By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
Vancouver seems like an odd place to start a movement — especially a gay one teeming with drag queens, acrobats, and cabaret performers. But that’s exactly what promoter Justin Buckles and Ecstacy Inferno (aka Angel Hanson) have set out to do. They’ve dubbed their movement the “Caravan of Glam,” and it’s a plan to spread some big queer love throughout small (and bigger) towns all over the region. It’s something Buckles and Inferno, both raised in small towns — the former, Coos Bay, the latter, Oregon City — remain incredibly passionate about.
As we sit outside Scandals one midweek evening, Buckles beams over their newest brainchild. “I ran into Ecstacy one night at CC’s — it was not long after Central Oregon Pride,” he recalls. “I was just in Bend and saw this incredible need for something more regular there. I saw Ecstasy and knew she was the one I wanted to work with. So after I got home that night, I texted her, and it was on.”
“Well, first I was like, ‘Who the fuck is this?’ I have four exes named Justin,” Inferno remembers. “I had lost all my contacts a few weeks before that, and usually when people are texting you at 3 a.m., they’re wanting, you know.” The two flash easy smiles and glances and she continues: “But since that night, it’s been eerie how easy it’s been. We’re in sync. We can finish each other’s sentences.”
So what, precisely, is the Caravan of Glam? Its first incarnation — held at Vancouver’s now-defunct
Tigerlily — brought a slew of performers across the river. Allie McQueen, Carla Rossi, Asia Ho Jackson, and several others joined Ecstacy Inferno, irrefutably one of the most energetic queens in town, on stage.
“The first night was way more receptive and had way more support than we expected,” Inferno says. “Tigerlily was full of eager, hungry, and thirsty patrons from Vancouver and Portland — they craved a high-energy show filled with different entertainers, and every single performer brought it that night, hard core. It kind of set the bar for Caravan and showed others what we’re about, what we expect from our entertainers — and it opened our eyes to just what is about to happen.”
Since that now-infamous night at CC’s, Buckles and Inferno have been planning like mad. “We sat down, hashed out the basic Caravan of Glam idea, and started working on it,” Buckles explains. “We both realize our combined experience — mine in the entertainment industry along with managing Red Cap, and her ability to put a show together paired with her take-no-prisoners attitude — could make something pretty amazing happen. I started making phone calls, we did a couple of quick day trips to look at venues — and just a month after we started work, we had a year’s worth of shows booked in Bend, followed by a year’s worth of shows at Late Night Delights in Southern Oregon.”
“At the moment we’re in talks with venues in Salem, Eugene, and Lincoln City—and we’ve been approached by venues in Boise and Olympia.”
An impressive resumé for a newborn. The moment this writer heard about the Caravan, it occurred to me: How has no one thought to do this before? No one has taken a variety show on the road, year round, to some of the smaller venues and towns across the region? It seems like a very real way to make a big difference in the lives of queer youth who might feel isolated and alone, for starters. Though many of the venues are 18 and older, the Caravan plans daytime meet and greets with the community in the cities they visit, so underage queers can still rub elbows with drag royalty.
Inferno, remembering her own troubles past and struggles with addiction, talks openly about her past. “Without proper role models or something positive to look toward, it’s easy to head down a dark path. We just want to put this option out there — we want to be positive role models and give back to our community. It’s like when I perform at the Escape, and kids come up to me and tell me, ‘You’re an inspiration.’ It’s wonderful, even if it’s hard to hear.”
When pressed about why hearing such affirmations can be a struggle, Inferno replies frankly, “As an addict you learn to hate yourself. The road back to love is a long one.”
In fact, addiction almost ended Ecstacy Inferno forever. She’s performed drag off and on for well over 15 years, but it wasn’t until San Francisco’s Heklina Heklina brought Miss Thing to town that Inferno rededicated herself to the craft. (And won February’s competition. I still have the calendar.)
“Heklina and Miss Thing reminded me of all the amazing things we can do as a community — when we do it together.” She adds, “And yes, we definitely have queer youth in mind, but the show is really for everyone.”
Buckles knows exactly where Inferno’s coming from — both from their time together now and from his tenure on Stark Street. In addition to bar management, Buckles has worked as a production manager on “American Idol,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and “Gene Simmon’s Family Jewels,” to name a few. In addition to the Caravan, he’s also launched his own production company, Justin Buckles Productions, which will be, at least in part, a talent agency.
Talent will certainly be what it takes to sustain a show like this. And perhaps a little money. Regarding Portland’s penchant for wanting something for nothing (i.e. paying covers), Ecstacy Inferno gets serious: “It takes most queens a few hours to get ready, not to mention the cost of makeup and costumes. This shit isn’t free. But in return, after I put on my face, I will give you a show for your money. You will walk away satisfied.”
And the pair is nothing if not ambitious. In addition to their multi-city, multi-acted tour, Buckles booked a three-day tour with “Drag Race” fan favorite Latrice Royale, who wowed Portland on a sold out boat during Pride weekend.
“At the height of all this I called Ecstacy and said, ‘I want to do a tour with Latrice.’ She thought I was crazy, and I kind of agreed,” Buckles says. “But after I hung up with her, I took on the challenge and booked Latrice for three shows — Portland, Eugene, and Bend, with the Bend show being the debut of the Caravan of Glam.”
We’d expect nothing less from such a dynamic duo — and from the burgeoning queer cabaret. During Central Oregon Pride, Buckles remembers a conversation he had with a local. “I asked him what was coming up next, after Pride,” Buckles recalls. “He said, ‘Well, we have Pride next year.’ It broke my heart.”
Well, un-break your heart, Mr. Buckles. It seems you and the Inferno have found a solution.
For more information, “like” Caravan of Glam on Facebook. You can also email Justin Buckles at [email protected] or Ecstacy Inferno at [email protected] The Caravan’s next appearance is in Medford on Sept. 28 at the Imperial Event Center.