Event producer Daniel Cole is back in action, continues uplifting Queer entertainment industry

by Spencer Jenkins
he / him / his

feature photo by Tony Lowe

It was 2014 in Louisville. That year, the Kentucky General Assembly saw a record number of co-sponsors on both the House and Senate versions of the Statewide Fairness legislation, even though no vote took place. Bourke v. Beshear won recognition of their marriage on February 12 and on February 14, Love v. Beshear was filed to fight for their marriage recognition. Both of these cases became part of the Supreme Court marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodges (we won, by the way). Danville, Kentucky enacted a Fairness Ordinance. Laine Lopez, a program coordinator for the University of Louisville’s Cultural Center, was named 2014’s LGBT Center Ally Award winner at the Pride Keynote address on September 22. Jeff Buhrman became the director for Voices of Kentuckiana and led an annual holiday concert titled “A Sassy, Brassy Bourbon Christmas.” And, Daniel Cole moved Hard Candy to its new home, Play Dance Bar Louisville, the new LGBTQ+ club in town.

Meanwhile, I was working two jobs that had nothing to do with my journalism degree. I was figuring out what to do with my life, like all 20-somethings, and I applied to freelance write for Louisville.com. I hadn’t seen much LGBTQ+ journalism in regards to human interest stories, so I decided to coin myself as the LGBTQ+ beat reporter for the online publication. Once I was offered the gig, I knew that I needed to meet Daniel and chat about his first Hard Candy event at Play featuring MILK and Laganja Estranja from season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“It’s been a long but very rewarding journey doing this event,” Daniel told me that day. “I’m very grateful for Play and I think it will take the event to the next level. It’s great to be a part of something that has span this long. It’s been consistent over the years and I look forward to doing it for many years to come.”

If you’ve been in Kentucky long enough, odds are you’ve met Daniel Cole. He pioneered events in Kentucky and the surrounding region that capture the essence of Queer culture and networking/community building. Maybe you’ve attended many of his Hard Candy events, or maybe you’ve downed mimosas at Le Moo for his drag brunches. There is no denying that Daniel started uplifting LGBTQ+ entertainers and activists’ voices in 2008 and continues today. Queer Kentucky wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t had Daniel to look up to starting in my late teens. I distinctly remember being a shy gayby and following him on Twitter and Facebook so I could learn about the community I would grow to love so much and eventually call family.

Daniel embodied this queer confidence that I wanted to emulate so badly. Now, at almost 32-years-old, I now feel that I am CLOSE to having the same confidence as him, but I’ve still got a little work.

In 2020, Daniel’s confidence and talent of bringing the community together was tested more than ever when COVID-19 hit and shut down the entertainment industry. It was terrifying for him and many others in his world because there was little to no sign of reopening.

Now, with the vaccine roll out and people becoming comfortable with in-person events, Hard Candy and Drag Brunch is back and I couldn’t be more excited. Recently, on behalf of Queer Kentucky, Daniel and I reconnected via email to talk all things COVID and new events.

Daniel and Champagne at Le Moo Drag Brunch.

How many years have you been producing events?

I have been producing events under the Hard Candy moniker since 2008. It started as an LGBTQ+ cocktail party with light entertainment in the nightclub I worked for at the time. It evolved into an entertainment based touring queer talent in various venues in the Southeast and Midwest United States. 

So in March of 2020 when everything started shutting down, what went through your head in regards to your livelihood and the events you coordinate? General thoughts on the state of the world too?

I was shell shocked along with everyone else in the industry. No one really realized the scope and scale of the pandemic and especially how it would affect the event industry.

Pride 2019 Kickoff with Trixie Mattel at Play Louisville photo by Donny Coram

When everything was shut down, what were you up to? How did you spend your time?

To be honest, I was in complete self preservation mode. I didn’t learn anything new or take up a hobby. I experienced a deep personal loss of a friend last summer and a traumatic medical diagnosis (Bell’s Palsy) on top of seeing my industry shuttered and losing all the forms of my income. I am grateful to those who reached out during that time. I watched a lot of movies, especially 90s thrillers. 

How did you and your friends within the queer entertainment Industry process/cope with the loss of a full Industry for a year? Were you able to pivot at all? What was the overall mood of the industry? 

I didn’t pivot at all to digital as some did in the industry, although I know some who did successfully. As aforementioned I wasn’t really in the head space to start from scratch in terms of how I do business. The mood of the industry was bleak, I’ll be honest. Other industries were able to resume and ours could not do so safely. It felt like we had been forgotten. People love to go to nightclubs, bars & restaurants and see shows and dance to live music or DJs. However folks in nightlife don’t garner a great deal of respect despite being an industry that generates billions in revenue. The amount of people telling us to give up our livelihoods to “get a real job” was horrifying. 

How did your attitude change or not change with the news of the vaccine rolling out?

It was the best news any of us could have received. I’m still in shock at how quickly the rollout started even though it wasn’t that long ago. 

What made you decide to start booking events again? How did it feel to be back in action?

I personally felt that my audience needed to be eligible and accessible to the vaccine for a month or two before I resumed. I knew customer confidence in attending live events wouldn’t be there without it. It feels wonderful to be doing what I love and using my creative energies again.

What is the hard candy schedule for the rest of 2021?

The schedule for 2021 isn’t complete, but I’m excited to bring some postponed shows from 2020 finally to fruition. I have Nina West in September and also Crystal Methyd later this year. I’ve known Nina for many years so it’s a pleasure to work with her again! I also met Crystal before her run on Drag Race. She used to drive from Springfield with all her friends to come to my Hard Candy shows in Kansas City. I’m doing a short run of shows with Jackie Cox the first week in June and hoping to hit some more markets with her one woman show JackieVision this year. I have Denali in August in several cities – another full circle moment as I saw her perform in Chicago before she was cast. I’ll also be touring talent from Dragula – it’s exciting to see the alternative drag scene growing. The last two Dragula tours before the pandemic were the most attended yet, featuring Evah Destruction & Louisianna Purchase.

Daniel Cole and Nina West

How can the queer community support you?

Ummmm, attend my events?!  I’d love to see a greater appreciation for the work I do, but especially to all the other folks who make up our vibrant nightclub scene (queens, DJs, etc) 

What about this work fulfills you?

I’ve been lucky to carve out a space to work with some amazing queer creatives. We create opportunities for each other and there’s such value in that. 

Is there anything else you want the audience to know?

I’m happy to be back to work! My other full time project, Drag Brunch at Le Moo resumes June 13. It’s been incredible being able to produce a weekly show using talents from the region and also reach an audience that doesn’t always come to nightclubs or bars. So many talented performers in the Louisville/Lexington/Cincinnati area that I primarily pull from. I’ve also been consulting and producing various events for Pride and beyond – for example, the Pride Rides at Cyclebar Louisville locations. Working on some other projects for later in the year, as many Pride events have shifted towards fall along with the two local festivals.

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