Saturday was a night for brassy costumes and brassier personalities – two hours of San Francisco drag performances in the heart of Napa.
Headliners answering to Intensive Claire, Vanilla Meringue and Roxy-Cotten Candy sang, danced, strutted and vamped their way down a runway inside the Napa Valley Opera House’s JaM Cellars Ballroom. In high-volume hairdos and copious makeup – and high heels, fishnet stockings and fake fur wraps – 10 gender bending performers regaled Napans with a nonstop pageant of winking, sometimes naughty humor and attitude during Napa’s second Drag Queens of the Valley revue.
“Who here’s never been to a drag show before?” Intensive Claire asked the sellout audience of nearly 300. Seeing the number of hands raised, the night’s master of ceremonies half-sighed – but with a smile and a wink – before declaring: “Good-goddam, we need to get you out more!” to one of the first of what would be repeated peals of laughs, hoots and cheers, each more ear-splitting than the last.
The idea of taking drag culture into Napa took root two years ago at the Opera House, where Rob Doughty – a longtime local disc jockey known as DJ Rotten Robbie – had organized a LGBTQ night as part of the city’s gay pride festivities each June.
“Robby and I said, ‘Napa has fabulous food and wine and music, but we need to mix it up a bit, so let’s do a drag show,” said Dona Kopol Bonick, a Napa-based photographer who attended the 2017 event. A year later, in June 2018, she and Doughty produced the inaugural Drag Queens of the Valley starring a host of San Francisco performers at the Blue Note.
“The fact we sold out was a shocker to me,” recalled Doughty. “Once everyone got into the room, the energy was so palpable, it felt like this wave coming at me onto the stage; I’d never felt such enthusiasm and excitement. I think people in Napa were surprised to have such a unique event.”
The resulting sellout crowd led Doughty and Bonick to expand its sequel to two days, with a Saturday night show followed by a brunch-hour Sunday matinee – with the same performers playing completely different sets for each audience. Proceeds from both shows will benefit LGBTQ Connection, the Napa nonprofit devoted to supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth. (Doughty estimated the two performances drew 550 spectators and will raise $12,000 to $15,000.)
While downtown Napa may be well removed from the home territory of San Francisco’s drag performers, two of the returning stars recalled a welcoming reception that made them eager for another visit.
“I can say that ever since last year, we’ve been very excited, (because) we got such a warm welcome last year,” said Giamaica Zeidler, who as Guy Mann was one of two drag kings appearing with eight queens in the Saturday show.
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“One thing that motivated me to do drag is it frees my body to do a little more” – an extra element that would include cartwheels and acrobatics down the stage runway.
“I love to showcase what San Francisco drag offers, which is a little bit of everything,” Intensive Claire said inside a Blue Note dressing room an hour before Saturday’s showtime, donning the body stocking, black corset and upswept eyeshadow that were part of the transformation from Kirk Saraceno into the sassy, voluble host of the Monster Show, a weekly event at The Edge club in the Castro district.
“My drag character gets away with things I can’t say as a gay man,” added Intensive Claire, who began performing 4 ½ years ago. “She likes to be the center of attention, and when I’m just me, I don’t.”
Between each act, Claire’s bubbly jokes on topics from Napa’s Green Door bar to Boston’s controversial Straight Pride parade planned for August formed the commentary and the thread tying together two hours of no-holds-barred glitz – from Rock M. Sakura’s gymnast-like splits and cartwheels, to Vivvyanne Forevermore’s shift of song and look with a shrugging-off of a gold lame gown to reveal a sequined minidress underneath.
At last, the performance reached its climax with an unlikely soundtrack – of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” a patriotic country tune made famous by its use at the 1984 Republican National Convention. Having shed a cloud-like white gown to revealed a sequined dress in red, white and blue, Raya Light belted out a refrain, fist raised in the air:
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land;
God Bless the USA,
God bless the USA!