by Steve Desroches
It’s a summer night and the fog has rolled in making walking down Commercial Street a bit like drifting through a cloud. The misty haze glows a bit red from the neon sign for the Lobster Pot and the general “woo woos” fill the air. Just then the cheers increase and the opening riff of the B-52’s hit song “Love Shack” spills out of the Governor Bradford. If it’s a summer night that means one thing: time for drag queen karaoke, and Dana Danzel is the maestro of good times and sweet vibes. As host of karaoke for 20 years Danzel is one of the most beloved performers in Provincetown with the tradition at the Governor Bradford consistently drawing a crowd that stays until the wee hours, singing and swaying, making it one of the longest running nights of entertainment in town.
“One of the best things about it is I get to meet people from all over the world,” says Danzel. “It’s a different show each night. It’s always different. And you get to be a star.”
Part of Danzel’s success is that she recognizes the opportunity she has whenever she’s onstage. Drag karaoke is popular nationwide and each queen adds their own flavor to the evening, as do Veronica Lustt and Miller Brooks when they fill in for Danzel on her nights off. Years ago Danzel shared the gig with the hilarious and totally unique PJ McWhiskers, who would insult the crowd and singers occasionally, much to their delight. But for Danzel, she uses the occasion to bring people together, she says. With so much hate and division in the world she wants to spread “love, compassion, joy, and gratitude” and to replace fear with community.
Take a look inside the Governor Bradford on any night and you’ll see on display what makes Provincetown so special: the crowd inside is quite frankly everyone. Despite whatever theme week is in town or any ideas of what those unfamiliar with Provincetown may have about what is a “gay bar” or not, drag karaoke at the Governor Bradford pulls in a diverse crowd each night for its laid back party vibe and old Provincetown ways, which are still at the heart of the town. On this particular night, two women, a couple from Buffalo, enjoy a beer, and while not courageous enough to sing themselves, they enjoy those who do, like Mike, who along with his wife, is staying in Dennis, but came up for the night. Once he has a couple of more beers he’ll most likely sing something by Frank Sinatra.
Danzel moved to Provincetown 30 years ago from Boston, where she began her career in drag. She entered Putting on the Pumps, an amateur drag competition at Club Cafй hosted by the legendary Joanna James. And Danzel won her very first time. She laughs when she remembers how she learned to do makeup at her day job at JC Penney’s from a co-worker who painted the faces on the mannequins. Showing impressive performance skills, James invited Danzel to perform in Provincetown for the summer in a drag revue, which led to more and more offers. And like so many in this town, Danzel never left and has made the Cape tip her home.
“I performed with Joanna and Kandi Kane in Boys R Us at the old Iguana Grill, I was in Legends at the A House, I was in Where the Boys Are, I’ve performed most everywhere in town,” says Danzel. “I started out as a cocktail server at the Governor Bradford and that’s how I got my foot in the door, and I’ve been there ever since.”
Danzel also performs regularly at Sisters in the Name of Love, an annual fundraiser for the AIDS Support Group of which she’s a founding member. Her commitment to community and spreading love is obvious with everything she does. And she does that when she performs throughout the evening, choosing songs that uplift and entertain. And she only has one rule: absolutely no mic drops! It damages the equipment.
Over 20 years she’s seen a lot, as one would with that perch on Commercial Street for that many years in a town where the wild and crazy seem to be endemic. But of all the nights over the years, one comes to mind as quite memorable. She was singing the 1960s flower power anthem “Put A Little Love in Your Heart,” and she thought everything was going well. She learned later that while she was trying to unite an audience with peace and love, around the corner there was a table-flipping, glasses-smashing barroom brawl between two dueling bachelorette parties. She didn’t know the fracas was underway until later and bursts out laughing now that she provided such an ironic soundtrack to the melee.
“I mean, usually people respond and love to feel united, but not that night,” laughs Danzel. “There I am singing ‘Put A Little Love in Your Heart’ as these girls are fighting. Fights are so rare, but of course one would break out when I’m singing that song.”
Dana Danzel hosts Drag Queen Karaoke at the Governor Bradford, 312 Commercial St., Thursdays through Monday starting at 9:30 p.m. Veronica Lustt hosts Tuesday and Miller Brooks hosts Wednesday. For more information call 508.487.2781.
Top Five Most Performed Songs at Drag Queen Karaoke at the Governor Bradford
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler
“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf
“Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks