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Laura Jane: Mistress of all ceremonies

(This story originally appeared HERE in Gay San Diego.)

When Laura Jane Willcock left Traverse City, Mich. behind in 2001 and touched down in San Diego to start anew with her young son Dylan, it was mere days before 9/11.

“Our belongings hadn’t even arrived from Michigan yet,” Laura Jane said.

With her original hopes of becoming a Christmas Party planner dashed due to the nation’s wounded psyche, she shifted gears. She took a stint at Macy’s –“the longest three months of my life,” she said – and an acting job with an interactive dinner theatre group, where she met her future and frequent musical collaborator, Franco Zigarelli.

After making a few friends in the local LGBT community, Laura Jane volunteered to host the Lavender Lens magazine launch and said The Flame’s then-owner Carla Coshow “took a liking” to her.

In January 2002, “Karaoke Tuesdays with Laura Jane” was born and so was the start of the San Diego LGBT community’s love affair with the entertainer.

Since then, the enormously talented bisexual goddess has not only thrown herself into the community, but well beyond it. She is a one-stop shop of entertainment bliss, mixing comedy, impersonations, music and outlandish costume changes into her own personal cottage industry. As a result, she is generally booked three months out and rarely takes a day off.

She is still doing karaoke on Tuesdays, but now it’s at Gossip Grill; General Manager Moe Girton just so happened to be a member of Coshow’s staff in 2002.

Her Monday nights at The Harp in Ocean Beach may also be filled with karaoke, but Laura Jane’s performance schedule runs the gamut these days. She can be found as a DJ on Hornblower cruises, where she said she “makes musical dreams come true” with selections from her personal cache of 10,000 songs.

The LGBT Center also uses her DJ skills for their regular women’s dances, and she has hosted the main stage at CityFest. But perhaps her most rewarding gigs come during Pride season. She puts her powerhouse focus into the Children’s Garden at the San Diego Pride Festival every year, hosts the main stage at North County’s Pride @ the beach; and after years as a volunteer performer and host, is now paid to manage all the entertainment for the South Bay Pride Art and Music Festival. This year’s festival is September 14, where Laura Jane will also host.

“She gives her heart and soul to her performances,” said South Bay Alliance Chair Dae Elliott. “So much so, it would not seem like South Bay Pride without her.”

Supporting pride celebrations in the far reaches of San Diego County is important to Laura Jane. “It’s easy for the bigger cities to have kind of a liberal, gay-loving concentration of people, but in these tender communities like Oceanside and Chula Vista, with more Latino and military, we especially need it.

“It recharges the whole community’s gay batteries,” she said. “That is what it does for me. I’m like, ‘Look at all this gay love around me; oh my god I’m not the only bisexual in the world.’”

Happily partnered with Kevin, her boyfriend of more than four years, Laura Jane admits that it is still tough, even today, to be openly bisexual.

“It’s easy to say the words ‘I’m gay’ when you are surrounded by gay people. It’s harder to say bisexual, whether you are surrounded by gay people or straight people,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot of criticism from both sides but … I think it is important to have a face to that identity so that people can say, ‘Oh, so it’s really just about who you fall in love with?’”

She’s “thrilled, joyous and optimistic” about recent advances with marriage equality, and although some may point out that she is able to marry in her current situation if she chose to, she knows that could easily change.

“For some reason my heart doesn’t have any physiological concerns,” she said.

Some fans believe she can sing Cher better than Cher herself and dig the blues from deeper depths of her soul than any Billie Holiday impersonator, but Laura Jane’s true love is the seven-piece band she has fronted and managed the last five years, The Tighten Ups.

A mixture of funk, blues, rock and soul, The Tighten Ups consists of Laura Jane on vocals, saxophonist Topher Dub, bassist Gerry Wasson, trumpeter Bob Conrad, trombonist Marie Claire, drummer Brad Smith and a recent addition, guitarist Joey Harris from Beat Farmers fame.

“My band is excellent and it blows me away how much world-class talent is in that band,” she said. She is also thrilled they got picked up to play the San Diego Blues Festival Sept. 7, and they will be playing at one of the many after parties for next month’s Rock-n-Roll Marathon.

“I’m a Pisces and I’m portable. I can do child appropriate or I can be as bawdy as you’ll let me be,” she said.

That pretty much sums Laura Jane up.

Morgan M. Hurley is Contributing Editor of SDGLN, Editor of San Diego Downtown News and Assistant Editor of Gay San Diego and San Diego Uptown News.