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Toga! Toga! Toga! Twerk! Twerk! Twerk!

by Steve Desroches

It’s Carnival! As the crowds begin to arrive for what has become Provincetown’s signature event celebrating the LGBTQ history, culture, and community here, it’s time to get ready for what is always a major party, culminating in the grand parade on Thursday, August 17 featuring Glee star and pop-dance singer Alex Newell and “The Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia as grand marshals.  But before the two hit Commercial Street on a float for the 80,000 plus revelers, they’ll be taking over Town Hall for the Biggest Toga Dance Party Ever performing their latest hits and getting the crowd ready to twerk that toga in honor of this year’s Carnival theme, “Gods and Goddesses.”

The two musical stars each achieved fame in different genres, taking different roads to stardom that started in the same place: singing in church. Big Freedia hails from New Orleans, while Newell is a Massachusetts native, born and raised in Lynn. From a young age both began to break the rules, taking what they learned from singing on Sunday mornings and mixing it with shared inspiration from the work of singers like Patti LaBelle and Sylvester, as well as embracing their sexuality and gender identities in their performances. The result is that both singers have been on the forefront of music and style, as well as civil rights for LGBTQ people and African-American culture. Wednesday night at Town Hall Big Freedia and Newell, along with DJ Citizen Jane, will bring a night of music and dance the likes of which Provincetown has never seen before.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” says Newell. “For me it’s going to be a night of not what’s going on in the outside world, but about being together, dancing, and having fun in the now.”

Though he was born and raised in Massachusetts, this marks Newell’s first time to Provincetown, a visit he can’t believe took so long, as everyone he knows has been here multiple times, including the mega-watt producer of Glee, Ryan Murphy who owns a home in the West End. That was of course the show that shot Newell to fame when he was only 17 and portrayed Wade “Unique” Adams, one of the first transgender characters on television. He says he still feels an immense amount of pride for being a part of a show that brought the story of a transgender person to so many, especially young people, often for the very first time, giving him a special spot in the ongoing movement for trans equality and rights. And he’s still working with empowering youth as at the moment he’s in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Broadway Dreams, a program to inspire young people through performance and theater.

Alex Newell.  Photo: Brian Ziff

Recently, Newell toured with Adam Lambert, followed by time in the recording studio putting out the song “Need Somebody” and participating in the charity single “Hands,” which raised money for the Equality Florida Pulse Victims Fund, the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida and GLAAD, and featured 23 other artists, including Gwen Stefani, RuPaul, Britney Spears, Selena Gomez, Mary J. Blige, and Jennifer Lopez. Newell is also touring the country with his disco-infused dance-pop as he works with music legends Nile Rodgers and Diane Warren in writing and producing his latest club hits.

Big Freedia brings an entirely different realm of music to Provincetown as one of the early pioneers of Bounce music, which began in the clubs of New Orleans out of the LGBTQ and African-American culture of the famed southern city with its rich musical legacy. In the 1990s Bounce, a twist on hip-hop, started its two-decade hold over the Big Easy before breaking into the mainstream with Big Freedia appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and  Last Call with Carson Daly, becoming the ambassador of Bounce to the nation.

“It’s a call and response type of music over hyper fast beats,” says Big Freedia via e-mail.  “Bounce includes dances moves like the Twerk, the Bend Ova, and the Hands on the Ground. The essence of the music is freedom; total self acceptance.”

“People can expect me and my shake team to put on a very high energy show,” says Big Freedia. “Everyone will be sweating by the end of it!”

Big Freedia.

The music television station Fuse further cemented her fame with the hit show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce on which she lead a crowd of hundreds breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest ensemble of people twerking, a record she hopes to break on the harbor beach in Provincetown while here for Carnival. And while Miley Cyrus may have gotten all the attention for twerking at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2013, the music and the dance it inspired comes out of the New Orleans LGBTQ black community.

Perhaps Big Freedia’s biggest accomplishment to date is her work on Beyoncé’s mega hit “Formation” from the landmark album Lemonade in which the pop superstar incorporates elements of Bounce. Big Freedia’s voice also opened the Formation World Tour last year with: “Oh Miss Bey, I know you came to slay! Give them hoes what they came to see. Baby, when I tell you, I’m back by popular demand. I did not come to play with you hoes. I came to slay, bitch! Oh yes, you best believe it, I always slay. You know I don’t play!”  And she plans to slay the crowd at Town Hall working everyone into a Bacchanalian lather.

“People can expect me and my shake team to put on a very high energy show,” says Big Freedia. “Everyone will be sweating by the end of it!”

The Biggest Carnival Toga Dance Party Ever with Carnival 2017 grand marshals Big Freedia and Alex Newell with DJ Citizen Jane is on Wednesday, August 16 at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the evening ends around midnight. Tickets ($50 general/ $100 VIP with a meet and greet) are available online at and at the door. For more information call 508.487.2313.


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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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