Late one night in the spring of '84 a drunken group of friends, seeking more diversions, closed the Pyramid Club and traipsed over to Tompkins Square Park, six-packs in tow. Brian Butterick, Michael "Kitty" Ullman, Wendy Wild, The "Lady" Bunny and a few members of the Fleshtones were horsing around in the bandshell when someone (no one remembers who, it's all such a blur) came up with the idea of putting on a show - a day-long drag festival - and calling it Wigstock. It was Bunny who was foolhardy enough to take the idea seriously, going recklessly ahead and getting the necessary permits.
The "Lady" Bunny kicks off the world's most offbeat, sick-adelic (and only) outdoor drag festival with a jazzed-up version of "I Feel The Earth Move", wearing a black double-knit rhinestone-studded pants suit with chain belt and platform wedgies -- this in front of a crowd of a few hundred mostly unsuspecting onlookers. By the end of the day 1,000 or so people have gravitated to the bandshell in Tompkins Square to witness the spectacle -- a whimsical, and demented, collection of performers from the legendary Pyramid Club who will become the staple of Wigstock's line-up for years to come: Tabboo!, Hapi Phace, Lypsinka, Ethel Eichelberger, John Sex, Wendy Wild, John Kelly, Sister Dimension, The Fleshtones, Baby Gregor, Tangella DeVille, and founder, organizer, grande doyenne The "Lady" Bunny!
The crowd grows to a few thousand. John Sex works the guys (and girls) into a frenzy with his gyrating cover of "Secret Agent Man". 6'6" big, bad, bald porn star Dean Johnson rocks the house with his original "Bourgeois Boys". Underground band 3 Teens Kill 4, featuring artist David Wojnarowicz on toy piano, hypnotises the masses with their trippy sound effects. John Kelly as Dagmar Onassis sings his version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" which becomes the traditional Wigstock finale for years to come:
"By the time we got to Wigstock we were several thousand falls...
And I dreamed I saw the drag queens spraying hairspray in the sky and it made all the yuppies die"
The "Lady" Bunny is bewitching!
As the numbers continue to swell, there as many trannies and freaks in the audience as there are on stage. Ru Paul, Lahoma Van Zandt, and The "Lady" Bunny are Starguard, a trio of intergalactic "beauties" who emerge from a cardboard spaceship in a cloud of smoke, mesmerizing the crowd with their tripped-out astrological ramblings. Baby Gregor as Jelly Joplin belts out a boozy renditon of "Ball and Chain" (who knew the lengths Baby would go to in emulating the real Janis Joplin?). That other "legend of liquor", Joey Heatherock, sings/slurs . . . something (it's hard to make out what). Ethel Eichelberger woos the audience on her concertina. Bunny rules!
Just three weeks after the infamous Tompkins Square Riots (where police battled neighborhood radicals) Wigstock III draws 5,000 peaceful revellers to the park. The "Lady" Bunny, having spent all her time on organization, rather than wardrobe, emcees the entire event in a caftan (no girdle) and flats! Lady Miss Kier, Super DJ Dimitri, and Towa Tei debut their combo Deee- Lite. Tucking her apron away, Barbara Patterson Lloyd showcases for the first time her unique brand of housewife standup "comedy". The events of the day are put on hold as Lahoma Van Zandt implores the crowd to bring a sandwich to the stage ASAP!--Bunny's in the throes of a hypoglycemic fit and can't continue without a ham & cheese. With that crisis resolved, the show resumes with such highlights as The Boybar Beauties' version of "Afternoon Delight", a classical solo (en pointe) by Madame Ekatarina Sobechenskaya, and the show-stopping whirling dervish levitation of Chicklette! Film auteur Tom Rubnitz directs the original Wigstock: The Movie. Bunny's a trooper!
The B-52's Cindy Wilson performs "Ain't It a Shame" and "She Breaks for Rainbows" for the first time ever! Chicks With Dicks, a transvestite phone sex line, becomes one of Wigstock's first corporate sponsors. The 5 Moniques, all former fashion models, premier their rockin' combo French Twist. Sexy Playboy model Phoebe Legere struts her stuff. Lahoma Van Zandt, using her own God-given voice, backed by her group Potlicker, rips into the classic, "Feel Like Makin' Love". Tabloid queen Sukhreet Gabel croons an off-key torch song to the bewilderment of the crowd--but who cares, she's famous(ish). Tangella Deville and baby Gregor are A.W.O.L. Al Goldstein's Screw Magazine calls Wigstock "the hormonal convergence that ushered in the Age of Asparagus". The"Lady" Bunny is riveting!
