Marshalltown’s first drag show draws standing room only crowd
Walking up Main Street, the sound of Rihanna’s “S & M” pulsed through the air and got louder approaching Dave & Sally’s bar from two blocks away, which is as close as patrons could park if they arrived after 8:30.
Anyone who got there late waited in line for a $10 ticket at the entrance to the back patio from inside the main bar. When the door opened, a drag queen in a purple sequined dress was juggling fists full of cash as men and women screamed, holding dollars in the air waiting their turn to get closer to the glamorous performers as they strutted and posed through the crowd.
This drag show at Dave & Sally’s on Friday night was the first in Marshalltown’s history according to longtime residents, bar owners and search archives. Gauging the response from a crowd of 150 people who feverishly watched, danced and interacted, it was long overdue, and it won’t be the last.
Denny Gray, the owner of Dave & Sally’s, reached out to Muffy Rosenberg on Facebook about bringing her crew of drag queens (and one drag king) to his bar for a show. Gray thought it would be a good opportunity to diversify the type of entertainment that Marshalltown customers have had access to.
“They were great. We were happy with all who came, and everyone enjoyed it and that’s what we look for,” Gray said.
Rosenberg hosts drag shows at The Garden in Des Moines with open stage each week on Wednesdays and “Muffy’s Cougar Cabaret” on Saturdays. She’s competed on the national level in Dallas, Atlanta and St. Louis.
“I am inspired by all things glamorous — Hollywood, Broadway, fashion and great music,” Rosenberg said.
The show at Dave & Sally’s was representative of all of those things. Feathers from frocks floated through the air as the queens stunned in thick platform boots, feathered headdresses, onesies with neon rainbow winged shoulder pads, pink and purple wings. They worked the stage, danced and walked through an electrified crowd to Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Rihanna and Whitney Houston.
“I try to appeal to the audience at hand, but first and foremost I am true to myself,” Rosenberg said.
Condragulations! Diverse crowd
The crowd on hand that night was diverse. There were groups of twenty-something girls dancing along, drinking cocktails shouting, “Work it queen!” Older men and women sat at tables waving dollars above their heads to get the attention of the performers as they came around. Those interactions often ended in hugs.
There were also people one might not expect to see there in a relatively small Iowa town; men with scruffy bears, work boots, Huk fishing or camouflage Under Armour t-shirts. Some were there with their wives or girlfriends, while others congregated with their buddies.
It was likely a first experience for many of these men, but if they were surprised or shy, it didn’t last long. They quickly and enthusiastically invited the drag queens in their direction and smiled as they danced along to the music.
“She looked like Halle Berry when she took her wig off!” One of these men said as if he’d met his favorite celebrity or athlete for the first time.
Gray said he had messages online inquiring about the event and had people travel over two hours to be at the show. The response to a post promoting the event garnered over 60 shares on Facebook and people tagging friends in the event to do a roll call of who would be there.
“We were overwhelmed with the response and had an incredible time. We are very excited to come back,” Rosenberg said.
Gray plans to have Rosenberg return in September, where she may bring the same team of performers: Jean-Marie Knight, Robin Graves, Xander Lyon Frost, Majesty Diamond and Jade Knight. Rosenberg said she is looking to bring a show of male entertainers as well.
The doorman said he sold about 150 tickets. Between that, the liquor sales at three separate bars within Dave & Sally’s and the rainstorm of dollar bills the queens and king swept up, it appeared to be a good night for everyone. If ATMs dispensed one dollar bills, they would have been empty Saturday morning.
“Some people brought their own chairs (seating was full otherwise), and three bars were full,” Gray said. “It was a great night; nice people, the kitchen was busy and no fights or altercations.”
The diverse groups of young, old, gay and straight, cowboy boots and stilettos quickly blending together — it was all good vibes. It’s hard to imagine a dispute emerging when everyone seemed to be having so much fun.
Picking up on the buzz surrounding the show, Gray beefed up his staff by hiring extra bartenders, barbacks and support to run between the three bars, kitchen and floor. He even had three of his kids working that night to help.
The newly opened Voodoo Lounge in the basement saw a surge following the show. Groups descended the stairs to enjoy craft cocktails unique to Marshalltown from bartender Brian Gray.
In addition to lip syncing, dancing and working the crowd, Rosenberg organized the event and acted as emcee. She told stories that had the crowd bursting out in laughter, which often resulted in someone from the crowd shouting out to her and her responding with a quip that got the audience going even more.
God, freedom and the future
“I try to book diverse entertainers so that the show is well balanced,” she said. “At almost 60, I do more mature numbers and a lot less physical. I tend to talk to people in the audience and get them more involved.”
Rosenberg put on her first dress, wig and make-up for a theater production when she was in college. She played a rather naive young performer and said it was awkward at first, but it quickly became freeing.
She’s used to performing in Des Moines, which has multiple gay bars and venues where people are well acquainted with drag. Bringing the first drag show to Marshalltown is exciting for Rosenberg, but not necessarily unfamiliar territory.
“This isn’t my first time in a small town, although Marshalltown is a metropolis compared to my hometown of Oakland, Neb. (pop. 1,575),” she said.
After her first performance as a young adult, her journey in a new community grew, and she said it has opened a lot of doors and given way to great memories — as well as challenging ones she has tried to turn positive.
“Drag has given me a platform to raise money for community issues, allowed me to create scholarships and fund LGBTQIA youth and those wanting to continue or receive education,” she said.
Rosenberg fights for human rights and does fundraisers for HIV/AIDS care, education and research.
“When I started performing and was coming out, it was a period in time when AIDS was first coming into national recognition,” she said. “I attended so many funerals those first several years.”
There was deep sincerity and affecting humanism that broke through the glitz and glam when Rosenberg was on the mic Friday night. As the show reached its finale, she thanked the audience for coming and showing so much enthusiasm and kindness to her and the performers. She joked that there is usually at least one deranged heckler spouting intolerance, and he’s probably outside right now thumping his Bible.
But there was no one inside or outside with critical or discriminatory remarks or attitudes. Gray said his most popular events receive 900 impressions on Facebook. The drag show had 4,500, and besides a few comments for one or two people, it was not only positive, but energetically so.
In Rosenberg’s final remarks to the crowd, she warmly communicated her experience and wisdom as a performer and person. Addressing the audience, she said that God loves each and everyone one of you. He created us differently, and what makes us special is what we should celebrate. She asked the crowd to be kind and to love each other.
Her message to the younger generations was simple.
“Don’t take your rights for granted, they are not guaranteed,” she said. “Respect and be thankful for the people that fought to make it possible for them to experience the freedom and liberation they enjoy.”