Oaklash: the Bay Area’s love letter to eclectic drag

Two PM comes around in a classic car showcase warehouse and it echoes –

“Everybody, welcome to the show!”

Alaska Thunderfuck’s ‘HIEEE’ fills Classic Cars West on an unsuspecting Saturday afternoon. The famous show-opening number draws a crowd around a set stage as the notorious WooWoo Monroe kicks off the second annual Oaklash drag festival.

Born in 2018, Oaklash celebrated its second year over April’s last weekend. It kicked off with an opening night party Friday at Eli’s Mile High Club where performers and live bands gave the Bay a small taste of what was to come over the next two days.

After Monroe’s lip-synced instructions of flash photography being absolutely mandatory and tipping these [performers], the day kicked off its first set. With about five performances clocking in at half an hour and a DJ set filling the next half, each eight-hour day allowed over 50 Bay Area local and visiting artists to grace the stage – the festival hosted over 100 performers, vendors, photographers, bands, and more.

Queeries got the chance to sit down with a myriad of incredible individuals all working with the festival in one way or another and, phew, does it take a village.

So, first off – yes. We did say two pm. That means a number of performers who were set to perform before the sun went down had to prepare themselves for the dreaded ‘day drag’. Day drag is a particular annoyance because natural lighting tends to be unflattering to heavy makeup and it makes it difficult to control where light sources come from. We checked in with one of these fated performers: the Heurca Hermosa – Jota Mercury. Jota threw a wrench in the lineup quite literally with his mechanic number, HandyMan by (believe it or not) Shel Silverstein.

Q: How familiar are you with day drag?

JM: Oh yeah – I’m very familiar… I don’t like it.

Jota (left) and VERA (right) bumpin' fannies in front of the famous Oaklash lights. Photo by Jae Vega

Q: Oh no-!

JM: No, it’s cool and fun. It’s usually more rewarding because you can very much see the faces of the people in the crowds you’re dealing with; they’re very involved! People aren’t typically that drunk by that time – those shows are fun but there’s a different kind of artist appreciation.

Q: It feels much more centered around community-

JM: EXACTLY, rather than “Oh, this bar is having an event. Let’s go.” People are HERE and they know why they’re here.

After Jota’s set, we wandered inside and found Jessalyn Ragus, the fine artist behind Oaklash’s vibrant logo, atop a throne. So, naturally, we had to say hello. Featured on banners, online events, printed collateral and more, Queeries asked Jessalyn what it was like working with the festival from the get-go.

Jessalyn, surveying her kingdom.
Jessalyn, surveying her kingdom.

You created Oaklash’s logo, featuring two beautiful performers representing us this year. Can you tell us a bit about how you got connected with Oaklash and the process from there?

JR: Well, I live in SF and go to a lot of events out there, but I also know Beatrix [La Haine] from art school – we actually met in clown class! She and Mama Celeste reached out to contact me and it was just one of those dreams I had, working with people from my community. It all fell into place at the right time.

Working on the illustration, I wanted to take inspiration from last years logo because I really appreciated the vintage, also psychedelic vibes it gave. With the figures, I really took from the community, the people surrounding us. All the different bodies representing us here in the Bay.

It’s my passion to create these weird worlds that others can enjoy with me and I’m stoked that people have had such a response to it.

As we spoke to people, community representation and servitude was evident in every aspect. There were several local and independent organizations involved and vending at the event. We snagged a couple trans inclusive pins from Era Victoria-Devine (and even a NSFW one!) and purchased literature from ABO Comix, an abolitionist collective that works with LGBTQ+ prisoners to publish their art. All proceeds go back to the artists or prisoner advocacy groups. We also sat down with Deontre Martin, a friend of the organizers. They were encouraging people to go through piles and piles of donated drag, all free for the taking. With a makeup station and more clothes than they knew what to do with, Queeries asked the swap organizer, Deontre Martin: What was your idea behind the Pooch Booth?

D: So, the Pooch Booth started because my friends and I threw drag and queer performance raves in West Oakland for about two years a while back. We amassed a very large amount of drag and makeup and glitter – all kinds of things – and our house was just overflowing with a bunch of stuff to give away. We all decided that we should let others come into something where they could experiment and create a look or throw on a little bit of glitter and feel just a little bit more a part of everything else that’s happening here.

Oaklash even saw a couple Sisters of the cloth… of the Indulgent variety. The Sisters of Perpetual indulgence is a national fundraising non-profit that has been working for and with the queer community for just over forty years. It’s no surprise the Sisters were there, though. The Bay Area has an extremely rich and storied past in the drag scene – though many question why representation on more recognized platforms like RuPaul’s Drag Race aren’t getting the memo. That whole other can of worms aside, Queeries caught up with an old friend, Sister Norma Lee.

Q: Why do the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence support Oaklash?

SN: Oaklash was one of a dozen organizations the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence was able to support through a small grant this year. There were so many things going on that are important to the queerdoes and weirdos – community was being built, art was being showcased, and performers were coming together to embrace the East Bay drag scene, and all the punk kids, activists, and dreamers who make it up.