The crowd mushrooms to 10,000. The number of camera crews begins to rival the multitude of drag queens. The throngs erupt in convulsions as pop superstars Deee-Lite take the stage to pump out their smash hit "Groove is in the Heart", Linda Simpson makes her auspicious Wigstock debut. International singing Sensation and "living doll" Frida charms the crowd with a tribute to all the mothers of the world. A scoundrel tries to make off with $700 from the Wigstock concession stand. If not for the amphetamine-enhanced athleticism of Bunny's co-organizer/t-shirt designer, Scott Lifshutz, who managed to hurdle several fences in pursuit, the deadbeat might have slipped away. Joey Heatherock aka Wendy Wild is dead-drunk by the beginning of the second set . . . again. In dedication to the memory of Ethel Eichelberger and International Chrysis a balloon-suspended wig is set aloft, soaring to Heaven (after clearing a few trees azid power lines). The "Lady" Bunny is sizzling!
Wigstock moves to Union Square, with a "Monterey Popff stage and, for the first time, portable toilets (we shudder to think where the hordes were doin' their business before). Drag legend and star of Paris is Burning, Dorian Corey (the one with the mummy in the closet), makes her Wigstock debut. Joey Arias channels Billie Holiday . . . mesmerizing. The Duelling Bankheads unveil their lunatic act. Pushing for a recording contract, Ru Paul performs as Starbooty - for 15 minutes (she's scheduled for 5). Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger presents The "Lady" Bunny with a proclamation declaring it official "Wigstock Day". A disgruntled drag queen tries to sabotage the festivites armed with a bullhorn and wire snips. No one notices. Mona Foote, clad as Wonder Woman, steals the show with her rendition of "I'm Every Woman". The Wigstock Dancers boogie their way into our hearts. Bunny's somethin' else!
Wigstock moves home to the East Village, dragging that big ol' rented stage with it. A 4 hour time limit is imposed by some rigid (Fascist, stick-in-the-mud) politics until a flood of phone calls convinces Mayor Dinkins to intercede. The drag queens outflank City Hall and The "Lady" Bunny gets her 8 hours (It's not nice to fool with Mother's Nature). Wigstock is dedicated to the memory of artist Tom Rubnitz and stonewall rioter/prostitute Marsha P. Johnson who was found floating in the Hudson river a few months earlier. Newcomer Flotilla DeBarge, the Empress of Large, mounts the stage--thousands hold their breath . . . and turn blue during Satellite Dish's "breezy" compostion featuring an assortment of farts, with bongo accompaniment. Lypsinka does a typically dazzling production number, hoisted on stage by a team of football players/hoofers. She's a pro. To the tune of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman", Codie Ravioli strips, revealing her new operation (or at least a good tuck). Borough Prez Ruth Messinger in a perky blonde flip, presents Wigstock with another proclamation. Admiring Bunny's costume, Ms. Mess congratulates "her" for "her commitment to recycling", upon which Bunny snatches the mike away and screams, "Security!"
Over 25,000 revellers burst the seams of Tompkins Square. RuPaul bursts into stardom with her smash hit, "Supermodel". Bursting eardrums, and chomping on a cigar! India pumps her hit "I Can't Get No Sleep". Ultra-soprano Varla Jean Merman bursts glass with a dramatic rendition of the Star Trek theme song. Literally bursting, Leigh Bowery gives birth to a full grown woman and chomps off the sausage-link umbilical cord-- the first baby born at Wigstock, and a bloody mess! Gracing the Wigstock stage for the first time are mega-superstar Debbie Harry and punk legend Jayne (formerly Wayne) County, reprising her classic "If You Don't Wanna Fuck me, Fuck Off!". The "Lady" Bunny continues the theme with her giddy "Fuck Me Forever", bringing a healthy dose of raunchy burlesque to the Wigstock tradition. Prida comes out of semi-retirement and makes her triumphant return with a rap rendition of "Convoy". 10-4 Good Buddy! Filming begins on a major motion picture. The "Lady" Bunny finally gets her crane shot. She's on fire!
