FAMILY CIRCUS "We're getting closer and closer to being a real band," says Kalyn Heffernan. "We're
also starting to get paid for shows, which is new for us."
Unless you count Summer Jam and other shameless showcases of hack-rap sharecroppers, hip-hop never had a circus until B. Dolan stepped up to play ringmaster. Before the Providence MC's roving Church of Love & Ruin, there was no singular spectacular at which curious fans could ingest eclectic rhyme and dance styles mixed with marching-band hysterics and a harem of transvestites. "Moving forward," says Dolan, "I want to make it an entire festival with all the misfits who Strange Famous [Records] hangs with."
Now in its second run, Dolan's Church returns this week with new attractions including the iconic Philly funk-hop duo Grand Buffet and Dolan's Strange Famous labelmate Sage Francis (the latter for select shows only). There's also DJ D'Hana (who recently appeared on the cover of the Phoenix Queer issue), Providence hip-hoppers Juan Deuce and Falside, New Orleans sissy bouncer Vockah Redu, and Boston drag queen Katya and burlesque performer Madge of Honor, the latter of whom is billed as the Virgin Mother of the Church of Love & Ruin.
But of all the towering acts, the primary attraction for many Church-goers will be the three-foot, six-inch Denver rapper Kalyn Heffernan and her trio Wheelchair Sports Camp. Dolan rocked a show with Heffernan last year in Albuquerque, where he was impressed enough to invite her whole band along for his trip to South by Southwest. He even bailed people out when Wheelchair's singer/sax player Abi McGaha Miller and her drummer brother Isaac were jailed in northern Texas for weed and graffiti.
It's surprising that Heffernan avoided the arrest. Though weighing in at just 50 pounds – she has the fragile bone condition osteogenesis imperfecta — her public enemy status is heavyweight, right down to the CRIP LIFE tattoo on her stomach. Besides hip-hop extracurriculars like burning spliffs and swilling beer, Heffernan is a bandana-clad activist who rolls with hard progressive forces like Occupy Denver. On record, her incisive rhymes rail on everything from Wall Street to pollution; off the mic she pays it forward through a number of community causes.
"Even though we're doing more and more music, I still volunteer and get into a lot of activism," says Heffernan, a self-described "shit-starter." "Last weekend I played at a disabled summer camp in the mountains; this week I volunteered at girls' rock camp; Saturday morning I'm a celebrity pancake server for an anti-violence group." She continues: "I'm not always so serious, though, like my stupid shit about fucking hoes and driving on 20s. There was a time when I stopped giving a shit about PC things. Now if someone wants to call me a midget — even though I'm not — it doesn't fucking matter to me."
There's a chance that Wheelchair Sports Camp could crack beyond the underground. Heffernan's rhymes are unapologetically revolutionary — think Immortal Technique with a NASCAR flow and a tank of helium. But between her unique look, warm yet badass character, and the band's knack for catchy hooks and hot sax loops, it's hard to find a budding act with hotter prospects. "They win the camp spirit award every time," says Dolan, "right down to watching the whole show like any other member of the audience."