One of the best things I personally experienced at Oaklash was meeting with a lot of baby drag performers who were just beginning to develop their looks. These might not have been people who were on the stage, but they walked away inspired and enjoying themselves with new seeds of creativity planted in their head. Ain’t that some magic shit?

Plus there’s a KFC nearby.

I will also personally throw a buffalo nickel to any event that has Dollii in it, because that was a type of genuineness and vulnerability you rarely get in a lot of hyper-polished drag, and to see someone who felt so apprehensive go on stage and slay was just a beautiful, cosmic thing.

With a testimony like that, we just had to sit down with Dollii. After fighting through the droves of newly attained adoring fans, Dollii Fuck Dollii spilled the tea about performing on the Oaklash stage for the first time.

Dollii Fuck captivates the crowd with tales of ass eating. Photo from Official Oaklash Instagram.

Q: This is your first time at Oaklash and you performed for, what you said onstage, was your largest crowd yet. Could you just tell us a little bit about what that was like?

DFD: I was super apprehensive at first, very scared. I felt nervous, just because I usually perform in front of a crowd that I know and I just knew from seeing posters and pictures from last Oaklash that this one was gonna pop off but I got my first dollar before I even started – people were just so accepting. At the end – it was amazing, I was shocked.

Q: And the crowd was so receptive! You had us eating apples out of the palm of your hand- So, would you mind running us quick through your set?

DFD: My first song was called ‘Shooting Stars’. That song came out of the frustrations from working my 9 to 5 while dreaming of this stellar life: “I want diamonds that look like stars, cars that look like rockets”. Just about the process of making it there.

My second song? ‘No Vodka’ – my song about my distaste for vodka. People tend to really like that song, whether they like vodka or not.

Q: I mean, we’ve all been on the toilet the next morning after-

DFD: Whether or not you enjoy vodka as a drink – she has done you wrong at one point of another.

And then ‘Bite’ is a playful song about – ya know – eating ass.

Q: Just chompin’ booty.

DFD: Absolutely, a nice juicy apple. I really enjoy storytelling through hella puns and innuendo, ya know, a ‘winky winky’ kinda fun song.

Erika Klash blows it!

There were a lot of fun sets over the two days; one of the ones that I’m still thinking about was a curated truncated version of a local show: Pastel Gore. Pastel Gore is a monthly show in San Francisco, starring KaiKai Bee Michaels, Cash Monet, Pock M Sakura and Dragula’s Erika Klash. This set had bubble blowers, flying bats, and we’re pretty sure Rock M hatched an egg. With such a varied yet tightly run set, we had to figure out how it’s done. Erika and KaiKai gave us all the secrets.

Q: You both put together the set Pastel Gore that performed Saturday. How did Pastel get involved with Oaklash and what was it like putting together a set?

KKBM: Oaklash was really great with reaching out to parties in the community that have some sort of social media buzz or are just doing different things. They also had me serve on the Curatorial Board for selecting some of the performers, which was super fun. It really got me invested in Oaklash as a whole – they also wanted to have Pastel Gore come and be a part of it because we’re quirky and we rule and we’re fun.. If I do say so myself.

Our mouths are agape for KaiKai's angler fish look.

EK: I did Oaklash last year, but that was just as we were getting Pastel Gore started. We started back in February of 2018 so we were still really new; we’ve grown and evolved so much over the year that we actually just started up a monthly show at Moby Dick Bar. We wanted to bring just a little taste of what our show is now to the kiddies here at Oaklash. The four of us – THE GORE FOUR [Q: coined by yours truly while Erika and I debated Hella Vegan] – put a little bit of shit together and work in repertory, always with a guest who helps us pick the theme. We’re focused on the art and the collaboration.

Not all the artists can be caught at monthly shows though – some are truly rare sights on the West Coast! We got the chance to sit down with Miami, Florida based king Andro Gin. He’s an ooky spooky articulated voguer with a face painted for the gods who’ll leave you checking under your bed for demons to tip. But coming all the way from Florida? What was that like?

Q: Being a Miami-based King, you’ve flown pretty far from the coop! How do you choose a number when you’re traveling for drag?

AG: First, I’ll do a number back home and weigh it – When you’re traveling, you have to determine what kind of crowd it is because not everybody’s gonna get the inside jokes. I learned that the hard way by doing a Haunted Mansion number; I’m sure you guys out here would know that from DisneyLand. Where I did it, in Rochester, New York, no one understood! So you have to pick numbers that you know everyone’s gonna like, from the weirdos to the people who just wanna see generic drag – the whole spectrum.

Andro Gin, rocking the neon slime monster look.

I make sure the number is compelling, it’s entertaining, and that it’s uniquely my own so every audience can have a good time.

Q: It can be difficult navigating the financial barriers of drag and when you throw in travel – woof. How do you juggle managing yourself?

