When you turn 3 at your birthday party, nothing will distract you from a toddler-sized car with a blue bow on top. Not even a giant pink bus in your driveway, or standing 6-foot-7 GiGi Gabor in cowboy boots and a rainbow jumpsuit.
So Everett Ferguson walked over to his show, as if a drag show wasn’t happening outside his house right now.
“Can we swap?” GiGi called him.
Luckily, especially for entertainers who come with a tip bucket, adults outnumber toddlers at this party. They’re here to celebrate Everett, yes, but also to see the Curbside Queens. GiGi and fellow performer Cherry Lemonade began doing on-demand drag in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted traditional performances and Pride celebrations. Malory Ferguson saw one of those early shows, and this year she knew exactly who she wanted to headline her son’s third birthday.
“A party under 5 is only for you,” GiGi told her as her friends and family gathered on the lawn.
“Only 5?” Malory joked.
That first summer, GiGi and Cherry hung a sequin curtain on the roof rack of GiGi’s SUV and thought they’d do a few shows for Pride. They ended up doing 88 performances that summer, and GiGi put 8,000 miles on her car and had to have it towed at the end of the season.
The demand was obvious, so GiGi bought a used shuttle with 300,000 miles for next summer. Nicknamed “Peg” and painted pink, this vehicle took them to another 85 shows in 2021. They drove all over Maine, though they had to turn down a request from Caribou because they were pretty sure that the engine wouldn’t make it there and back. When the bus was retired at the end of the year, GiGi got a heart tattoo that says “PEG” on her arm.
In 2022, Curbside Queens upgraded the bus again and invited six additional performers to join the cast. A 50-minute show is $250, plus travel expenses for destinations more than 15 miles from Peg’s home base in Portland. A summer weekend can mean up to 12 bookings for the Curbside Queens, but June is a whole other level.
In addition to the usual concerts in the aisle, artists are hired for the Biddeford Pride celebrations in Bar Harbor. Last weekend, they did three-day shows at a downtown brewpub, brunch, Pride Portland! festival stage in Deering Oaks, a nightclub and two different walkways.
GiGi started Saturday with a makeup application at 9 a.m. and ended nearly an hour later. Then she headed to the first stop of the program: the Frying Dutchman at the Portland Public Market. Bunny Wonderland and Finn Gerring met her there before 11 a.m.
“Pride is a marathon, not a sprint,” GiGi reminded others. “Hydrate, hydrate.”
The brunch special was a Korean cheese corn dog and two Dutch meatballs called bitterballen in a suggestive display over fries, and one of the owners of Frying Dutchman served them in a pair of towering aqua heels and a halter top with sequins. GiGi kicked off the show with a rendition of Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best,” and the crowd immediately started waving dollar bills which she gathered in her hands and rained down on her head. The audience continued to cheer with Finn’s sultry performance of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and MisterWives’ “Our Own House.”
GiGi introduced the sets and kept the crowd laughing, but she took a break for the speech she gave on each weekend show.
“We spend May through November driving around in our giant pink shuttle, hanging out in driveways or parking lots or wherever people want us to come and bring this queer joy and art,” GiGi said. “And we think especially during Pride season, we need to remember who gave us this right to be here living so freely, and that’s trans women of color.”
Curbside Queens donates a portion of its profits to causes that support transgender people and the Black Lives Matter movement. GiGi, who identifies as a non-binary trans woman, encouraged the public to donate their time or money to local groups that support marginalized people.
“Trans women of color have always been on the front lines of defending our rights as queer people to exist and live freely, and they are still to this day the most at-risk members of our community,” GiGi said. “We wouldn’t be here to celebrate Pride without the women who fought back against New York City police brutality and harassment at Stonewall in 1969.”
The show continued and GiGi headed out early to Deering Oaks, where she was scheduled to host the festival’s main stage alongside fellow Curbside Queens Arabella Ladessé and Danielle Dior. A rainbow crowd had already gathered for the parade starting in Monument Square, but you still couldn’t miss GiGi walking down the sidewalk in her towering, bejeweled blonde wig. (“A daytime look,” GiGi said, when a passerby complimented her hair.)
Arabella took the stage in a sparkling red evening gown to perform “Black Girl Magic,” and the crowd roared in approval as she swung her long tresses out of her bun. She travels all over New England — she has 35 shows booked this month alone — but she loves aisle shows with Curbside Queens.
“The group is so much more intimate,” she said. “There is room to be more of a person and less of an artist.”
Mike Thornhill first saw Arabella perform a few years ago. After meeting up at a mutual friend’s house, Mike took a chance and asked her out.
“Like everyone else, I was enchanted,” he said.
On Saturday, Mike offered a firm hand as Arabella came down from the stage in her silver high heels and held her coat as she posed for photos. He takes a pair of small scissors from his pocket to cut a stray thread on his collar. He sees the toil of those performances, the hours spent working on costumes, and the nights of little sleep between an evening show and a morning shift.
“I think people think everything’s a party all the time,” Mike said. “It’s real work. They have day jobs.
GiGi works Monday through Thursday in product development for a small accessories company in Maine. Bunny is a pre-kindergarten teacher and said one of her happiest days was when her class came to see her drag performance of “Dragons Love Tacos” at the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine. Arabella got a job during the pandemic as a health insurance agent, which gives her access to benefits and also a way to advocate for more inclusive policies for transgender people. Finn is a dance teacher and coach for body empowerment.
They came to drag at different times – Danielle Dior has been performing for 38 years and spoke lovingly of her “drag girls”, while Finn Gerring started last year – but all described it as a way to explore their identities.
“Drag is a pretty big art form,” said Finn, a drag king. “Drag brought my body positivity and gender fluidity together. It brought together all those passionate parts of myself.
With the festival still going strong on Saturday, three Curbside Queens slipped away for a show down the aisle. They boarded Peg and headed to South Portland, a house where they’ve performed at a Pride block party for the past three years. They took a break after that show, then went on stage at Aura in Portland that night, then slept in Sunday morning.
Everett’s birthday was their last event of the weekend. A rainy drizzle did not discourage either the artists or the public. GiGi wore a red pixie cut wig that would stand out better in the audience, and they all twirled rainbow umbrellas above their heads. A few revelers donned their own colorful wigs.
When Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” exploded from the speaker, Finn dove into the bus for one last prop: a bright blue bubble gun. Everett was shyly cuddled up against his mother in the grass, but he let out a delighted cry when he saw the bubbles flying around Finn. He ran forward, laughing with joy, looking for iridescence.