It all started when Richie Wilcox asked his musician pals to cover some Rufus Wainwright tunes at The Music Room on an empty Monday night during Pride. What once felt like a way to fill time during the festival quickly took root as an important tradition, with Heist's annual Pride tribute—then called the Angels & Heroes annual Pride tribute—returning with a new gay icon's songbook each summer.
"Back then at Pride, there wasn't much on a Monday night. We moved from The Company House to The Seahorse, the Pride Guide got thicker," says Wilcox, Heist's co-artistic director with Aaron Collier. "But now, Heist's queer mandate means it makes sense more than ever. It's still just us asking friends to sing a cover."
This year, the show—which includes the likes of T. Thomason, Stewart Legere and Arsoniste—tips a rhinestone-studded hat to Dolly Parton, while raising funds for future live art bound to be in the same glittery vein as Heist's anime-and-drag-filled hit play The Princess Show.
"Many of the past icons we've chosen—Elton John, Queen—are part of the queer community; or David Bowie or Annie Lennox, who've helped break down conceptions of gender and sexuality in the mainstream. We've also done tributes to bands like Nirvana, who used to say 'If you're a homophobe, don't listen to to our music,'" Wilcox explains. "We tend to choose less mainstream tributes—you can go to a drag show all the time and see Madonna or Cher. We hope to challenge the musicians a bit with a new artist."
While Wilcox's favourite Parton tune is the slow-burning "Down From Dover", he's most excited to hear Arsoniste's fresh take on "Jolene" as the Seahorse show gets underway on Monday night.
Parton proves a timely pick, with movies like Dumplin' reminding mainstream audiences what queer culture never forgot: She remains the queen of both country and camp, as well as an outspoken supporter of gay marriage. "Dolly is so performative in her femininity and loves drag," says Wilcox. "Did you hear the story of the time she entered a Dolly look-alike contest and lost to a drag queen? And her lyrics—they're so heartbreaking and smart and worth paying tribute to."