Over 40 local participants collaborated on the premiere episode of Binko: Unscripted. In a web-exclusive, the contributors are speaking up with a message for the Milwaukee community.

This November, fans of Steven Binko's series will be treated to a unique deviation from last season. On the surface, it might look like a fun-filled video with some cool performances, but filming was no small feat. Sharing the spotlight with other local artists and venues, this short episode required dozens of volunteers. "I wanted to do something different", Binko said. "One of the things that makes our city unique is how we pull together and support one-another. The narrative here is less competitive and more community based." Having reached out to more than one-hundred entrepreneurs in the Greater Milwaukee area, a core requirement for making the cut was a shared vision in exploring what can be accomplished artistically when people come together for a common cause. "From the start, our team recognized we all had different strengths and weaknesses, but we all shared a passion for success. Everyone left their ego's at the door and supported one-another regardless of experience or level of prestige".

Stephanie Lozano & Steven Binko perform "Bad to the Bone" at Saloon on Calhoun (10/09/19).

Embarking on four group performances at four different venues (three in one night), the first show took place at Brookfield's iconic Saloon on Calhoun With Bacon. Since taking over in 2011, owner Dave Dayler has booked more than 640 dates and in excess of 100 different bands. Featured on national television for its unique atmosphere, this suburban saloon has won multiple awards in entertainment and live music including both a WAMI and a People's Choice Award.

With bands booked 3-4 days a week from Sept-May, Dayler says he "took over Saloon to change its reputation, and to fulfill my adult lifetime goal of having a venue where live music is presented properly". When asked why he participated in Binko's project, he explained "Providing a venue for all artists is our passion". Future events are listed in their app and on their site.

Steven Binko & Gabriel Sanchez (10/09/19)

Notably, one of the first artists to sign onto this endeavor was none other than full-time musician Gabriel Sanchez. Since 2002, Sanchez has made a name for himself portraying the singer Prince in his critically acclaimed show The Prince Experience. In between tour gigs, he hosts the Open Jam sessions at Saloon on Calhoun, and more recently, the singer expanded his empire by revealing a line of fine art.

From the early stages of development, Sanchez and Binko were scheduled to perform a duet of American Woman. Three days before the premiere, this evolved when Sanchez and his band jumped to the rescue after the featured group pulled out. Covering hits like I Love Rock 'N Roll and Bad to the Bone, the show was able to resume as planned.

"I chose to get on this project because I enjoy being part of a team that brings other artists together. I think it's important to support local artists, whether it's musicians, dancers, painters, or any other kind of art", Sanchez said about the taping.

The Prince Experience is currently on tour, and returns to Milwaukee at The Pabst Theater on January 25. Tickets are available here.

Steven Binko, some of his team, and The Space Cats pose for a picture at his dad's bar, Traditions Pub.

Enlisted as co-collaborators, Milwaukee dance group The Space Cats are expected to be a focal point throughout the episode. Choreographed by Micah and Jinx Ogé, six of their members traveled between venues, hyped up the audiences, and danced their hearts out. Known for their diverse collection of entertainers, the group is an eclectic mix of dancers, models, singers, cosplayers, furries, and beyond.

The founders explain,"This project spoke to us because Binko's vision embraced diversity in the rock community. That felt right. And while it was a completely new direction for us, it overlapped with what's important to us".

Binko first discovered The Space Cats at Pridefest, where they have performed for more than ten years and are slated to return in 2020. Presently, the group is working to expand its team onto runway, with other projects around the corner!

Jamming with Ameia of Vinyl Road at Traditions Pub

Also featured in this episode is rock band Vinyl Road. In an effort to surprise family, the group was contacted shortly after Binko discovered they were performing at his dad's bar Traditions Pub.

Coincidentally, the band GM Linnea Koenigs happened to be in attendance at Saloon on Calhoun for the first show, and shot a series of amazing photos for both venues.

"This was such an incredible experience", Linnea said. "When I received the pitch, you could instantly feel the momentum behind it. There was nothing pretentious - just a bunch of creative minds looking to build something unique together. Ultimately, combining everyone's talents resulted in a high-impact show that our audience is still talking about, and sure to remember!".

