PORTLAND, Maine — The big, shocking pink bus is hard to miss. Patrons took notice when it rumbled up outside the sedate Goodfire Brewing beer garden on Saturday afternoon.

Some of the beer-sippers looked confused, glancing around the assembled picnic tables for answers, wondering what would happen next. Others just stared.

Curbside Queens Cherry Lemonade (left) and Gigi Gabor get ready to perform their traveling drag show in their Portland studio on Saturday. The pair started their business, now an official limited liability company, last summer. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Answers came moments later when two drag performers in festive wigs, flowing costumes and blinding makeup bounded out of the bus with a theatrical flourish. Dance music then began pumping from a hidden sound system and the pair launched into their raucous first number — dancing, lip-synching and being fabulous.

The Curbside Queens had arrived.

Clockwise from left: Gigi Gabor applies her makeup in the Curbside Queens’ Portland Studio; Drag performer Cherry Lemonade boards the Curbside Queens pink bus on High Street in Portland; Gigi Gabor makes her entrance at a Curbside Queens birthday party performance at Goodfire Brewing in Portland on Saturday.

The traveling, pandemic-inspired outdoor show is the invention of veteran Maine drag performers Gigi Gabor and Cherry Lemonade. With most indoor venues closed last year, the business partners took their show on the road, performing in driveways, lawns and parking lots.

“When we started, nobody knew how long the pandemic would last,” Gabor said. “We thought we might do it for a couple of weeks.”

The Curbside Queens arrive at a birthday party performance in Brunswick on Saturday. Their pandemic-inspired business idea has allowed them to continue performing throughout 2020 and 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Instead, the pair performed at least 60 shows before the weather got too cold. This year, they’re on pace to do even more.

Birthdays and bachelorette parties are popular places for them to perform but they are often the main attraction, with festivities planned around their schedule. A typical Saturday sees the Queens performing up to four shows, sometimes hours apart.

Cherry Lemonade of Curbside Queens works the crowd at a birthday party in Brunswick on Saturday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The partners are not new to drag. Both are past winners of Portland’s Miss Blackstone’s pageant and Lemonade competed on “American Idol” in 2015. Between them, they have over 22 years of experience. After a successful 2020, they are upping their business game.

“Over the winter, we became an official limited liability company and purchased our powerful steed,” Gabor said.

Clockwise from left: Gigi Gabor (left) and Cherry Lemonade perform a hula hoop gag; A custom vanity plate hangs on Peg, the Curbside Queens’ pink bus; A small crowd, including birthday girl Sarah Fisher (second from right) cheers as the Curbside Queens do their show on a dirt driveway in Brunswick.

That’s Peg, their former Massachusetts Transit Authority bus. Gabor did repair work on the 2008 Ford herself, fixing the engine, painting it pink and transforming the inside into a mobile dressing room.

“She’s 300,000 miles of pure sex,” she said.

Curbside Queens performer Cherry Lemonade collects dollar bills while performing a private, outdoor show in Brunswick on Saturday. Last summer, the Queens did almost 60 such shows. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

While focused on comedy and fun, the Queens’ show also includes one serious moment, with Gabor telling the crowd the group is “lucky to be able to do what we do in a big, pink bus,” in a nod to the 1969 Stonewall Riots, seen as the start of the modern LGBTQ-rights push.

Gabor then said the Queens give a portion of all profits to transgender rights and racial justice organizations, encouraging the crowd to do the same. Later, she added the Queens still get occasional pushback.

Bennett Todd, 11, and his sister Louisa, 6, watch drag performer Cherry Lemonade at a brewery beer garden in Portland on Saturday. “It’s baby’s first drag show,” said Kristin Sladen, their mother. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“Someone did throw a rock at us the other day,” Gabor said to boos from the crowd.

Between shows, Lemonade had a related, offstage request.

“Can you leave our government names out of this story,” she said, stating she sometimes fears for her safety. “They don’t have anything to do with who we are today.”

Matt Elliott and Sarah McCann react as Curbside Queen drag performer Gigi Gabor drapes herself across their table during a performance in Portland on Saturday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The serious stuff out of the way, the pair got back to fun.

The Queens’ first song at the brewery ended with only a polite smattering of applause as the audience attempted to gain its bearings. But Gabor and Lemonade’s energy never wavered. They plowed straight through their well-honed routine.

Curbside Queens Cherry Lemonade (left) and Gigi Gabor wave goodbye to the crowd at the end of their performance at Goodfire Brewing in Portland on Saturday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The almost hour-long performance is rooted deep in American traveling vaudeville shows of the past. It was studded with music, dancing, acrobatics, puppets, sight gags and a hilarious turn with an as-seen-on TV Shake Weight. By the end, the brewery crowd was swollen with people from other nearby tasting rooms. Everyone was on their feet, clapping, hooting and hollering.

“The name of the game is make it work, make it happen,” Gabor said.

Curbside Queens Cherry Lemonade (left) and Gigi Gabor wave goodbye to the crowd at the end of their birthday party performance in Brunswick on Saturday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Gabor and Lemonade then took selfies with the crowd, gathered a brimming bucket of tips and boarded their bus. Waving, they drove off, in full costume, bound for a show in Hollis.

In addition to their traveling show, the Curbside Queens are also performing at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5, with Arabella LaDessé, Bunny Wonderland and special guest Joslyn Fox of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.