Oaklash unleashed! Oakland's three-day celebration of trans and queer performance returns

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday May 7, 2024
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Beatrix LaHaine at Oaklash 2023  (photo: Rachel Ziegler)
Beatrix LaHaine at Oaklash 2023 (photo: Rachel Ziegler)

Oaklash, Oakland's annual celebration of queer and trans performance, is back, and it promises to be wilder than ever. The party takes place on the weekend of May 17.

So what exactly happens at Oaklash? Executive Director Mama Celeste explained it all in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

"Oaklash is a queer arts nonprofit that has been hosting the Bay Area's first ever festival of drag and queer performance since 2018," Celeste said. "We produce large-scale events by and for the queer and trans community, mentor emerging leaders in nightlife, and provide small grants to help keep artists living and working in the Bay Area."

The name Oaklash was initially an inside joke between Beatrix Lahaine and Celeste because they felt that the Bay Area needed its own version of Bushwig and Wigstock, New York's drag festivals. People thought that the name Oaklash was catchy and so it stuck.

Rebel Kings at Oaklash 2023 (photo: Rachel Ziegler)  

Home base
"Oakland is our home, and we want to put a lash on it for the weekend and have a little fun," Celeste said.

Mama Celeste has been crossdressing since her days in New York many years ago. She recalls sneaking into clubs while still underage. When she moved to the Bay Area in 2015, she realized that drag was much more than just putting on a skirt. Drag, according to Celeste, is about finding community with great people and acting wild on stage.

"When I started going out in Oakland, Beatrix was throwing the best drag show I ever saw, Tragic Queendom, and I realized I wanted to work with her to make more opportunities for artists who live on this side of the bridge," she said.

In recent years Oakland's reputation has taken a hit due to the rise in robberies, shootings, car break-ins and business break-ins. Many people are now hesitant to go to Oakland, while some businesses have left the city. Celeste assured us that there is nothing to worry about, that Oaklash will be a safe event for all. The organizers of the event take security very seriously, she promised, especially now as queer and trans people are being attacked by right wing politicians all over the country.

"Our whole mission is to create safe spaces for queer and trans people to come and have the most fun they've ever had but without forgetting about all the injustice in the world," she said. "We want mindful fun. We want people to fight for what they believe in. And we want to look fabulous doing it."

Pop Rox performing at Oaklash's 2023 Grand Finale at Children's Fairyland (photo: Fred Rowe)  

Celeste added that she considers Oakland to be the best city in the country, a place where artists, queers and people of color can join together to create culture that will make the world a better place. Many of her favorite performers live in Oakland but have to travel to San Francisco in order to find paid work. Oaklash strives to create opportunities for those people to work in their own backyard.

Eco-sexual frenzy
The weekend begins on Friday May 17 at Oakland's Nectar Social Club, which will be led by the Oaklash Skills for Nightlife Acceleration Program (O-SNAP!) cohort, a group of five local queer and trans event producers that Oaklash has been mentoring to be the next generation of emerging leaders in nightlife. This is their anti-gatekeeping program where they spend two months showing people how to do exactly what they do. Among those being worked with are Piss E. Sissy, Jasmine Robinson, Andrea Wang, Holden Wood and Vanessa Hernandez.

"It will be an eco-sexual frenzy of queer performance and music all night long," said Celeste.

The main event happens Saturday May 18 when Oaklash holds its flagship block party in Old Oakland. There will be more than 40 vendors and two stages where performances will take place all day long. Performers will include "RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 15 winner Sasha Colby, and "Dragula" Season 3 winner Landon Cider, plus more than 60 other queer performers from around the Bay and beyond.

Naomi Smalls performs to an enthusiastic audience at Oaklash 2023 (photo: Rachel Ziegler)  

"The block party is everything you've come to expect from Oaklash," said Celeste. "Amazing looks, lots of local food options, jaw-dropping performances, and a whole world of the coolest people you'll ever meet. It's the most fun you'll ever have."

On Sunday they close out the weekend with a new performance they've commissioned from Hollow Eve and the House of Rude, who will be honoring the three-year anniversary of the passing of their late drag mother Phatima Rude. The performance will be an immersive drag installation at the Omni Commons called "Rebirth: The Death of Drag."

"It's going to be intense," promised Celeste. "It's going to be very emotional and also very silly. Don't come if you don't want your mind blown. Phatima was someone who lived and died by her art and put every bit of her soul into every performance, which is why she's left such an amazing legacy. The performers you see at 'Rebirth' will be carrying on that legacy."

Celeste is ready for the weekend.

"Drag is weird," she said. "Drag is messy. Drag is chaotic, but that's what makes it fun. Let's party."

Oaklash 2024, May 17, O-SNAP!, Kickoff at Nectar Social Club, 8pm, 408 15 Street, Oakland, 21+.

May 18, Oaklash Block Party at Old Oakland, 1pm, 9th Street and Broadway

May 18, Oaklash Afterkiki at For the Culture, 8pm, 701 Clay Street, Oakland, 21+.

May 19, Rebirth: the Death of Drag at Omni Commons, 6pm, 4799 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, 21+.

$20-$50 for all events. www.oaklash.com

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