You can catch Vinyl Road next at Mo's Irish Pub in Wauwatosa on November 8th (info HERE).

Steven Binko & Jase Adams chat with Rob Kochanski at Club Icon for First Local Podcast.

Jase Adams, owner of Club Icon in Kenosha, was also quick to show his support for this unique episode.

"Club Icon prides itself on being involved with the community and supporting local entertainers. It was an honor hosting such a talented group of individuals. This project was a unique opportunity for us to reach a broader audience, and to show just how welcoming our atmosphere is."

Located in-between Milwaukee and Chicago, Club Icon offers a safe and fun environment for everyone who comes through their doors. With rotating themes and shows every weekend, patrons can experience anything from drag shows, to live entertainment, local charity fundraisers and Latin Night. "As LGBT+ bars vanish across the Nation we are proud to serve our diverse community and are committed to the future", Jase says.

When asked for final thoughts on the episode, Binko reinforced how valuable this project was:

"I'm filled with immense gratitude to each of the participants. It's one thing for someone to believe in your ideas - it's a totally different game when people actually support them. If I wanted to send one message with this video, it's not only how great the artists and venues are, but what can be accomplished when people work together. Even more-so, the possibilities when you put your intentions out to the universe."

When asked if he was hoping to manifest anything specific from this experience?

"I'd be thrilled to re-unite with some of these performers for a Milwaukee Bucks halftime show, Pridefest, Summerfest, or chat with The Morning Blend. Our collective energy is so beautiful and cohesive - I'd love a chance to shine a spotlight on that and reach more people."

Other honorable mentions from this episode include (but are not limited to): Tamarind Studio, First Local Podcast, Hudson Business Lounge, and The High Note.

Singer/Songwriter Brody Ray shares an intimate conversation with Pride Journey’s reporter Steven Binko about life as a transgender artist before performing at Milwaukee Pridefest.

From his segment on TLC, to competing on America’s Got Talent, Nashville recording artist Brody Ray is making waves and taking names. In an industry oversaturated with “look-alikes”, this Nebraska native is challenging the status quo while he fights to build a brand unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before.

Prior to rocking the stage at Milwaukee Pridefest, my cousin Haley and I were invited to join Brody at his hotel while he took a breather from the crowds. Walking in, we’re surrounded by overflowing suitcases, gas-station snacks, and to-do lists. Brody apologizes for the mess, but the reality is he’s living out of a suitcase. Behind the glamor was a man running on two hours of sleep after flying in from a performance, preparing for another tonight, and flying out to do it again tomorrow - something he’s become all too familiar with.

Plopping into his chair with an exhaustive sigh, I stumble around with my recorder and fight a case of the butterflies. Free from distraction, there’s no façade – just a good ol’ country boy in a fitted camo shirt, hypnotizing me with his golden caramel eyes. There’s a moment of silence and my cousin clears her throat as if to say “snap out of it, be professional”. Brody radiates authenticity, so I abandon my list of questions, trusting the potential for a more organic conversation. I dive right in.

Steven Binko: Obviously, you know this Pridefest is a special one as we celebrate 50 years since Stonewall. How does it feel being part of something so historic?

Brody Ray: I feel like I’m doing something important. I continue learning about the history of where we’ve come from, I hear stories about how much people have gone through, and I realize the importance of honoring things like Stonewall. In many ways, that’s kind of where everything started. We’ve got a lot of work to do and I feel like we’re just brushing the surface at this point.

SB: Representation is a big part of that, and you’re doing it! As a transgender artist, is that something that’s been an asset to your career, or has it made things more challenging?

BR: I feel like it’s both. I’m helping the community and saving people’s lives (helping family members accept their loved ones). Sometimes it puts me in a box when it comes to the country music genre, but I know most artists, producers and labels don’t personally have a problem with it – there’s just listeners who call the stations and complain. It’s one of those things where they can love you, but will they play you on the radio? I don’t know.

SB: What about the queer community? Do you face those same challenges amongst your peers?

BR: I do. At first, I got a lot of backlash when I was on the TLC show “Strange Sex” in 2011. They did an episode that showcased my life, family, getting surgeries, and starting hormones.

