Arts and Culture

Denver Drag Days Mark Drag Nation's Tenth Anniversary This Weekend

Performers from a past Drag Nation show at Tracks.
Miles Chrisinger
Performers from a past Drag Nation show at Tracks.
When it came time to plan the tenth anniversary of Drag Nation, the wildly popular monthly drag showcase at Tracks, one event just wasn't going to cut it. In order to properly honor the show largely responsible for Denver's recent drag boom, nine Colorado LGBTQ+ bars worked together to produce Denver Drag Days, a three-day celebration of all things drag set for March 29 through 31 at Tracks and Exdo Event Center.

We recently sat down with Erik Arredondo, event manager at Tracks and EXDO, to talk about what we can expect from the inaugural Denver Drag Days.

Westword: How did Denver Drag Days come to be?

Erik Arredondo: Drag is just so big in our city right now, and we had the idea to team up with Robin MacKinnon, who is the founder of the Mile High Kingdom, a drag king group, and then Jessica L'Whor, who is a really well-known local drag queen. We do this competition called the Ultimate Queen Competition that kind of pairs with the current RuPaul's Drag Race season, and we have very seasoned drag queens who are mentors, and they mentor the up-and-coming drag queens, and we saw that there was so much opportunity to spread knowledge.

There was a desire for the knowledge of what goes into drag, how you can achieve a certain level and a certain status, and we felt like we had the resources to pull something together. We also wanted to showcase drag across the state of Colorado, so Jessica has reached out to some performers from Fort Collins, from Grand Junction, and we're bringing performers who aren't from RuPaul's Drag Race from all around the country that have different styles of drag. And then we've put together panels and classes that cover everything from the experience of trans queens to hands-on workshops where you can learn how to do things like sew and style wigs. There's a comedy class, there's a hosting class — we're covering all things drag.

What can attendees expect from Denver Drag Days?

We have a website that has our schedule posted, so you can see the different panels and what time they're happening and who is involved in them. The event is backing up to the tenth anniversary of Drag Nation. We started Drama Drag with Nina Flowers in 2009, and then that evolved into Drag Nation. So we have the mayor coming to do a proclamation for the day, and stuff like that to kick off the weekend. We have Latrice Royale, who has always been popular — she's always been a Denver favorite. Kahanna Montrese, who actually started in Denver and made it on season eleven of Drag Race, is coming. And, of course, Yvie Oddly, who is Denver and Tracks's own little drag superstar. So we're really proud and just excited to have everyone come together. I think the timing is great with having a Denver queen on the show, and everything lined up with Drag Nation's ten-year anniversary, so we just thought this was a great opportunity to do a bigger-scale drag event with performances, education and panels. Then on Sunday, we're going to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the world's largest drag brunch.

Yvie Oddly was crowned Denver's Ultimate Queen in 2015. - BEN SEAGREN PHOTOGRAPHY
Yvie Oddly was crowned Denver's Ultimate Queen in 2015.
Ben Seagren Photography
You partnered with a bunch of other clubs in the area for Drag Days. What was it like working with so many other local businesses that cater to Denver's queer community?

This is kind of the first time that this many bars are involved in one event. We wanted to make a statement to the Denver community as well that the bars support drag and the community, and we wanted to come together and work together to produce this event. So you'll see shows from Charlie's, shows from X Bar, Triangle, Hamburger Mary's, Pride & Swagger, and more. Every bar that's involved has some kind of show or some kind of talent that's involved in one of the events over the weekend. It's been a lot of fun getting to work with all of the managers and all of the talented people from the other bars that we don't work with a lot just because of our busy schedules.

What would you say makes Denver's drag scene unique?

I would say the passion within the community to support it. When I started at Tracks in 2006 or 2007, there wasn't much of a drag scene. A lot of drag queens were moving to Chicago, just leaving Denver because there weren't a lot of opportunities. And then RuPaul's Drag Race came along, with Nina Flowers, and it re-energized the drag scene. Bars started hosting performances again, and it developed a following. As RuPaul's Drag Race progressed and the drag scene progressed, it just kind of exploded into what we see today, which is everyone wanting to do drag, or at least having an appreciation of the art.

