How 'Drag Race' Stars Became Drive-In Performers During the Pandemic

Aquaria, Jaida Essence Hall, Asia O'Hara
Marco Ovando

(L-R) Aquaria, Jaida Essence Hall, and Asia O'Hara.

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold earlier this year, drag performers around the world were left wondering: when venues, bars and clubs around the world are shut down, how do you keep making a living?

For some queens, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms have become an experimenting ground for new, out-of-the-box looks. For others, performances via livestream took over for their usual gigs. But the latest iteration of ingenuity in the live performance sphere is seeing drag stars get up-close (but not too close) and in-person with their fans.

Starting in mid-July, LGBTQ creative agency Voss Events launched Drive 'N Drag, their latest drive-in concert series that sees fan favorite queens from RuPaul's Drag Race -- including Aquaria, Yvie Oddly, Jaida Essence Hall, Violet Chachki, Monét X Change, Asia O'Hara and many more -- taking to actual stages around the country, as fans watch from the safety of their own cars.

Voss Events' CEO and founder Brandon Voss says that the team behind the company's successful Werq the World tour were left with few options in early 2020 when the remainder of their shows had to be abruptly cancelled. "We shifted gears to doing digital versions of the tour, with our Werq the World livestreams," he tells Billboard. "Interest just started to wane as people got kind of sick of all the digital content out there. So as states started to re-open, we looked for a way to perform back on stage."

The idea of doing a drive-in concert came to Voss in the most unlikely of places — the parking lot of an Olive Garden. "You would just drive up to the parking lot and a waiter would come out and take your order and then bring it to you," he says with a laugh. "The whole time I was sitting there, I was thinking, 'Why can't I do a drag show the same way?'"

While Drive 'N Drag doesn't necessarily take that same approach to a live experience, the general feeling remains the same: guests drive up to each outdoor venue in their cars where they remain throughout the show. Depending on each state's specific guidelines, some rules are different — at the Westfield Garden State Plaza show in New Jersey, for example, attendees were allowed to have tailgates around and behind their cars, while at the Rose Bowl in L.A., they were asked to remain inside of or on top of their vehicles.

"What's most important is the messaging to the guests, so that they can understand the rules. So we give fans a little outline of what the rules and regulations are for each show. We have a safety video that plays before each show, our host will come out and explain," Voss says. "Our audience has been a very respectful crowd — everyone wore a mask, everyone follows the rules."

At each show, the performers take to the exterior stage to deliver their numbers, with wig reveals, costume changes and lots of stunning dance moves involved. Fans can tune in to an FM radio station to hear all the music playing along with each song.

Voss says that putting on each show has been a "learning experience," as the creative team behind the tour is faced with specific challenges that they have yet to encounter in putting on their live performances. "We've had to build restrooms, stages, lights, sound. We've had to build all of it from scratch," he says. "My main take away is that this is a s--t ton of work."

While Drive 'N Drag has already been financially successful — all of the shows they've put on so far in New Jersey and Los Angeles have sold out — Voss still makes clear that in this pandemic, turning a profit for the queens on a live tour is very difficult.

"I think we had roughly 8,000 people in Los Angeles over the course of the weekend, which is a lot of people," he explains. "But to get those numbers, we did three shows per day, three days in a row in the blazing heat, whereas in a pre-COVID era, we would book one arena or one theater for one show, and then move on to the next place. We have to put on nine shows to get the same amount of people."

Voss is now looking to the future for further opportunities to promote drag stars in the age of coronavirus. "Once we finish this run, we'll probably lay low for a little bit, and then come back in October," he says. "We're trying to put a unique twist on it for Halloween."

Drive 'N Drag will be making three more stops this summer — the show comes to Chicago's Soldier Field this weekend (August 7 - 9), Seattle's Westfield Southcenter from August 14-16, and Washington DC's Westfield Annapolis from August 21-23.

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