SB: I’m going to interrupt for a second. The episode focused on your transition and they used it for something called Strange Sex? Does that bother you?

BR: If you watch the show, there’s nothing strange about it, but it helped get the story out there as an advocate, and they featured my music. So, I think it was a good boost.

SB: You’ve got a spotlight on the most intimate aspects of your life. How do you navigate the pressure in a generation that’s often divided, hypersensitive, and opinionated?

BR: At first, I was excited to represent the trans community, but when the episode came out, they were kind of like “Fuck you. You need to pay attention to how you say things”. A lot of people attacked me for categorizing them because not every trans person needs surgery or hormones - that doesn’t mean they’re not transgendered. It’s a broad term for a wide spectrum of people. That criticism has made me more conscious. When I started speaking at law reviews and conferences, I started saying “this is my story, and it only represents me as a person”, which I think people feel better about because I’m no longer telling THEIR story.

SB: It’s rare someone in your position expresses themselves so freely. With the platform you have, do you feel a responsibility to speak up and be a voice for the issues we’re faced with?

BR: Yes and no. I try to stay out of politics, but there are certain things I’m passionate about. For example, whenever someone is like “I just like their chicken”, I’m like “you’re not hearing me”. There are companies giving millions of dollars to anti LGBT organizations. You are literally funding someone who is trying to make your life harder. I think most women would be upset if I gave business to a place that was fighting to take away their right to healthcare or equality in the workplace.

SB: What impact does your identity have on the material you create?

BR: I like to put out stuff that’s inspirational in general, but I don’t target it - it’s just empowering. Most of the stuff I write is relationship crap just like everyone else (heartbreak, and first loves).

SB: Do you consider yourself an LGBT artist, or is your goal to be more mainstream?

BR: I am, but I’m not just trans – I’m Brody. There’s a lot of artists back in Nashville, so there’s this pressure like “you gotta have a hit, you gotta have a hit”. I’ve spent too much time trying to do a little bit of everything (country, rock, and pop), but it’s time to focus on one thing and work on crafting it. The industry is very commercial and cookie cutter, so I’m trying to break free from that.

SB: I think your unconventional background might be an advantage. It lets you set the standard moving forward. You choose how to convey the message of your music. Do what you love, do what works for you!

BR: I don’t think I’ve ever been pressured into writing or recording anything that I’m not vibing on, and I’ve had lots of people send me stuff. If I don’t like something, I can’t do it. Sometimes, I’ll change something to make it fit (so I give things a chance), but I can’t put myself out there in a way that’s not authentic to me.

SB: What’s your next move?

BR: Right now, I’m just building up this band with all the festivals. We’re working hard to put on a professional and powerful performance. I’d love to keep getting bigger gigs and keep our name out there. But mostly, I want to keep writing - like, I need to be writing all the time. It goes back to the music. This is what I wanted to do long before I knew I was transgendered. I was dancing around in my diapers and cowboy boots screaming while my mom was banging around on the piano.

SB: I’d pay to see that.

BR: Oh, there’s videos. Someday I’ll show you!

SB: Any final thoughts for your LGBTQ fans?

BR: I know there’s a lot of people who aren’t struggling in the community, but I also know there’s a lot of people who are. There were times I didn’t know why I was alive, but it gets better – especially for trans people. Whether it’s clothes, binders, shots, or whatever… when you get access to the resources, you start to feel more like yourself.

SB: What about a message for the general public or people who haven’t heard your music?

BR: To the heterosexual community? Don’t be so closed off. We’re all trying to live the same life, and we’re all seeking the same thing (happiness) – we’re all just doing it a little differently.

Truthfully, I didn’t expect to dig into LGBTQ culture as deeply as we did, but it wasn’t all serious! From stories about his mother’s instrumental abilities (which inspired his journey through music), to an off the record story about meeting his fiancé for the first time, I genuinely felt like I was leaving a lifelong friend at the end of our interview. I’ve had endless encounters with public figures where the conversation left something to be desired – almost comparable to that of what you’d expect from a grocery cashier. Brody, on the other hand, is about as real as it gets.

