Last night at the bar I go to, there was a drag show. There's never been a drag show at this place when I've been there. It's not the kind of place where you would expect a drag show. On Wednesdays there's live music, but it's rock bands or, like last week, art noise. (Two skinny twentyish flannel shirt-type guys making extremely loud feedback by twisting knobs on some sort of electronic consoles mounted into old suitcases -- only entertaining when one of the guys looked like he was trying to close his head inside the suitcase, and when one of the queens sitting at the bar shouted "Take off your shirt!).
Anyway, the drag show. It was the Royal Grand Court of something or other, every city seems to have one. A bunch of older guys in matronly formal wear with lots of jewelry host events to raise money for AIDS charities. They were hosting the show, but the performers were another mixed bag entirely. One or two standard queens lip-synching disco songs, okay, but then some guy gets up there, just a guy, 50-ish, in jeans, shirt, leather vest, sneakers, and he lip-synchs a very bombastic rendition of "America the Beautiful," by someone who sounded like an opera singer slumming. He just stood there and guys were flocking to the stage to hand him dollar bills.
As if that wasn't weird enough, the next performer ("and just to show we don't discriminate, she's straight and she's a real woman!") barely made an attempt to lip-synch, she just kind of shimmied and smiled like a 6-year-old in a dance recital, wearing a plain, dark blue dress, no makeup or nothin'. And she got lots of tips, too! It was less a drag show than karaoke with no singing. Bizarre.
When I lived in Nashville for the second time, four years ago, I lived a couple blocks from a huge gay bar, or more like a complex of several bars, called The Chute (I never could figure out if its name was intentionally derived from "poop chute," which would be, well, tacky, but certainly no tackier than the names of a lot of gay bars I've seen. (There was one in Madison, Wisconsin called "The Rod," and in the neon sign for it the tail of the "R" extended down in an arc underlining the word with a neon penis.)
The Chute consisted of a piano bar in the front, then a small pub-type room which you walked through to a big open dance club, all painted black with a raised dance floor. Behind that was the Western bar, where they played country music. There was a smaller dance floor in this room, in case you wanted to boot scoot boogie or whatever. Then a darker, dungeoney room with a pool table, the leather bar.
And the crown jewel of the Chute was the show room. It had a fancy name that I can't remember now, maybe the Rainbow Room? It had a small stage with a curtain, a runway, and tiny cabaret tables and chairs, and a bar in the back. Every Friday and Saturday there were drag shows, two shows a night, by a troupe of performers. I lived for those shows, couldn't wait for the weekends.
The host was Bianca Page ("the pantomime rage of Miss Bianca Page!"), who had a voice like late Lucille Ball (really late, like death-bed), and a face like Imogene Coca. I was amazed by her every time. Her routines were sometimes very complicated comedy recordings from the 40s or 50s, or old novelty songs. She also did some pop songs and more current show tunes, because that's what the boys really wanted, but you could tell she loved the weird stuff more. At the mid-point of the show, she came out onto the catwalk and did a little stand-up, singling out any straight people in the audience, good-naturedly embarrassing them with her boozy scatological humor.
One of the queens was always introduced as "our very own choreographer, here at the Rainbow Room." Her name was Dakota something. Dakota Moon? Dakota Blue? She was a big, tall redhead, and she put together routines they would all do together. A little Bob Fosse, maybe? God, I wish I could remember some of the songs. They had lighting design, sets, what looked like very expensive costumes with lots of beads.
One of the girls was a little further along the transgender line than the others. She was a big sexy black girl with real breasts and hips. She usually wore skimpy sheer outfits, and she had piles and piles of shiny curly hair, which I think was her real hair. Her songs were usually kind of raunchy hip-hop or R&B. She had a polarizing effect on the crowd. Most of the guys seemed to love her -- she had some title or other, like Miss Gay Southeast Region 1997 -- but there were always a few grumblers, those disturbed that she had "taken it a little too far."
And Stephanie Wells, the Lena Horne of the Rainbow Room, very classy, always immaculately made up, tasteful wardrobe. Her songs were often Dionne Warwick, sometimes Anita Baker, you get the idea.
And a third black queen, this one skinny with huge eyes, and sort of a Carol Channing twitch to her face. She would do "Toxic," the Britney Spears song, and her arms and legs would pop when she danced, as if she were double-jointed.
That was a drag show. Come on. America the Beautiful? At least put on a dress.
Update: I found a link, but the cast is a little different now. Bianca Page is still hoofin' it, though.