogan. He also organized New York's legendary love-ins, which inspired the press to crown him "The Love King."
Mann recalls that music promoter Bill Graham was so impressed with the love-ins that he decided to start holding concerts in the same theater. So began the Fillmore East, one of the most fabled venues in the history of rock and roll.
Back on the floor of the UnConvention Center, two "poodle-girls" stroll by in white fluffy fur and wigs. Adult performers Moxxie Maddron and Payton Lafferty demonstrate a sex swing and various paraphernalia, including a cat-o-nine tails. Maddron practically swallows a red dildo whole, prompting an observer to blurt out, "Her parents must be very proud." Maddron, clearly in good spirits, laughs.
Fans intermingle with roving promoters. A beautiful blonde, who could easily pass for an adult performer, wears a black form-fitting Lycra shirt that reads, "Single?" It's a creation of her own design, one that she plans to market to night crawlers who aren't shy about advertising their interest in hooking up.
Vince Ferrara of New Jersey-based adult production company LionsClawPictures.com is in the VIP area behind the stage networking with Porn Valley talent and producers. Giovanni, another local filmmaker, is at the hall's entrance with a contingent of girls who are handing out shirts branded with his website, NewYorkStreetSluts.com. The presence of these men underscores the festival's potential as a shot in the arm to the region's relatively nonexistent adult industry.
But first the Exotic Erotic Ball and Expo aims to show that it's here to stay in New York. The event's producer, Mauskopf, told XBIZ at the beginning of the two-day festival that the budget for New York was "upwards of a half million." He suggested that the goal wasn't so much to make a profit as to build a presence in New York. As far as attendees, Mauskopf said that he hoped to draw up to 3,000 to the expo and 4,000 to the ball.
A vendor, who asked not to be identified, didn't think the total of attendees was all that important.
"The festival's off to a good start for its first time out here," he says. "It can really flourish in the Big Apple. We're the capital of diversity and non-conformity. Just in sheer population numbers alone, the potential audience here far surpasses San Francisco. But Perry and his team have to stick to it. They have to come back year after year and promote the hell out of it."
Not surprisingly, Mann expresses what he's accomplished in rolling out the festival in New York in more than just business terms.
"You can't bring the festival everywhere," he says. "But New York is certainly the place we've wanted to bring it for a long time. So we're finally here. Mom, your prayers have been answered."