The annual Midsumma Festival is back this weekend with 140 events and more than 160,000 people expected to come along. Because this year’s theme is Making Connections, we sit down with Midsumma festival manager Tennille Moisel to find out what we should look out for over the next three weeks.

Big-ticket events

Grab a spot at the Alexandra Gardens for Carnival, Midsumma’s free, opening-day festival on January 18. This year the outdoor event will feature more than 140 stalls and performances by acts including Melbourne Rainbow Band, Dolly Diamond and James Varnish, who will be performing the 2015 Midsumma anthem, Connect.

Later on T Dance – a free dance party – will kick off at the Main Stage from sunset to 10pm. Stick around as live bands and DJs, including Last Mistress and DJ Mike Evans, provide the soundtrack for the rest of the night.

“We’re also excited about the Skip app this year, which allows punters to order their food ahead of time and skip the lines,” says Moisel. “The Team Melbourne Beyond Blue Sporting Precinct is also back, so people can meet and join local sporting teams. And of course the Midsumma Dog Show is always a guaranteed hit.”

Pride March celebrates its 20th anniversary on February 1. Show your colours from Lakeside Drive in St Kilda and follow the march along Fitzroy Street to Catani Gardens. Local traders will be selling picnic packs for the family friendly celebration. Grown ups can stick around for the after party later on at the GH Hotel nearby. Get your outfits ready and register by January 21 if you’re marching.

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Pro dance-floor starters Grouse are bringing the Carnival after party to Copacabana on Smith Street with DJ sets from Banoffee, Oscar Key Sung, Total Giovanni and more.

Moisel encourages punters to check out the GoWest program, which highlights LGBTIQ artists and organisations from Melbourne’s west. Be sure to check out Edi Donald and the Transients, which will play its blend of multi-instrumental music against a backdrop of visual projections and opera-like theatrics.

In the CBD, Moisel recommends Midsumma’s Testing Grounds on January 29, where artist Alison Bennett will present her touching projection work, Inverto, a fast-forward look into the effects of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery following pregnancy. Set in an outdoor bar and art space behind the Arts Centre, Bennet’s work will be accompanied by sculptures from Ara Dolatian and music from Chris Watts.

Out and about

Learn about the history of drag in Melbourne at What a Drag, a multimedia exhibition showcasing drag culture from 1960s to the present day. Curated by Ricky Beirao (also known as Rhubarb Rouge), the exhibition runs for the duration of the festival at Chapel Off Chapel.

Check out Discover Sailing at Altona Yacht Club on February 15 for a free sailing lesson on the club’s boats with an experienced sailor. Classes start at 10am, so get in early to earn your sailing stripes. The Westside Derby Dollz will be hosting a barbeque by the club, so join the roller skaters for some snags if you’re not sailing.

Don’t miss …

Don’t miss the glitz and glamour at the Miss Gay & Miss Transsexual Australia pageant on January 31. Participants will talk about their chosen cause or charity as they strut their stuff. Also check out comedy performances Black Faggot and Transgender Seeking … Written by Kiwi playwright Victor Rodger, Black Faggot was a hit at Edinburgh and Melbourne Fringe Festivals, while the hilarious Transgender Seeking … sold out in Europe and the USA.

Moisel’s final message to would-be punters is to embrace the year’s theme and connect.

“Make new connections, reconnect with those you’ve lost touch with. Midsumma has grown in size and diversity and the event is a great opportunity not just for the LGBTIQ community to see themselves represented and celebrated, it’s also a chance for the general population learn something new and get educated.”

Midsumma Festival runs from January 18 to February 8. Head over to the website to see the full program.