Connie Champagne: The Year That Got Away

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It’s been a tough year for San Francisco’s eclectic entertainment community, but Connie Champagne hopes better times aren’t just somewhere over the rainbow.

I’ve been part of Bay Area music for 40 years. In the 70s, I discovered the Mabuhay Gardens. This North Beach restaurant-by-day, punk-rock-club-by-night hosted that decade's legendary musicians and in my ripped Iggy Pop T-shirt, I was hanging around with the best.

By the 80s, I’d sung in about 10 bands, some for years, others for days. As the 80s became the 90s, I stumbled into the San Francisco drag counterculture, singing alongside artists who had a genius for style and witty lines.

The brilliance of many of these performers was lost to the ravages of AIDS. So by the time the aughts rolled around, I kept singing, but with all those names crossed out in my address book, I felt a little too sad to rock out anymore. A nightclub owner suggested a Judy Garland cabaret act.

It was a hit, and I've been performing as Judy for over 20 years. But live cabaret doesn't play with COVID, and I haven't had a gig in more than a year. These days, I work in a high-end grocery store, performing for an audience of one in my checkout lane.

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I've gone from counterculture to checkout counter a grocery store Auntie Mame. My youngster co-workers love hearing stories of the 70s, at least I hope they do, when this city was filled with outrageous originality, not total e-business solutions.

I didn’t think 20 years as Judy Garland would help me get through a pandemic, but they have. And I’m hoping we all wake up from this bad dream soon, to hear that clang, clang, clang of the trolley again. And you’ll be there and you and you ... and you’ll be there …

With this Perspective, I’m Connie Champagne.

Connie Champagne has been an actor, singer and entertainer in San Francisco since 1980.