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Cross Country

Cross Country, a live country drag revue, benefits the Blue Mountain Clinic.

Missoula's live country drag show is moving on to bigger digs this year.

Cross Country, a revue featuring 30-some singers doing country songs of the their choice, debuted in 2016 at the Top Hat Lounge. The first did well, the second sold out the 550-capacity Top Hat, and so this year it's moved up to the 1,500-capacity Wilma.

Co-organizer Izaak Opatz said the Hat "lends itself to being a more intimate, sweaty" atmosphere with "more of a direct connection with the band and the performers," but with last year's turnout, there wasn't much room to dance. Plus, the even is a fundraiser for Blue Mountain Clinic and more tickets means more money to give, so it's at The Wilma on Saturday, Nov. 10.

The admittedly quirky idea was dreamed up by Opatz, a native of western Montana who's working on his songwriting career in Los Angeles. The notion occurred to him when he was listening to a mix CD of pop-country and had a hankering to sing Reba McEntire's "Little Rock."

Opatz, his friend and fellow musician/organizer Dawn Anderson, and others didn't have trouble finding people to sign up.

"It's never taken any convincing to get people on board with it," he said. Between the idea and the novelty of it, it's kind of "self-manifested." 

Last year, the event raised "just shy of $10,000" said Trinda Rieck, the clinic's advancement director.

Blue Mountain is a full primary care clinic that serves men, women, children, transgender people and offers mental health care, abortion care and full reproductive services.

The clinic is in the midst of a $1.27 million capital campaign, with $228,000 left to raise, and started construction in May on its first expansion since it was firebombed in 1993.

With the addition of a second level, the building as a whole will have three new exam rooms, and expanded space for its in-house laboratory, waiting rooms and administrative offices. They hope that more room will allow them to expand appointment availability by 35 percent in some cases, she said.

Rieck said that the clinic is "proud to stand behind and support" the LGBTQI community.

At the concert, the singers won't be singing without help. They'll have back-up from a six-piece live band, the Assless Chaps, which includes members of Cash for Junkers, VTO, Shahs  and Caroline Keys' band, the Lanesplitters. As in years past, they've spent no shortage of time learning upward of 25 songs.

Counting the duet partners, there are around 30 people singing. Opatz is singing "She's in Love with the Boy," by Trisha Yearwood.

There's not just one emcee this year. Svein Newman, their first-year master of ceremonies, and Jeff Medley, last year's host, will take the stage. (The organizers liked them both so much they decided to have two.)

The singers are a cross-section of local musicians. Marshall Granger, a Missoula songwriter and filmmaker, is returning for his second drag rodeo. Last year, he did Lucinda Williams' "Greenville," and this year, Jessica Lea Mayfield's "For Today." Granger said "they both touch on masculine tendencies in relationships that I personally try to stay aware of and in conversation with."

Granger records and performs under his own name, and has another project called Dorothy, in which he dresses as a character of that name, so the "Cross Country" cross-dressing isn't a stretch.

"When I was performing Dorothy sets, I think I was accessing a comfort level that I couldn't access performing as myself. Since then, I've returned to playing sets and recording music as myself, while retaining material I wrote for that project. I think now the fluidity of performing sets in my everyday clothes and performing with a wig and a dress just feels equally comfortable and rewarding," Granger said.

Kale Huseby, of the Missoula band Boys, has signed up for the first year with a Patty Loveless song: "Blame It On Your Lyin' Cheating Heart." Huseby said it was "mostly for the chance to do live-band karaoke with musicians I've looked up to for awhile, but also to support an organization doing important work promoting women's health."

Christy Hays, who splits her time between Butte and Austin, Texas, is singing a tune called "Bluest Eyes in Texas."

"Restless Heart was such a gaudy '80s country band, but their harmonies are surpassed by none," she said. Plus, it's a "little nod to the state that raised me musically."

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