Chicago’s only drag festival returns to Andersonville this week

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In the summer in Chicago, you can find festivals celebrating just about everything, including the best of the city’s food, music, craft beer, and culture. So it was only a matter of time before Chicago launched a festival showcasing one of its best cultural assets – its rich, diverse, and exciting drag scene.

On June 24, the grounds of Cheetah Gym in Andersonville will host the third edition of Chicago is a Drag, the Midwest’s first drag fest. The party is organized by A Queer Pride, the queer event collective of local artists Abhijeet, Bambi Banks-Couleé, JForPay and Kitty Banks.

The original event, held in 2019, grew out of the lineup of another popular Pride event in Andersonville, Backlot Bash. When asked to schedule the Friday of the festival, the idea of ​​an all-drag event was born.

“There was nothing in Chicago that showcased Chicago drag artists on their own, as themselves,” Abhijeet says.

The celebration coincided with a host of 50th anniversaries: the Stonewall Uprising, considered the start of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States; the first Chicago Pride event and the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s legendary drag club, the Baton Show Lounge. This first event featured a stacked lineup, with stalwarts of the local drag scene like Lucy Stoole, Aunty Chan and RuPaul’s Drag Race former DiDa Ritz serving as emcees, 50 performers and special guests (including hosts Tiffany “New York” Pollard and TS Madison), as well as actress Candis Cayne and drag race Raja winner.

To close this month of Pride, we keep alive an important tradition: to celebrate in June and gather all our friends.

In 2020, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers turned to digital hosting of the festival. This year, the team is focused on celebrating local talent, including uplifting established names from the Chicago pageant scene and up-and-coming artists.

“We look at how the community has evolved since then and bring in people who are leading the charge, and newcomers who are less than a year old into the community and give them a full platform,” says Abhijeet .

Following the positive reception of the first two events, the interest and initiative of Chicago is a Drag has only grown. For the first two events, Abhijeet and the collective A Queer Pride organized the lineup, but this year they were able to open applications to welcome more new artists. Over 100 applicants applied for 40 places at the event.

“It was very difficult, but the cast we landed with hits the right spots,” says JForPay. “We have so many different people, representing so many different neighborhoods. It’s so exciting to be the people putting the spotlight on Chicago drag as a whole.

Abhijeet describes the lineup as a “Chicago drag buffet,” where attendees can sample all facets of the Chicago drag scene, from drag race from pageant title heavyweights to performers who use live music and slapstick in their acts, as well as performers whose drag is more politically aligned or “pushing the stage forward”.

“In Chicago, we have a really amazing drag scene here because it really celebrates diverse points of view,” says JForPay. “We have some of the best drag kings in the world, like Tenderoni, but also a lot of amazing alternative artists who do darker or weirder drag and this amazing contest tradition in Chicago centered around continental contests. We have amazing trans artists. It’s such a wonderful place to start drag and have long, amazing drag careers.

And this year’s lineup is a powerful celebration of local talent, with 40 artists spanning different styles and genres. Even headliners who have achieved international fame by appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race– figure skating queen Denali and glamorous Kahmora Hall – are queens of Chicago. Famous out-of-town guests include Miami-based artist Fantasia Gaga Royale, the first winner of the OUTtv show HotHaus. And ahead of a crucial primary election, guest hosts include Precious Brady-Davis, an author and attorney running for commissioner in Greater Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

“To make this close to Pride month, we are keeping an important tradition going by celebrating it in June and bringing all our friends together,” says JForPay. “I think it’s really beautiful and important.”

Chicago is a Drag 2022 takes place Friday, June 24 from 4-10 p.m. on the grounds behind Cheetah Gym Andersonville (5248 N Clark St). Proof of vaccination and masks are required for entry, and organizers encourage guests to mask up for the duration of the event. Tickets range from $20 to $40, and the most up-to-date box office, lineup, and other information can be found at chicagoisadrag.com.

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