When you think about an Irish pub, you might think of corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, whiskey and Guinness. But do you think of drag shows?! Probably not.
Though you might not typically expect a drag show along with your fried food and beer, on the second Saturday of every month Gallagher’s Irish Pub on Highway 101 in Eureka transforms into a drag club where some of Humboldt’s most talented performers lip sync, death drop and vogue the house down in an impressive use of the tiny pub space.
Skyler Celeste, better known by his stage name Ultra Payne, has helped organize a monthly drag revue at Gallagher’s called Omega Drag, which features a regular cast of performers that he considers the “best of the best here in Humboldt County.” Local drag artists Komboujia, Gliterous Cliterous, Thrash and Recycling, Cocky Muffington, Felix Flex and, of course, Ultra Payne herself, hold regular spots at the show. Each month also features one special guest performer, which at the most recent show — Valentine’s GAY, on Feb. 11 — was drag and burlesque artist Baby Fontaine.
“I’m doing it this way because ever since COVID kind of slowed down and restrictions started lifting, drag exploded in popularity,” Celeste told the Outpost in a recent interview. “We’re getting all kinds of new shows here in Humboldt. So I feel like there’s enough space now for drag that people who are just starting out can get their start at other shows, and then we can still have shows with a set list of performers without anybody feeling excluded.”
And Celeste is definitely right. If you’ve been paying much attention to local drag, you may have noticed that Humboldt is experiencing an outpouring of drag, especially over the last year. If you grew up here, like Celeste did, you know that Humboldt used to have virtually no drag shows. Now, in addition to Omega Drag at Gallagher’s, regular drag shows take place at Septentrio Winery, Outer Space, Kiki Planet Clothing Store, Synapsis, and more are being added all the time. This month Greene Lily will host its first drag brunch and Ferndale Repertory Theatre is hosting a drag revue at the end of February.
Unlike in a big city where there are lots of gay bars and nightclubs, rural Humboldt doesn’t have a lot of venues that traditionally hold drag shows. So, the performers here have to be creative, working with local business owners to find spaces to showcase their art.
“It’s really funny,” Celeste told the Outpost. “Whenever I go elsewhere and perform, [the performers] ask, ‘where do you perform in Humboldt?’ And I’m like, ‘a winery, an Irish pub, a boutique shop, an aerial silks studio.”
Celeste and the other drag performers started working with Gallagher’s about four months ago, when the manager (who is very queer, Celeste said) expressed an interest in hosting a drag show at the pub. Celeste said that the Gallagher’s owner was totally on board and has been very supportive of the performers using the space.
This recent swell in local drag enthusiasm differs greatly from how things were when Celeste was first started doing drag. Celeste, who is 22 years old, grew up in Eureka and was often bullied in school for being queer. “It was rough,” Celeste said. “I never really had the space or opportunity within my community to be doing what I was doing. But also at the same time, I didn’t care. And I kind of paved my own path.”
Seeing the increase in queer representation in Humboldt is elating, Celeste said, not only because it means more people come to his shows, but also because it means that local folks, especially young people, feel more comfortable expressing their sexual orientation and gender identities.
In addition to the use of unconventional venues for shows, something special about Humboldt drag is the multitude of gender identities represented within the performances. Though drag has existed in many forms for many years, the biggest spotlight has traditionally been given to drag queens – most often gay men adopting exaggerated female styles and personas. In recent years there has been growing representation of female or non-binary performers adopting male personas, known as drag kings. Today’s drag, both locally and around the world, is embracing the full spectrum of gender identities, with trans, non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer and non-gender conforming performers stepping into the limelight. For these folks, drag is not always about expressing a male or female persona. Sometimes they do both. Sometimes they do neither.
“Gender fuckery” is one term for it, said local performance artist Roux Kratt, who does drag under the stage name Cocky Muffington. On stage, Kratt often leans toward a masculine character, but as a non-binary person, they also sometimes perform highly feminine characters.
Kratt moved to Humboldt from Southern California about six years ago and started doing drag in late 2019, not long before COVID hit. When venues shut down because of the pandemic, Kratt moved their drag to an online platform, hosting virtual shows for Club Triangle. Now that restrictions have been lifted and venues are again open, Kratt is thrilled to see drag shows on the rise in Humboldt.
Like many other drag performers, Kratt utilizes their drag experience to help other budding performers get their start. Kratt has adopted many “drag kids” – young and/or inexperienced folks who Kratt teaches the art form, helping them learn how to do stage makeup, create costumes and develop their on-stage persona. Oftentimes youth who are not accepted by their biological families, will also look to their “drag parent” for support and encouragement in expressing themselves.
“It’s really important to me because it’s something that I wish I had when I was a kid,” Kratt told the Outpost, with tears welling up in their eyes. “Because I wasn’t allowed to be who I am.”
Of course, with the rise in drag performance in Humboldt there has also been a rise in pushback, with some groups and individuals publicly condemning local drag shows, especially all-ages shows. One Ferndale pastor’s attack on local drag, and subsequent threatening speech posted on social media, led to the cancellation of an all-ages fundraiser drag show that was scheduled at the Old Steeple. And another all-ages drag event at the Jefferson Community Center was disrupted by protesters who harassed and threatened the performers.
Hatred and violence directed at drag shows has become increasingly common across the country, and conservative media outlets and politicians have been making unfounded claims that these shows serve as an opportunity for sexual predators to “groom” children. Especially after last year’s shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo. – which left five people dead and at least 17 injured – there is definitely an undercurrent of fear in the drag community.
“From seeing everything that’s happened elsewhere, I’m terrified of doing drag,” Celeste told the Outpost. “I still love it. I’m still going to do it. But to know that what I love could possibly be the end of me at any time – it is terrifying. It’s the darkest feeling in the world. Because drag has saved me from so much emotionally.”
Both Kratt and Celeste said that it shocks and saddens them to hear people accuse drag performers of “grooming” children, especially when the goal of holding all-ages drag shows is to provide LGBTQ+ youth with a safe space, and they view themselves as mentors of many of the young performers.
“When [protesters] disturb our shows, they are disturbing our family time,” Kratt told the Outpost. “Because that’s what it is when we’re having these all ages drag shows. It is our queer family. It is a safe space for trans kids.”
Celeste and Kratt also wanted to be clear that at the all ages drag shows, the performances are kept pretty tame. They are very different from the 21 and up shows, like the one at Gallagher’s, where the content might be more raunchy. Sometimes drag, like many types of entertainment, is sexual. “But there isn’t anything inherently sexual about drag,” Kratt said. “Drag is the exploration of gender.”
But despite the threats they face, these drag performers say they will never stop doing what they do.
“Nothing besides death will stop me from doing drag,” Kratt said. “These shows are really important and a lot of performers depend on it for their well being and for their livelihood. I’m thankful to all the other performers – kings, queens and things – that come out and put out this art. Because it really is for all of us, whether you’re in the audience or on the stage.”
The Omega Drag show takes place at Gallagher’s Irish Pub – 1604 4th St, Eureka – on the second Saturday of every month at 9 p.m. This show is 21+. So it might get wild. Get into it.