Twin Cities Pride is happening this weekend, with a variety of events that are officially part of the festival as well as unofficial events timed to coincide with the metro-wide celebration. An event in the latter category is the annual Grown and Sexy Pride dance night at First Avenue. It’s co-hosted by Shannon Blowtorch, who’s one of the busiest DJs in the area and something of a Zelig for LGBT-friendly nightlife in the Twin Cities.
This year’s Grown and Sexy dance night will feature drag queen extraordinaire Latrice Royale, known for her storied run on season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Royale did not win, but she did amass something of a cult following, of which Blowtorch counts herself a member. “In my opinion she’s the sweetest queen that’s been on the show in all of the seasons,” Blowtorch said. Grown and Sexy has been headlined by other Drag Race contestants each of the previous two years—Willam in 2014 and Raja in 2013.
From managing to sound engineering to DJing solo as well as for feminist hip-hop collective GRRRL PRTY, Blowtorch’s career makes a long and interesting story. Before becoming a DJ she spent several years knocking around Minneapolis, working the Midwest as an exotic dancer. She’d followed a girl here. “[I got] dumped in Minnesota and I never left,” she said. Blowtorch was introduced to the music scene by Minneapolis’s glam-rocking singer-songwriter Venus DeMars.
Blowtorch met DeMars and her band, All the Pretty Horses, at a Bastille Day block party where an audience member threw a bottle at DeMars after she took her top off.
“No one was doing anything about it,” Blowtorch said, “so I kicked the woman out of the festival, and I met All the Pretty Horses and started dancing for them. And that helped enable me to retire as an exotic dancer because I managed that band full time.”
In addition to dancing with and managing All the Pretty Horses, Blowtorch took up jobs at First Avenue and as a social worker.
Later she heard a lesbian bar was opening in Minneapolis, and she made sure to be a part of it. That bar was the short-lived but fondly-remembered Pi Bar, where Blowtorch worked as event director, and which, according to some (Blowtorch included), remains the only lesbian bar ever opened in the Twin Cities.
“[I]t was a space for women, and that hadn’t really existed until then,” Blowtorch said. “Which it did not stay in existence for very long. And Pi was different. It kind of welcomed everybody, including allies, freaks, all different classes and gender identifications of that community.”
Pi Bar is also where Blowtorch started learning how to DJ, using the bar’s house equipment. When Pi closed she took up DJing professionally.
“I was getting unemployment because I was a manager at Pi,” Blowtorch said. “So I took that as an opportunity to change my career, and really work on the branding and the business side of it and just practice up.”
Blowtorch has had great success since that career change. She credits the speed with which she learned to read a crowd with her DJ gigs at Pi Bar.
“I started out in a lesbian bar, and they’re the toughest demographic to please,” she said. Since then she has found herself successfully playing to a wide variety of crowds, reflective of the diversity of the queer community in the Twin Cities.
The first annual Grown and Sexy night took place in 2011, after Blowtorch was informed she would be paid much less than promised for another Pride event she’d been hired to do. She refused the gig and decided to host her own event. She formed Grown and Sexy Productions with her friends SweetPea and Nadine DuBois, who now cohost the event each year.
“We started it at Hell’s Kitchen, and it sold out immediately,” Blowtorch said. Grown and Sexy has since moved to First Avenue and is in its fifth year.
Despite her event becoming a mainstay of Pride weekend, Blowtorch does not affiliate herself with the organization. She was impressed with one of Pride’s big bookings, though. “I think the smartest thing they did this year was hire Peaches to play the park,” she said. “I’m proud of them for that.”
Grown and Sexy is happening at 9:00 p.m. on June 26, at First Avenue. In addition to Latrice Royale, there will be performances by Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams, In New Company (INC), Dykes Do Drag, and the Vigilantease Collective. Tickets are $15.00.
Also on Friday night, the annual Uptown Pride Block Party will feature performances by L’Assassins, the Lioness, and other artists. For more information about music and other events that are part of the official Twin Cities Pride celebration this weekend, see tcpride.org.
Tune in Saturday, June 27, 2015 at 11 p.m. CDT for a special one-hour mix curated and hosted by DJ Shannon Blowtorch.