The only country drag show in Montana — or anywhere that organizers know of — is returning for a second year on Saturday at the Top Hat. Cross Country boasts upward of 20 covers performed by a cast of local musicians.
Izaak Opatz, the lead singer of country-rock band Best Westerns, started the show last year to benefit Blue Mountain Clinic. It went off so well, to performers and some 300 audience members, some in drag and some not, that he started planning again the night of.
After paying the band, it raised about $2,500 for Blue Mountain Clinic, the family practice and primary care clinic in Missoula. They're not trying to "be a big part of the budget," Opatz said, only draw attention to the clinic and its services, which include women's reproductive health, abortion services and transgender health care.
This year, there's a set of 24 songs performed by locals, backed by a band of local veterans, with Gibson Hartwell on pedal steel, Grace Decker on fiddle, Lukas Phelan on keyboards, Nate Biehl on guitar, Jeff Turman on bass, and Graham Black on drums.
The singers include Caroline Keys, who released a great album earlier this year with her band the LaneSplitters, Tyler Roady of Cash for Junkers, Lisena Brown of Wartime Blues, Chris Sand the Rapping Cowboy, Hermina Harold and more. Jenny Fawcett of Shahs is returning from last year, under the name Princess Cowboy. She's picked a cover of "Cool Water" by the Sons of the Pioneers, which she'll sing with backup from Keys, Harold and Dawn Anderson. She's also doing a duet with her husband and Shahs bandmate Tom Helgerson aka Fancy Manatra: "Summer Wine," by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra.
She said last year's show was "among the greatest times I'd ever had on stage. I love gender performance — I've dabbled in drag and burlesque and I love country music, and I love singing in front of the best dang band for a good cause."
Opatz said the show last year "seemed to create its own energy," even when they were still in the planning stages. They decided the night of that they wanted to try it again.
When it's for a benefit, he said, everyone's happy to donate time and effort, whether it was for music, an emcee, a backdrop for animation for a video.
Just like last year, Opatz will perform, too. He's picked out a tune by Norma Jean, a 1960s singer who worked with Porter Wagoner: "Heaven Help the Working Girl."