Kingz for a Day at Austin International Drag Fest

Brand-spankin’-new KingFest kicks off AIDF 2018

Between aGLIFF wrapping in September and OUTsider not starting up until February, what’s a queer, festival-loving Austinite to do in the downtime?

There are, of course, a whole lotta queer shenanigans always going on around town, but what about those looking for lewks, for their days and nights to be graced with kingz, qweens, and everything in between, surrounded by faces beat for the gods, such realistic stubble you’ll get beard burn from just lookin’, or mugs so celestial you’ll wonder what planet you’re on? Well, dear qweeahs, may Qmmunity present to you the Austin International Drag Festival.

Just some kingz doin’ their thangz, captured at the inaugural Drag Fest in 2015 (Photo by Suri)

Now in its fourth year, the “world’s largest drag festival” is bringing almost 400 performers back to A-Town from Thursday, Nov. 15, through Sunday, Nov. 18, for four days of showcases, panels, workshops, a vendor market, and nighttime parties. This year, however, sees a brand new – and highly anticipated – slot added to the schedule: Thursday’s KingFest, an all-day event dedicated solely to drag kings and masculine-of-center performers.

“It’s important that we don’t limit ourselves to what drag is or to gender identity and gender expression,” prefaces Jamie Bancroft, president and CEO of Austin International Drag Foundation, the nonprofit he founded in 2014 that is responsible for putting on the fest. He continues, “So, from the very beginning, we’ve had king showcases, and then we’d mix kings into other showcases to make sure everyone got to see kings.” Because as Bancroft sees it, drag kings, when compared to the popularity of drag queens, are often overlooked. “There are people out there that don’t even know there are drag kings.”

Over the years, though, Bancroft says he’s noticed an increase in kings attending. He also noted that more and more kings began to reach out, wondering if Drag Fest would consider holding a smaller, satellite fest for kings at their homebase. With organic growth already happening, Bancroft deemed this year a better time than ever to launch KingFest.

Taking over Thursday, KingFest is a miniversion of the larger festival, featuring its own showcases, panels, and workshops. Highlights include a drag king history panel led by Mo B. Dick and Flarington King, as well as a facial hair workshop. Last year, Spikey Van Dikey taught a wildly successful binding workshop. (“Spikey is a pioneer in binding techniques, and has created apparatuses that kings use now,” relays Bancroft, adding, “I think Spikey should get that stuff patented.”) Unfortunately, “The Most Famous Drag King in the World” won’t be offering the workshop this year, but he’s headlining KingFest along with local legend Papi Churro, among others. The night comes to an end with a performance by local drag king band the Qzars, which Bancroft says can only be described as “intergalactic, bearded fabulousness.”

This year, Bancroft adds, Drag Fest is doing something “no other festival in the world does” by allowing King Me: Rise of a Drag King and Camp Wannakiki (two online drag reality series) to hold casting calls at the 2018 fest. (Coincidentally, Papi Churro starred in the first season of King Me.) So performers and festivalgoers will have numerous chances to try out for the shows over the weekend. (Interested in Camp Wannakiki? You’ll need to fill out an application beforehand, which you can find here.) And for those identifying outside of the king/queen binary, Bancroft tells us Camp Wannakiki is looking for all gender expressions and identities, unlike, ahem, certain other drag reality series.

Above all, Bancroft hopes KingFest will give to performers (and fans) what it’s given to others over the years: a feeling of community – something that’s helped performers book gigs across the world and revitalized careers. Heck, RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine winner Sasha Velour’s drag son, Dandy Velour, who’s performing at KingFest, says attending previously is what inspired him to get into drag. And hopefully, it will educate folks, too. “[Drag] is not what you see on TV, which is a bunch of people bitching at each other and putting on makeup,” says Bancroft. “It’s an actual art. … People do it because they’re artists.”

Austin International Drag Festival runs Thu., Nov. 15, through Sun., Nov. 18, at Holiday Inn Midtown, 6000 Middle Fiskville. See website for tickets, info, and daily schedules. $15-174 (student discounts available).

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Austin International Drag Festival, Jamie Bancroft, KingFest, Papi Churro, Qzars

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