Shortly after our interview, Brody returned to the festival grounds and delivered my favorite performance of Pridefest, 2019. From original songs to Lady Gaga, I watched as he captivated the interest of crowd-goers passing by. What started as a small group of hardcore fans quickly turned into a massive collection of people pushing to get closer. Likely overlooked by the average attendee, my favorite part was experiencing Brody’s confidence grow as the show went on. For the first song or two, I saw a small-town guy hiding behind his black baseball cap, keeping eye contact mostly on the band. As people cheered, his vocals grew stronger, and engaging with the crowd evolved into commanding it.

I wish each of you could see the side of Brody that gave me butterflies at the start of our interview, but you don’t need a meet-and-greet for that. Research his story, listen to his music, and follow his Instagram/Facebook stories and you’ll find the same authenticity. This man’s art is his heart. Each song is a glimpse into the fiber of his being. Listen close enough, and you just might uncover the treasure that is Brody Ray.

Original source:

In a rare one-on-one interview, Trixie Mattel reflects on her journey before taking the stage at Milwaukee Pridefest. Pride Journey’s reporter Steven Binko shares his experience.

When my cousin Haley insisted we spend pride weekend together, I cringed at the thought of overpriced booze and bumping into exes. I've never been good in social situations, and generally speaking I'm terrible at keeping up with LGBTQ culture. Still, I begrudgingly agreed on the condition she’d let me squeeze in some work - for me, that’s my escape. Being the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, I saw a unique opportunity to discuss this with the new faces leading this generation in the movement.

Waiting backstage as fog and laser lights creep through the curtain, Haley squeals in anticipation. “I can’t believe we’re gonna meet Trixie Mattel” she says. Just moments before, we spent 30 minutes battling security while they scrambled to to verify our credentials. I’m flustered and trying to organize my thoughts as we now have to hammer out a meaningful interview in under 5 minutes.

I look down the hall and see a giant blonde wig emerge from one of the changing rooms. Styled in a pastel gogo dress and platform knee high’s, Trixie towers over us with a warm hug. “Are you guys ready for all of this?!” she says with a loud laugh, kicking her heel up and taking a mini curtsy.

Gesturing for her to take a seat on the distressed leather couch that’s held together with duct tape, I thank Trixie for meeting on such short notice and dive right in. I can tell my intensity is somewhat irritating, but she smiles and handles it like a pro.

Steven Binko: Tonight you’re taking the stage to celebrate 50 years since Stonewall. What does that mean to you?

Trixie Mattel: [Sighs] Oh wow. I mean, I’m sharing the stage with 6 other drag queens that all have massive followings. Oprah recently said something that really stuck with me. Basically, she said whatever freedom we enjoy right now is because someone got it for us. As gay performers (and gay people) that is especially true.

I’m comforted by how humble she is and relax into my seat a bit. I’ve done dozens of these interviews, but it’s rare a performer acknowledges their peers and predecessors with such respect.

SB: Do you feel a responsibility for the next generation because you’re kind of helping them to get there as well?

TM: I think a good person would, but I, Trixie Mattel, am more in it for the attention and booze. In theory Drag Queens are supposed to be like “I wanna challenge gender”, but we really just want free entrance to the club [laughs].

In all seriousness, I do feel pride in being the first drag queen to do some things though. Whether it’s the first to do XYZ, or being the first drag queen to get on a certain music chart, I do take pride in that - especially being from Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s not like, on the map and it’s one of the best cities in the world. I always feel very proud about that.

Usually, this is where the interviewer throws in a nod to their hometown and makes a joke about local food and sports... but time is ticking and a crew-member starts counting down. Music begins to play and another host stands by, waiting to enter. I’ve got 3 minutes left.

SB: What role do you think Drag Queens play in the importance of Pride festivals?

TM: I think we represent a wide spectrum of people. We are basically clowning the expectation of gender, sexuality, women, and men. We’re throwing all of these conventional signals of what that gender is “supposed to be” into a blender - reminding people that gender is literally just what society tells you and that it’s not that serious. Wear whatever you want, do whatever you want. That’s what we (drag queens) do.

