When you think of Mesa County, you might think of peaches, the Colorado River, maybe conservative politics.
And probably no drag queens.
But every month the queens of Second Saturday hold court at Charlie Dwellington’s, a bar in downtown Grand Junction. The drag show starts late and runs late, and at the last event, people in belts and vintage dresses cheered from every table and booth as hostess Stella Van Dyke worked the floor. She flawlessly lip-synced a little introductory number encouraging people to tip and other rules.
“Use of flash photography is strictly mandatory!” the loudspeakers roared. “Do you think I look like this just so I can exist in your memory?”
Stella did little personal games and dances to people as they passed dollar bills and threw more on the floor. Her blonde wig cascaded over a tight-fitting bodysuit, a noisy tangle of colorful geometric shapes, handcuffs dangling from her neck.
“I’m plus size,” she said proudly. “I’m a full-figured woman, here I give you this full, delicious, full-flavored experience.”
Stella founded Second Saturday in 2019, and since then the show has welcomed a mix of local drag veterans and up-and-comers, all offering different approaches to drag for a 21-and-over crowd.
“It’s real. It’s art,” Stella said. “And it’s raw.”
It is also included. This is what really stands out for Kandrii Zavalla, who is also performing that night.
“We don’t have just one kind of drag,” she said, laughing and dramatically waving a large fan. “We have beautiful queens. We have butch queens. We have bearded queens. We have all kinds of queens. We have kings!’
Kandry was also in a bodysuit, her thighs augmented by pieces of foam mattress hidden under layers of pantyhose. She lives about an hour away in the small town of Cedaridge, where she works as a landscaper. But she explained that it’s only when she’s in “boy mode.”
“As soon as I go outside on Friday, I’m like, ‘Candrius is alive! Like, let’s party! Let’s shave! Let’s get glam!” she said, her long ponytail swinging from side to side. “Weekends are for her! Weekdays are for him!”
Although she has performed in a big city before, she doesn’t think her appeal is really appreciated there. Here she feels the stage is much more open.
The night we visited, someone who had never done drag – and probably never wanted to – even took the stage. A reluctant-looking man in jeans was urged to do so by his friends. He protested a bit while putting on a blonde wig, but something happened when Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” started to swell. He walked into it and the crowd screamed for him as he spun around for them. The dollars were flying, with proceeds from his performance benefiting a local animal shelter where his fiancee works.
Did he expect anything from this?
“Definitely not,” he said after he was out of his wig. “I’m an honest man, but they’re all good people, so why don’t you ever think otherwise?”
It’s a place to try on a new persona—or just be yourself. Artist Dark Mistress Juliet explained that when she first started coming out as a trans woman in Grand Junction, she was afraid to even go outside to get her mail.
Then she came to Second Saturday and immediately began to meet friendly people, although she sat alone in the corner.
“And that’s where the love of the community helped me so much,” she said. “And now I’m in a place where I’m helping a few others.”
Tonight she dances in her short purple and black witch dress surrounded by a young drag king aspiring. Juliet has only been in drag for about a year, but said she already feels like part of a family.
“Community and unity,” that’s what Second Saturday is all about, founder Stella said.
She thinks her child, who grew up in a small community nearby, would be in complete disbelief if she saw this happening here.
“I mean, I imagined it, but I also dreamed about going back in time and traveling around the universe,” she said, “like these things weren’t going to happen.”