A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
Perhaps you've seen the flyers around Little Rock. Papered on an electrical box or an otherwise unadorned wall, there lurks a Toto clutching Dorothy, Madonna during her Boytoy incarnation or an ax-wielding Tin Man. Perhaps you've noticed the text ("Got Lube?" asks the Tin Man) or the hashtag (#Glitterrock). And perhaps you've been intrigued, perplexed or even a little ruffled by the salacious appropriations of beloved Oz inhabitants. For the party-throwing masterminds behind the flyers, that's precisely the point: The trio of artists and gay, pop culture-celebrating provocateurs who call themselves the House of Avalon want to change Little Rock, but to do that, they've got to get your attention first.
I first encountered the House of Avalon three at their Second Annual Britney Bxtch party held downtown at Sway in April. I attended because I had been made aware that Chris Crocker, the androgynous defender of Britney Spears' honor in one of YouTube's earliest catchphrase-spawning juggernauts (three words: LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE), would be there. Beckoned by the promise of a weird evening, I showed up to Sway expecting, well, I don't know what, but certainly not what I experienced: a kaleidoscopic visual assault, playful and earnest partying, and such pervasive positive vibes that the place seemed, in some fascinating cognitive dissonance, downright wholesome.
Shortly after I arrived at Sway, I was intercepted by the nightclub's pleather hot pant- and vest-clad proprietor, Jason Wiest, whose day job is as a speechwriter for the governor's office, and who immediately got down to business filling me in on the parties. They were, he told me leaning in, "more than parties." The riding crop he clutched was flicked at especially pertinent thoughts. It's about community. Flick. Building a heart and soul here. Flick. I asked what it was like to operate a gay club in Little Rock. The crop was still. I was briefly distracted by the giant projectors streaming a never-ending loop of Britney Spears videos on the wall: shiny Britney shimmying in "I'm a Slave 4U," pensive Britney amongst rock formations in "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," pigtails and schoolgirl skirt Britney of "Baby One More Time."
The riding crop's return to motion reclaimed my attention. It was challenging, he acknowledged. Branding was the difficulty. Finding the right balance was tricky — if the club was too gay, it turned off the heterosexual community, but if you weren't gay enough, it alienated the gays. There could be no ambiguity either, about whether or not it was a gay bar; that lack of distinction had caused trouble in the past, he said. "What's the solution?" I asked. Well, we go all the way. We go really, really gay. Flick. As I surveyed my surroundings — the Britney Spears videos in a heady loop, the bed set up against the mirror-paneled wall for party-elevating photo ops and the ever-increasing stream of gender-bending costumed revelers — I got it. There could be no confusion that this was a safe place.
I wanted to know about the House of Avalon, which I had heretofore only recognized as an almost Oz-like presence, a name on all the promotional materials. Introductions were made in a hallucinatory manner. I was encircled by the trio: Hunter Devereaux, Grant Vanderbilt, Mark Monroe, plus their celebrity guest, the viral video phenom Crocker. Their mind-bending assortment of gender-binary-smashing costumes, including lacey teddies, pleather and very small denim cut-offs, all assembled with obvious care and worn with intimidating confidence, made me feel far, far from Little Rock. As I remarked on the amazingness of their outfits, overwhelmed and beginning to grasp how unique this environment was in Little Rock, Chris Crocker piped up: "Yeah, this is the first time in a while I have felt totally basic." I had come here to take in some pop cultural weirdness, possibly to gawk at whatever fringe subcultural freak show was being showcased, but as Grant, Hunter and Mark spoke about the mission of these parties, it became clear that they were fulfilling a need for young gays in Little Rock, providing a creative outlet and, frankly, a kind of spiritual center.