SB: If you had a message for your followers or anyone who is new to the LGBTQ community, what would it be?

TM: I just think we’re lucky. I remember coming out and feeling like it was a big deal. My sister is 10 years younger than me and she told me she had a girlfriend in passing - it wasn’t even a thing. I remember thinking “that is crazy”, because I would never have felt like that in 2006. I was scared, you know?

SB: It’s amazing how much things have changed. Looking at how long it’s taken for things to get where they are now, what do you anticipate for the future?

TM: People like me are living proof that society is starting to care less and less about categories, names, and labels. It’s more about whether or not they like you or respond to you on an artist level, or on a human level. They don’t say “I’m gonna say my gay artist or I’m gonna go see a black artist”. Just go see an artist because you like it.

SB: Do you think we focus too heavily on those areas? People always ask if I’m LGBTQ, if I consider myself a twink, bear, or otter? I think there’s a lot of classifications which annoys me, but on the flip-side I recognize they give people something to identify with.

TM: As an artist and as a business person, I never make things “for gay people”. I’m just a gay person who makes things. I don’t pander, and I’m not like “this is a gay thing, drag is for gay people”. I mean, I own a makeup company, and that’s a product primarily for women.

SB: How do you navigate that, and what should people know about your line?

TM: Makeup is so serious right now. It’s all about YouTube, FaceTune, looking cunty, followers, and being fierce. I wanted to make products with a pro formula that are in packaging which reminds you that makeup is a toy - It’s basically body paint. You can be a grown adult, and every time you pull this out of your makeup bag it feels like you’re answering your beeping tamagotchi. It’s supposed to be fun. Drag has taught me that adults just want to feel like kids. It’s like Halloween every day!

Interrupted by fireworks and frantic stage crew, we pause to take a picture. Behind the curtain, thousands of screaming fans fill the bleachers. The energy is tangible. Fixing her hair and adjusting her dress, I watch as Trixie’s focus shifts. As a performer myself, I recognize the internal transformation that’s unfolding - also, my cue to wrap things up.

Thanking her, I watch as Trixie walks away and think to myself how nice it would have been to dive deeper into the cultural issues facing our community. Having never seen an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race or heard her music, I had no idea what to expect from the interview but was pleasantly surprised at how deeply intellectual she was. Many times, the public sees what they’re shown, but in the brief moments Trixie shared, I got a look into the person behind the glam. In some regard, I’m glad this was my first introduction to her as an artist because it allowed me to see her essence without any preconceived notions.

As we walked by the trailers backstage, my cousin stops and grabs my arm. “We literally just met Trixie Mattel” she says with a sparkle in her eye, “Can we take a picture?”. We snag a selfie, and I realize the preciousness of this moment. It’s been a long year for the both of us, filled with heartbreak and disappointment, but for those brief few moments we were entirely immersed in eachother’s worlds. And best of all, it was everything we hoped for and more.

Returning to the audience area, I begin cyber stalking Trixie and realize the insanity that is her Empire. Regrettably, I wish I’d taken more time to research her art because it’s pretty impressive. On the flip side, I’m grateful she reciprocated the sentiment of a meaningful interview that extended beyond superficial questions she gets asked on the daily.

The following day, I bumped into Trixie while interviewing my next guest (Leland) who she is apparently close friends with. Explaining I knew little about their work, I extend gratitude for opening my eyes to some of the culture I’ve spent so much of my life rejecting. I spent years trying not to be defined by stereotypes while these two have become champions of the community, embracing it unapologetically.

I’m still learning, and because of her authenticity, vulnerability and aspirations, I now have a deeper appreciation for her work. Should we ever meet again down the road (or should you ever have the chance to exchange words with Trixie), I have one piece of advice:

Be yourself. We live in a world that’s obsessed with fame, which puts people who achieve their aspirations on a pedestal - not for their dedication, but for their notoriety. Don’t treat her differently because of what she’s accomplished, but appreciate the effort she’s put into making it possible. None of this was handed to her - she is a human just like you... she just works insanely hard at making her dreams reality.

Original article source:

© 2019 by Steven Binko