When you think of Mesa County, you might think of peaches, the Colorado River, maybe conservative politics.
And probably not 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 goes late, and at the most recent event, folks in harnesses and vintage dresses cheered from every table and booth, as hostess Stella Van Dyke worked the floor. She was flawlessly lip-synching a little introduction number that encourages people to tip and other rules.
“The use of flash photography is strictly mandatory!” the speakers bellowed. “Do you think I look like this just so I can exist in your memory?”
Stella gave little personal shimmies and dances to people as they handed over dollar bills and threw more on the floor. Her blond wig flowed over a skin-tight bodysuit, a loud tangle of colorful geometric shapes, handcuffs dangling from her neck.
“I am plus size,” she said, proudly. “I am a full-figured woman, here giving you that full, delicious, full-flavor experience.”
Stella founded Second Saturday in 2019, and ever since the show has welcomed a mix of local drag veterans and performers just starting out, all offering different takes on drag for audiences 21 and older.
“It’s real. It’s art,” Stella said. “And it’s raw.”
It’s also inclusive. That’s what really stands out to Kandrii Zavalla, also performing that night.
“We don't just have one type of drag,” she said, laughing and dramatically waving a huge fan. “We have beautiful queens. We have butch queens. We have bearded queens. We have all kinds of queens. We have kings!”
Kandrii was also in a bodysuit, her hips augmented by pieces of a foam mattress hidden under layers of pantyhose. She lives about an hour away, in the small town of Cedaredge, where she works as a landscaper. But she explained that’s only when she’s in “boy mode.”
“As soon as I clock out on Fridays, I'm like: ‘Kandrii’s alive! Like, let's go party! Let's go shave! Let's go get glam!” she said, her long ponytail flipping from side to side. “Weekends are for her! Weekdays are for him!”
While she has performed in a big city before, she didn’t think her drag was really appreciated there. Here, she feels the scene is much more open.
The night we visited, someone who had never done drag — and likely never wanted to — even took to the stage. A reluctant-looking man in jeans was urged to do it by his friends. He protested a little as he donned a blond wig, but something happened as Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” started to swell. He got into it, and so did the crowd, screaming for him as he gyrated for them. The dollars were flying, with proceeds from his performance benefiting a local animal shelter where his fiancée works.
Did he expect any of that?
“Absolutely not,” he said, once he was wigless. “I’m a straight guy, but these are all good people, so why would you never think any other way?”
This is a place to try on a new persona — or just be yourself. Performer Dark Mistress Juliet explained that when she first started presenting as a trans woman in Grand Junction, she was scared to even go outside to get her mail.
Then she came to Second Saturday and immediately started meeting friendly people, even though she was sitting by herself in the corner.
“And from there, the love of the community has helped me so much,” she said. “And I'm now in a place where I am helping a few others.”
That night she danced in her short, purple-and-black witch dress, flanked by a young drag king, a newbie. Juliet has only been doing drag about a year, but she said she already feels part of a family.
“Community and unity,” that’s what Second Saturday is all about, said founder Stella.
She thinks her kid self, growing up in a tiny nearby community, would be in total disbelief to see this happening here.
“I mean, I imagined it, but like, I also dreamed of going back in time and traveling the universe,” she said, “like, those things are not gonna happen.”
And for a long time, there was little drag in Grand Junction, after a small scene mostly died out in the 1990s. But about 10 years ago, Stella met a Denver queen who painted her face for the first time. Stella never felt more beautiful.
She soon found herself calling a local bar and asking if she could perform for Halloween.
“I mean, of course my makeup wasn't very good. And I didn't really know what I was doing, but the audience liked it and they really, really responded to it,” she said.
That was her first hint of the power of drag.
“And it was wonderful and I loved it, and I truly felt electric. And I think the last 10 years has just been chasing that high,” she said, with a laugh.
Stella sometimes gets worried about the fear some people are pushing about drag queens — including her own congressperson — and her show did attract a single protester once. But in general, what Stella hears is appreciation, from her own town and beyond.
“People who are not from this area or from this region, they will come here and they make comments like: ‘I had no idea that this was out here and I'm so happy that it is,’” Stella said. “I'm aware of what people think about us, but I'm here to change that.”
Typically, each Second Saturday ends the same way. All the performers get back on stage together, and a familiar song starts to play.
“How do you measure a human life?” asks the iconic tune from the musical Rent.
The answer, said Stella, is the same thing that brings these performers here month and month for the last three years.
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