AG: I have a very loving partner who is much more organized than I am, so he can fit a lot of things into one suitcase. But more so, even just doing drag on a budget in general – that’s one thing I don’t enjoy about Drag Race. It sets the expectation that everyone needs to be Vogue-looking when the reality is we all live in thrift shops. We learn how to stone and we learn how to sew because we don’t have the budget to buy these garments. I thrifted my shirt, my pants, my shirt – and I just added the frills myself. What any experienced drag artist will tell you if you spend money on the outfits you know are gonna last you a long time and really be worn. But get your basics down – you can always switch accessories to make a new outfit!

You just need to have a vision for what you want then can and stick, hot glue gun in hand – whatever you’ve gotta do to make it happen.

Max Manchester, Madd Dogg, VERA, Scroto T. Baggins, and Buster Riteopen - woof woof!

And since we’re on Ru again – where the kings at?? Drag king and hyper performer representation is on the rise on every stage but one. So we talked to one of the Bay Area’s championing employers of drag kings – Madd Dogg 20/20. He and Miss Shugana run the Dogg Pound, a monthly show that features kings.

Q: You worked together to curate Sunday’s all-King set, Dogg Pound, which was just a small taste of what your monthly show offers. What was it like to put together a half-hour performance for Oaklash?

MD: Actually, it was kinda easy because I know there’s a lot of amazing kings here in the Bay Area so it was really easy to get some kings from all different categories, different kinds of drag, and get them together to have a great time.

MS: Because we have our show, they were so excited to say ‘yes’. Everyone was so happy to contribute!

Q: Pulled ‘em out of your Little Black Book?

MS: Yeah, and we got to add Max, who wasn’t already on our list! Pulling regular performers like Scroto [T. Baggins] allowed us to have even more new faces, which felt really good – the whole thing just felt really good.

Queeries finally sat down with the people that this is all done for – members of the community. Individuals who came for the art and stayed for the people.  We met Grotesque and Alli Cat, siblings who’ve attended both years of the Oaklash festival.

Q: You both came to Oaklash last year. Have you noticed any differences? Any similarities?

AC: The main difference I’ve noticed is that it’s just grown so much since last year – with all the new sponsors, the new set-up with the stage outside. As far as similarities, just the absolute love for local artists.

Grotesque debates hopping the fence to play on the swings.

G: I think the space this year has been curated with more of an emphasis on community engagement, whether it’s lounging together on a couch in front of a rack full of free drag or at a picnic table splattered in spicy mustard. We’ve connected with so many amazing people this year, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s also three days this year, instead of the one last year – we’re on the third day and people are still going strong.

Q: You also chose to turn looks both years! Can you tell me a little bit about curating, crafting, and finally s e r v i n g these lewks?

G: I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot. I was at the tail end of a toxic job full of sexism and racism and misogyny – It was just a horrible environment. The day after I quit was Oaklash. I just got to embrace this hyper-femme smoke skank slut that I was feeling; I had never gotten to be that before! It was all the things you filter out in daily life put on display. I had my little balloon animal poodle, walked around like such a bitch!

AC: Last year, I wore something a bit similar to this year. I’ve always been about being soft but being confident – I really found that with my pink corset (and hella makeup). Both years, the process was pretty much the same. I’m not even sure how I began-? I did not have a plan.

G: We just kinda went for it?!

Alli Cat poses for the camera.

AC: But something that you’ve [Grotesque] always been really supportive and encouraging of is my ability to wake up, gauge how I’m feeling on a certain day, and work with that! Even if it means I have to completely change or throw out a plan I made ages ago to come up with a look that feels good to me (which is exactly what happened today)!

Q: You guy had mentioned yesterday that you can turn looks out in ten hours.

AC: Yes- okay! The night before, she didn’t have anything to wear and just started sewing!

G: The stupid part, though, is that I spent a kajillion years meticulously planning but in the execution – it’s a ridiculous mad dash.

Q: Eight hours on concept, two on the machine?

G: It’s two in the morning and I’m asking “Do you think I should start this?”

Participants old and new alike all felt comfortable during the span of the Oaklash festival bringing their full, authentic, and unapologetic selves. A weekdn full of such genuine creativity and expression –

But who put this all together? And why?

Mama Celeste and Beatrix LaHaine, two Bay Area local performers, saw the thriving pockets of drag all over the Bay and wondered why it wasn’t being celebrated on a larger scale. From SoMa to Oakland to the Castro, bars and homes were housing artists but the meshing of scenes was yet to be found. Pagents queens and punks, club kids and quings needed somewhere to mingle and collaborate. So they got to work. Calling and inviting and curating and crafting. As the day got closer, everything was coming together on every level but physical. But that’s Mama’s favorite part, after all, all the surprises the festival brings:

Mama and Beatrix thank the crowd as they close out Sunday night's festivities. Photo from Official Oaklash Instagram.

 

“What I love about Oaklash is that I can’t know what the event is really going to look like — the looks, the shows, the crowd.

Our job is just to build the stage, pick the right people, and give our performers the resources they need to thrive. Everything else is taken care of by the amazing artists involved, and I get to see it and enjoy it at the same time as everyone else.

That’s the magic of drag.”  -Mama Celeste


Article was originally posted here on queeriesblog.com, on May 27th, 2019.

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