It seems like only yesterday that Bunny's Sasquatch-sized hoof first hopped on stage at Tompkins Square. But that park can't hold her anymore, so she's moved the sucker to the Christopher St. piers (where she's familiar with performing "acts" for an eager public). 35,000 plus pack the piers for this perverse spectacle. Afrodite falls victim to a plastic fringed curtain which drops on her mid-number. The "Lady" Bunny saves the day with a switch-blade (borrowed from a handsome yet rough young man) and hacks down the offensive prop. Drunk, disorderly, and off-key, The Duelling Bankheads slur their way through Blondie classic, "Heart of Glass"--that is, until Debbie Harry herself runs onstage and tears off one of their wigs. The fight that ensues is a shameful, if not memorable, Wigstock moment, as Bunny once again takes matters into her own hands (that switchblade sure came in handy). Linda Simpson, armed with music and a showcase of drag models, redeems herself after being booed off the stage in '93. Girlina electrifies the crowd with all that conflama, drama and ooh- la-la, poulets! She loves to kiki! Musical actress Sherry Vine sings "me and Keanu Reeves", like a nightingale (on dope). Delivering comic monologues are the classy Coco Peru, and the trashy Ragu Mountain Woman (a tribute to hillbilly inbreeding). Crystal Waters cooks with her dance smash "100% Pure Love" The "Lady" Bunny kicks ass!
50,000 funsters flock to the piers. Bigger stage, bigger sound, and a big 20 foot video screen! Dance routines and production numbers dominate the show. The Wigstock Dancers-- this year, Billy Beyond, Honey Dijon, Barbie Q and Shasta Cola- -launch each set with their lunatic antics. 4 costume changes, 4 insane routines (one with a giant hookah and a little herb for inspiration... they forget the steps). Anne Magnuson debuts a tightly choreographed little number from her forthcoming album "The Luv Show". Wendy Wild dons devil attire for her Vegas inspired act, surrounded by bimbo showgirls and a pimp. Sweet cunt-ry bumpkin Lurleen also features the Evil One in her elaborately staged version of Lynne Anderson's version of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Polished professional Lypsinka stuns the crowd with a foul-mouthed blaxploitation number (courtesy of Lawanda Page). Winning top honors in the tumbling and human-pyramid categories is Candis Cayne and her cheerleader squad, wowing the audience with vaulting and backflips and other delirious acrobatics! The Squeezebox Band cranks out a live set, showcasing the talents of rock chicks Lily of the Valley (she's sassy!), The Duelling Bankheads (they're sick!), Miss Guy (the Goddess of Pinocchio), and soul sistah Ebony Jett. Dude! The legendary (in Atlanta! at least) Lily White, witch queen of punk rock, warms up the crowd each set with a string of dirty jokes, pausing only to take a swig off her bottle. Keeping the filthy humor rolling, The "Lady" Bunny presides over 2 Laugh-in inspired segments with dozens of go-go dancin' queens telling rotgut jokes. Ryan Landry, the P.T. Barnum of America's drag set, presents A.F.T.E.R.G.L.O.W.(Assholes Fighting Together Emulating Real Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling) and gives live color commentary for the fight of the day: a grudge match between Bonecrusher Murphy and Demonica Carrie in a pit of baked beans. As Bunny's X kicks in, House divas Joi Cardwell and Barbara Tucker work the crowd into a frenzy with their respective dance hits. Bunny launches into a frantic jig, writhing and careening across stage until she collapses in exhaustion, while Barbara finishes her number. The "Lady" Bunny is demented!
Wigstock is not! Without a suitable home (and a cooperative administration) the world's finest outdoor transvestite rock festival grinds to a halt...almost. Always the trooper, Lady Bunny manages to cobble together a flashy show, indoors, at the now defunct Palladium. Intended as a benefit for Wigstock '97, "Wignot" is a minor success, managing to entertain a core of rabid dragophiliacs with glitzy entertainment. What the event loses in folksy charm it gains in production facilities and lurid nightclub atmosphere, but despite the all around honesty and professionalism of the organizers, it manages to "benefit" only the nightclub in which it was held.
Miraculously, The Lady twists enough arms of enough stage hogs to blaze the way for Wigstock's triumphant return to the Hudson River. The now perfunctory live set features the likes of Sherry Vine, Jackie Beat, Lily of the Valley, and Miss Guy et al doing their best impersonations of Queen and Heart and other rock dinosaur's that slip this historian's mind right now. but they were real good numbers. Barbara Patterson Lloyd mesmerizes the audience with a traditional Irish production - "Lady of the Dance". Candis Cayne narrowly avoids disaster when her backup dancers arrive, fresh off Broadway, only 10 minutes before curtain call (her Andrews Sisters-inspired number pees). Organizers are forced to charge admission to meet costs (sniff), but it really is a benefit this time, raising $30,000 for Beauty vares and GMHC! Asymmetrical outfits rule the day.