Blue Moon Story
Pittsburgh Drag Scene
By Caitlin Bell
The Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh has gone through dynamic changes over the past 10 to 15 years.
From an area that was home to many working class Pittsburgh-natives, to developing a burgeoning art scene, to the current “trendy” area for young professionals rife with gentrification, one mainstay of the community has been Blue Moon.
The tiny dive bar is a short walk from the bustling main area of Butler Street. Looking at it from the outside you may expect a typical scene of a corner jukebox and cheap beer, but inside is a haven for the LGBTQ+ community that’s existed for years—and a jukebox and cheap beer.
Just about every queer person in Pittsburgh is going to have a Blue Moon story. It’s the type of bar you can walk in, find a seat at the bar (if you’re early enough—it gets packed), and watch amazing drag shows, karaoke, or pop in for many of their watch parties for shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race or Dragula.
If you’re alone at a show, give it an hour and you’ll have made a new group of friends. One commenter in a 2019 Buzzfeed article naming Blue Moon as one of the “26 Gay Bars Around The World To Put On Your Bucket List” remarked, “Every time I’m there I feel like I’m part of a big family where everyone is just super gay.”
Having many personal positive experiences at Blue Moon, I wanted to speak to two performers I had seen before and enjoyed, Niona Skyler and Cindy Crotchford. The two of them often perform shows together as well as host shows at the bar. The Pittsburgh drag scene is wonderful and diverse with a slew of unconventional, talented performers that goes back to some of drag’s most famous stars today. From queens of color, drag kings, nonbinary performers, to anything and everything in between, Blue Moon shows what a drag community can look like when you’re open, inclusive, and accepting.
How did you start doing drag?
Cindy: I started drag in the era of Sharon [Needles] and Alaska. That’s how I got my start. Those were the girls I looked up to. Those were the girls that gave me my chance. Now that’s my teacher for the newcomer of drag, which I love.
My first drag show was here, at the Blue Moon, and I saw Sharon, Alaska, Cherrie Baum and they just wowed me. And I really wanted to do that. I started bartending here and all of a sudden I was like I really want to do this.
Niona: When I started drag… Well, I hadn’t seen RuPaul’s Drag Race before. You know I always loved heels, I always loved makeup, and that just kind of spiraled into getting into drag and doing it. One of my friends at the time had been doing drag for a little bit and he sewed me an outfit or two. I performed in the Miss Newcomer Pittsburgh Pride Pageant in 2016 when I started and I won. It’s been three years now.
So that really made a splash into the community with myself doing drag and performing and having gigs and I’ve just, you know, from the love of heels to makeup to having a friend that does costumes—that’s how I got my start into drag… It’s been a whirlwind.
Editor’s note: For those unfamiliar, the people mentioned by Cindy are some of Pittsburgh’s most famous drag queens; Sharon Needles and Alaska being known for their time on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Check out YouTube for plenty of videos taken of Sharon and Alaska performing on the tiny Blue Moon stage. You’ll also find videos of bar patrons cheering when Sharon won the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” in 2011 and Alaska winning her spot in the “Drag Race Hall of Fame” on RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, respectively. The two were founders of “The Haus of Haunt,” an open community of barrier-breaking, punk, and horror inspired drag that still carries its traditions into the current drag scene in Pittsburgh.
Where have you seen the Pittsburgh queer community come from and where do you see it going?
Cindy: I think with the queer community there’s still a lot to work on. There’s still more doors we have to bust down. Other than that, I think we have made a positive influence on people. You look at the people before us, they gave us a chance to do what we’re doing now. I can walk down the street in full drag and nobody will say anything to me. Thirty years ago that would not have been okay. It’s more accepting, but it still needs to be worked on.
Niona: It all comes back to Stonewall and the riots 50 years ago; now we are in the 50th year, the legacy, the anniversary. It has come such a long way even from queens performing at Lucky’s in the 80s and even before that—I mean, Andy Warhol, talk about the 60s and 70s. We’ve come so far and the fact that I can do drag during the day and have gigs in the day and walk around and you know, be pretty much fine and perform for the public is insane because 20 or 30 years ago we couldn’t do that. They still did it, but it was much harder. So having all those queens that really set the bar for us and got us going back then. We’ve come leaps and bounds and I see it going that much further into the future. Drag is really becoming a part of mainstream culture. With RuPaul’s Drag Race and everything else—drag on TV, in movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, come on. We have had drag forever. It has been around for thousands of years. Now, it’s just kind of becoming a mainstream thing. I think we’re just going to keep going at this crazy level that we are. Now there’s drag shows every night in Pittsburgh. I can’t wait to see what drag is like in 20 years. I think it’s just gonna completely explode even more than it has.
Editor’s note: This conversation took place on June 1, 2019, the first day of Pride Month. This year marks 50 years of Pride following the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. Important conversations were sparked about how Pride has evolved over the years, notably becoming more corporate. Pittsburgh was one city at the center of this debate, the alternatively organized “People’s Pride” even being covered by The Daily Show. The organizers of the “official” Pittsburgh Pride weekend, the Delta Foundation, have landed themselves in hot water for a number of incidents including posting about LGBT Trump supporters, selling the naming rights of the parade to EQT, a natural gas company operating in the region, and in booking Iggy Azalea as the headliner for Saturday night’s concert in 2015.
What story do you want to tell that pertains to the queer community or drag in Pittsburgh?
Cindy: One story that means a lot to me was winning Miss Blue Moon 2019. For one, I see these girls every day, I see these gays every day, I see these lesbians every day—whatever. I see [the community] every day of my life, and just to have somebody to actually speak for them—and I don’t mind doing that. I’m always about body image. You don’t have to be a toothpick, you have to be this or that. Just go and rock yourself. And that’s all I believe. I made a whole career out of it.
Niona: The one that stands out for me is this past January I had taken a hiatus, about a month off of drag. Sasha Nolan, she’s an amazing queen in Pittsburgh, she’s been doing drag for like 17 years. She is really a legend. She invited me to perform for the Glitter Box Theater in Pittsburgh. It was for an after school program for specifically LGBTQ+ children and kids that have it figured out. I was so touched, there were maybe 20 kids there, some of them as young as 11 or 12 that know who they are and have identified as something that they want to go by for the rest of their life. Maybe it wasn’t how they were born, but they identify as their true selves. Whether it be gay, transgender, a woman, a man, whatever— these kids have it figured out at the age of 12 and I performed in front of them. It’s different than at a bar with alcohol and all of these crazy people. It was such a good time. It wasn’t a paid gig. It was completely just showing these kids what their future has to offer for them, showing them what the community means. Drag is part of the LGBTQ+ community. We are the soldiers of the gay community and performing in front of these kids was so amazing. I have no words to describe how awesome that felt. There was no amount of money that you could have offered me that could compare to that feeling.
Cindy: Keep on rockin’ on, because the world is about to change. Every day we can change more and more.
Niona: You know, you can be anything you want to be. You can get up in the morning, put on a wig, put the heels on, get some lashes on, and just be the person you want to be. There’s no limit. Not even the sky’s the limit! Drag is literally my life. It is a part of me and without it I’d probably have to be committed to an insane asylum.
I really think being LGBTQ+, we live in such a different world and not everybody gets to experience it. They live in a black and white world. We’re in the grey area, we’re in the color. I would never trade it for anything. It’s so amazing. So, be who you want to be and don’t give any shits.
Drag in Pittsburgh has grown and changed drastically over the years and one step into any of the many bars with drag performers in the city can confirm its not going away any time soon.
Writer & Photographer: Caitlin Bell
Editor: Alyse Horn-Pyatt
Web Producer: Will Halim
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