Gathering the gays for church on Church Street
On the first Sunday night of each month, they gather at PLAY Dance Bar: the believers, the heretics, the drag fans, and the usual characters of Church Street. A nightclub might seem like an unlikely location for a ministry but makes perfect sense if you know Miss Kitty Kincaid.
For the past ten years Kitty has starred in The Gospel Gathering, known more simply around Nashville as “the gospel show”. With drag performances, live singers, and comedy, all in the spirit of praise and fellowship, this is not your typical club drag show.
Hailing from a small town in Kentucky, Kitty blows into Nashville a few weekends a month, occasionally performing at The James Gang Company or holding court at The Silver Stirrup or just out shoe shopping. We talk to Kitty about her origins and what she is up to with her unique drag ministry.
Kitty Kincaid is a force of nature, and when she enters a room, she takes it over.
“I first did drag for a Halloween party. Doesn’t everybody?” she says with a laugh, recalling her early days in the art. “Afterward, I was dared by a friend to enter a pageant in Clarksville, Tenn. I bought a $10 evening gown at a yard sale, borrowed a few things from friends, and cut my own wig. I looked like Loretta Lynn in the early years. I lost the pageant by one point but as first runner up I was required to do a couple of shows.
“I was terrified and hated performing but loved getting gussied up and going out,” she adds.
Once her runner-up obligations were fulfilled, Kitty stopped doing drag altogether for about 15 years while in two long-term relationships and taking care of her ill parents. After the relationships ended and her parents passed away, she decided to paint up again.
“So I'm a relative newcomer to performing,” Kitty says, “and this time around I'm having the time of my life!”
That she is as she leads the spiritual event each month since its move to PLAY in 2008. However, The Gospel Gathering didn’t always attract the crowds it does now.
“There were problems getting entertainers at first and the show would sometimes be cancelled,” Kitty says, recalling the show’s early days at the Chute in 2002. “In fact, it was cancelled the first time I went.
“Friends who knew I loved gospel music took me to dinner and then to the show as a surprise,” she continues. “But when we got there, we found a sign saying no show. I went back the next month and have not missed a show since then.”
In the early days, all the cast at the Chute performed, Bianca Paige, Tina Louise, Stephanie Wells, Nichole Ellington Dupree, Rita Ross, Josephine Edwards and Chyna. Many of the original singers still perform in the show today.
“When I attended my first gospel show, someone told Vern Kreun, the producer, that I used to perform and was a gospel musician,” Kitty says, explaining her first performance in the gospel show. “As I was leaving, Vern asked if I would do a couple of numbers the next month. I hadn't performed in years, honey, but I knew Atlanta had a weekly gospel show. I drove there, got dressed in drag, and went to the club. The show director was having some ‘communion wine’ at the bar when I walked in and she asked if I would like to perform. I said yes, went to the car and got my cassettes — yes, cassettes — and performed that night. If I bombed, I wanted it to be somewhere no one knew me.”
Kitty explains that the show has not changed much over the years. It has the same general format and ratio of live singers to drag performances but over time has become more spiritually-focused than performance-based. The biggest changed occurred when the Chute closed, and the cast had to look for a new venue to call home.
“After The Chute closed, a fan of the show told Joe Brown that we were looking for a new home and he sent word for me to contact him,” Kitty says of the move to PLAY. “[Joe] has been wonderful to work with, and I can't say enough good things about all the owners, managers and staff of the club. They have been so supportive and I'm grateful we have such a nice ‘home.’”
Performers for The Gospel Gathering come to Kitty through a network of musicians and friends, but sometimes she finds new talent visiting area churches or seeing it on stage.
“I saw Rhyanne doing Turnabout and knew I wanted her to do our show,” she says. “I also hold auditions for both drag performers and singers. As important as talent is a performer's spirituality is even more important. I want them to know what they're singing or performing about.”
Even though drag and gospel are an unusual combination for a ministry, Kitty feels the pairing is necessary for many in the community.
“While Nashville has many GLBT-welcoming churches now, many people, me included, have been hurt by the church in general,” she says.
“[The Roman philosopher] Cicero said, ‘They condemn what they do not understand,’” Kitty says, discussing the negative feelings many churches still have about the GLBT community. “Many [in the community] still feel a disconnect with organized religion and are not quite ready to be involved in a church. We try to ‘fill in the gap’. We strive to give our audience a dose of spirituality and something uplifting to take with them.
“I've had 50-year-old men come to me with tears streaming down their faces and say things like ‘that song took me back to my childhood’ or ‘that song was my grandmother's favorite,’” she says. “I recently had a young woman tell me she was so despondent she didn't want to come to the show when her ride arrived, but was so glad she did. She felt like she had strength to get up and face her problems the next day.”
Kitty knows that people’s experiences at The Gospel Gathering are not because of her or anyone else in the show.
“God sometimes uses it as a means for people to find their way to Him or back to Him,” she says
Visit Kitty Kincaid at The Gospel Gathering at PLAY Dance Bar the first Sunday of each month. Admission is $5.