Walking down Main Street, Rihanna’s “S&M” sound was pulsing in the air and louder as she approached Dave & Sally’s bar from two blocks away, the closest patrons would be able to stop if they arrived after 8:30.
This drag show at Dave & Sally’s Friday night was the first in Marshalltown history according to longtime residents, bar owners, and research archives. Measuring the response of a crowd of 150 people who were watching, dancing and interacting with enthusiasm, it’s long overdue, and it won’t be the last.
Denny Gray, owner of Dave & Sally’s, reached out to Muffy Rosenberg on Facebook to bring 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 clients could access.
“They were great. We were happy with everyone who came, everyone enjoyed it and that’s what we’re looking for,” Gray said.
Rosenberg hosts drag shows at The Garden in Des Moines with an open stage every week on Wednesday and “Muffy’s Cougar Cabaret” on Saturday. She has competed nationally in Dallas, Atlanta, and St. Louis.
“I was inspired by all things glamor – Hollywood, Broadway, fashion and great music,” Rosenberg said.
The show at Dave & Sally’s was all of these things. Feathered dresses floated in the air as queens stunned in thick platform shoes, feathered headpieces, and anises with rainbow-winged shoulder platforms and pink and purple wings. They’ve acted on stage, danced, and walked through an electrifying crowd to Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Rihanna, and Whitney Houston.
“I’m trying to appeal to the current audience, but first and foremost I’m honest with myself,” Rosenberg said.
Congrats! diverse crowd
The crowd present that night was diverse. There were groups of twenty girls dancing along, drinking cocktails and yelling, “Make it, Queen!” Older men and women sat at tables waving dollars over their heads to catch the attention of the performers as they came. These interactions often end in a hug.
There were also people one might not expect to see there in a relatively small town in Iowa; Men who wear skinny bears, work boots, Huk hunting or camouflage, Under Armor shirts. Some of them were there with their wives or girlfriends, while others gathered with their comrades.
It was probably the first experience for many of these guys, but if they were surprised or ashamed, it wouldn’t last long. They quickly and enthusiastically called the drag queens in their direction and smiled as they danced to the music.
“She looked like Halle Berry when she took off her wig!” One of these guys said as if he had met his favorite character or athlete for the first time.
Gray said he has messages online to inquire about the event, and has invited people to travel more than two hours to attend the show. The response to a post promoting the event garnered more than 60 shares on Facebook and people tagged friends at the event to make a phone call to who would be there.
“We were overwhelmed by the response and had a great time. We are very excited to be back,” Rosenberg said.
Gray plans to return to Rosenberg in September, where she may bring the same cast of artists: Jean-Marie Knight, Robin Graves, Xander Leon Frost, Majesty Diamond and Jed Knight. Rosenberg said she’s looking to pitch to male artists as well.
The doorman said he sold about 150 tickets. Between that, liquor sales at three separate bars inside Dave & Sally’s and a rainstorm of dollar bills swept up by the Queens and Kings, it seemed like a good night for everyone. If the ATMs cashed one dollar bills, they would have been empty Saturday morning.
“Some people brought their chairs (the seats were full otherwise), and three bars were full,” Gray said. “It was a great night; sweet people, the kitchen was crowded and there were no quarrels or quarrels.”
Diverse collections of cowboy boots and heeled boots, young and old, gay and straight mixed together – it’s all been such a positive vibe. It’s hard to imagine conflict arising when everyone seems to be having so much fun.
Taking advantage of the hype surrounding the show, Gray boosted his staff by hiring additional waiters, sheds, and support to run between the three bars, the kitchen, and the floor. He even had three of his children working that night to help out.
The newly opened Voodoo Lounge in the basement has seen a rise after the show. Groups descended the stairs to enjoy unique craft cocktails for Marshalltown from bartender Brian Gray.
In addition to lip-syncing, dancing, and working with the crowd, Rosenberg organized the event and served as manager. She told stories that got the audience laughing, often resulting in someone in the crowd yelling at her and making her reply with a remark that made the audience go even more.
God, Freedom and the Future
“I try to book various artists so that the show is balanced,” she said. “At around 60, I am doing numbers that are a bit more mature and a bit more physically fit. I tend to speak to the public and engage them more.”
Rosenberg wore her first dress, wig, and makeup for a stage production when she was in college. She played a rather naive young artist who said he was awkward at first, but soon became liberated.
She used to perform in Des Moines, which has many bars and gay places where people are well aware of drag. Bringing the first drag show to Marshalltown is exciting for Rosenberg, but not necessarily unfamiliar territory.
“This is not my first time in a small town, although Marshalltown is a capital compared to my hometown of Auckland, Kneipp (population 1575),” she said.
After her first performance as a young adult, her journey in a new community grew, and she said it opened a lot of doors and made way for great memories – as well as challenges that she tried to become positive.
“Drag has given me a platform to raise money for community causes, and has allowed me to create scholarships and fund LGBTQIA youth and those who wish to pursue or receive education,” she said.
Rosenberg fights for human rights and collects donations for HIV/AIDS care, education and research.
“When I started performing and was going out, it was a period of time when AIDS was first gaining national recognition,” she said. “I attended many funerals in those first several years.”
There was a deep devotion and impact on humanism that pierced the sparkle and glee when Rosenberg was on the microphone on Friday night. As the show came to an end, she thanked the audience for coming and showing so much enthusiasm and kindness to her and the performers. Usually, she joked, there was at least one deranged jerk breathing out of unforgiveness, and it’s possible that he’s outside now beating his bible.
But no one at home or abroad had critical or discriminatory comments or positions. Gray said his most popular event receives 900 impressions on Facebook. The raffle offer was 4500, and along with some comments for one or two people, it was not only positive, but positive as well.
In Rosenberg’s final remarks to the audience, she warmly conveyed her experience and wisdom as an artist and as a person. Addressing the audience, she said, God loves each and every one of you. We are created 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.
She said, “Don’t take your rights for granted, they are not guaranteed.” “Respect and gratitude for the people who fought to enable them to experience the freedom and liberation they enjoyed.”