How have shows like RuPaul's Drag Race, which brings drag content to a mainstream audience, changed Denver's drag scene?

I think that it's given the queens something to aspire to. I would say there were a few years where almost every notable drag queen in Denver was trying out for the show, and for whatever reason they weren't really paying attention to Denver. We've had Michelle Visage here, we've had Ross Matthews here for Drag Nation, and they're always blown away by the production level of Drag Nation and the talent in this city. We just could never really figure out why it was that they weren't really paying attention to Denver.  But now with Yvie Oddly, it kind of exploded overnight and again re-energized the drag scene in town, and now everyone is back on the bandwagon of trying to get on the show and wanting to strive to get to that next level so that they can be on that caliber of drag. And it's great that it's all-ages, too. It's not a-21-and-up thing anymore; it's something where you'll see families.

Even the Saturday of Drag Days we set up as an all-ages thing. Sunday will have some all-ages events as well, but Friday will be a 21-and-up day. It's great to see the families and the parents that support their children in whatever it is they want to do, whether they want to do drag or it's the art piece that they're just infatuated with. Just to be able to see them supported in that way and have an opportunity to come to a place like Tracks and learn more about it is awesome. We're excited to be part of that.

click to enlarge Drag Nation is celebrating ten years at Tracks. - TRACKS
Drag Nation is celebrating ten years at Tracks.
How do you think Denver Drag Days will compare to larger drag conventions, like RuPaul's DragCon?

DragCon is centered around the queens from RuPaul's Drag Race, and I haven't been, but it seems to be a big meet-and-greet, and an opportunity for fans to get photos of the queens and buy merchandise and things like that. I'm sure that they do educational pieces as well, but that's really what we're focused on with Drag Days, is to showcase the shows that you may not have seen because you haven't been to Fort Collins or Grand Junction. I think people who aren't part of the community don't understand just how thriving the drag scene is here. So that's really what our Drag Days event is about. We'll have vendors here that you can connect with for different things needed in the drag world, and then, of course, the education component. It's really mirrored off of Ultimate Queen, where you have people that see what these drag queens do and are infatuated with it, and that's what they want to do someday, and they just don't understand how to get to that level, or what questions to ask, or what to focus on, or how to be able to get up on stage at places like Tracks and Charlie's or anywhere else. So that's what it is about: a chance to come in and talk and ask questions. Drag is a business for a lot of queens. There's a lot of queens now that do it full-time, it is their only job, and that's a great testament to how big drag has become in Denver.

Is Denver Drag Days targeted specifically at drag fans, or do you expect you'll get a lot of curious people who are experiencing drag for the first time?

We're hoping to get curious people. It's more about the art of drag and drag queens, drag kings, trans queens, bio queens and all the different styles and forms of drag that we want to showcase. I think that's really the target audience: people who love the art of drag.

What event are you most looking forward to during Denver Drag Days?

I'm really excited for all three days. I've been a part of Drag Nation since it started, so I'm excited for its ten-year anniversary, just to see what it's become. The fact is that we started and we had no idea what it was going to be. I mean, we started at Tracks, and we were getting 400 people for it, and we thought that was amazing — that 400 people would come out for a drag show. And now it's grown to where it's over 1,000 people every single month. Personally, that's the biggest accomplishment that I think Drag Nation has brought to the drag community, so I'm excited to be part of that. And I'm excited for the brunch, too, just because drag brunches are always fun and I think to break a world record and have everyone be part of that is just going to be something amazing, and in a place like Denver that no one really would take seriously because they think of New York or L.A. or other big drag cities like Chicago. I think Denver has always been one of those places where people have heard about the drag scene, they've seen it on Instagram and things like that, but to be able to see it up-close and personal and see how people respond to it is what I'm excited for.

The inaugural Denver Drag Days will run Friday, March 29, through Sunday, March 31, at Tracks/Exdo Event Center. Individual tickets for Friday and Saturday are $20, individual tickets for Sunday are $25, and a three-day weekend pass is $60. Tickets and additional information are available on the Denver Drag Days website.