The (drag) Queen of country

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by Steve Desroches

Trixie Mattel just woke up in San Antonio, Texas, shortly after noon on the first day of July. She clears the sleep out of her throat. The night before she played Houston and drove throughout the night to for her 39th gig in a 50-date tour of the United States and Canada performing her show Moving Parts, which she debuted last summer here in Provincetown. It seems she needs to take a peek out of her hotel window each morning to figure out where she is, as she travels so much. She’s loving it all and doesn’t take her success for granted, but she’s ready to come back to Provincetown, to stay in one place for a while and to enjoy a town that’s she’s fallen in love with and that loves her right back.

A lot has happened since she left the Cape tip, where she “mysteriously disappeared” midsummer without explanation, though RuPaul’s Drag Race fan forums were abuzz like Nancy Drew on the case, as they correctly deduced Trixie was filming season three of All Stars, which she won. Mattel laughs that she “feels like a loser who won something,” considering how she unceremoniously got booted twice from her original appearance on the drag reality show that’s become a cultural phenomenon. But Mattel achieved a level of pop culture stardom no other drag queen has before when her 2017 album Two Birds and this year’s One Stone both were hits on the country charts. You read that right. A drag queen, with two hit country albums. And she has country stars like Kelly Musgraves wanting to work with her.

“I thought country music fans would be more conservative,” says Mattel. “But I forgot how many country fans are just old hippies. They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what you’re going to wear. Cool. Who cares?’ I was surprised that when I put a country song in my Provincetown show that people liked it so much, as I didn’t think people would like it as much as they did as I didn’t think country music was very popular here. I write a lot of my music sitting in the Post Office [Cabaret] when it’s empty during the day. My latest is a bit like if Joni Mitchell and Bob Ross did a country album.”

The Milwaukee native made a splash when she arrived in Provincetown two years ago, quickly garnering headliner status in a town that continually attracts the best drag talent in the country each summer. But its easy to see why Mattel, portrayed by Brian Firkus, is a surprising mix of savagely funny stand-up comedy, fierce, over-the-top wigs and make-up, of course the music, and a sweetheart personality that stays in tact even when delivering an off-color joke or a wicked jab. And Mattel is continuing her practice of debuting her new show in Provincetown, as she presents Skinny Legend at the Post Office Cabaret through mid July, returning again in August after she plays Canadian dates everywhere from Montreal and Vancouver to Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

Mattel’s ascent in the drag and performance world has been meteoric, to say the least. The All Stars crown (and the corresponding $100,000 prize!) certainly has helped, as the show isn’t just popular in the United States, but around the world. Fans download it, often illegally, as RuPaul’s Drag Race goes global. But the same is true for The Trixie & Katya Show, a TV series on Viceland that she and fellow Drag Race alum and Boston queen Katya Zamolodchikova host, and their web series UNHhhh. Mattel even made a cameo as herself on American Horror Story: Roanoke. She’s in such demand that when she finishes her summer run in Provincetown she’ll take Skinny Legend on a four-continent tour, filling her calendar right up until she returns to town for the summer of 2019. And she hopes to return again and again, as there is no place like Provincetown for drag queens. Nowhere, she repeats. The audiences here, as well as the community of performers and townspeople, are so incredibly supportive, but at the same time also demand excellence; that’s what they’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

“Provincetown is where I go to throw darts at my material,” says Mattel. “That’s where I learned to hit the bull’s eye. Sometimes I bomb. Ugh, yeah, sometimes I bomb. But in Provincetown you need to be better than good, you need to be special. Provincetown audiences are special themselves, a mix of sweethearts and evil old queens. There is so much competition in town. I always tell myself, get your sh*t together. Varla Jean Merman is right down the street. If you aren’t great, people will go see her, or any of the other shows in town instead.”

While appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race gives an undeniable boost to landing a gig in Provincetown, it’s not what keeps you here. Venues throughout town are inundated with audition videos and calls from managers trying to secure a night or two, never mind a whole season, as Provincetown is to drag queens what Hollywood is to film actors, Nashville to songwriters, and New York is to aspiring musical theater actors. And as another season of RuPaul’s Drag Race ends, there is a new crop with national attention trying to parlay that into a shot at a stage in Provincetown. Each summer you need to bring your best, no exceptions, or it could be your last. While Mattel is powdered nose to the grindstone, at the moment she’s happy, which worries her. Everything is going so well she’s waiting for the other high heel shoe to drop.

“It’s hard to write country music when nothing bad is happening to you,” says Mattel. “I don’t know. I probably have cancer.”

Trixie Mattel presents Skinny Legend at the Post Office Cabaret, 303 Commercial St., Provincetown, Thursday, July 12 through Sunday, July 15 at 7 p.m., and then again Wednesdays through Sundays, August 2 – 19 at 8:30 p.m. For tickets ($35 general/$45 VIP) and information, go to the box office, call 508.487.0006, or visit postofficecabaret.com.