A recent September weekend marked the 11th annual run of Bushwig, long-known as the world’s largest drag and queer music festival. Over 150 drag artists, musicians, and DJs played the Knockdown Center in nearby Maspeth, as local LGBTQ+ vendors made busy selling one-of-a-kind clothing, accessories, and art pieces. What had started as a small drag festival in 2011 is now larger than that. This year, for instance, Bushwig set a new record in applications, receiving over 700.
Every performer that did show up did more than just lip sync; they told stories, each showcasing personality and style. Some were classic, well known queens who made it all the way out to Queens: Lady Bunny headlined events Saturday with some of her hilarious parody songs like “Dry-Ass Pussy,” while Amanda Lepore lit things up with a classic strip tease on Sunday. The English queen Bailey J Mills gave a fresh and hilarious performance, dancing around the stage dressed as Velma from Scooby Doo, while Juno Birch performed flawless and sharp lip syncs, all while standing in one place. A local drag artist – and last year’s Miss Bushwig – La Zavaleta went for emotional appeal, shaving parts of their head live on stage, then crowd surfing through the room. (This year’s Miss Bushwig turned out to be JanelleNo.5.)
The show ended with a performance on the festival’s main stage from the legendary Royal House of LaBeija, a prominent ballroom family that dates to 1972. It was an absolute treat.
I saw everything from beautiful gowns, to nothing at all. But, clothes or no clothes, every outfit had its own meaning. Angel Au performed a set dressed in a Chinese takeout container, bringing out props that were hidden within the costume. Baby Love made the audience cackle dressed as Albus Dumbledore, complete with robes and revealing a short leotard underneath. And drag king TJ Maxxx stunned in a rainbow leopard print outfit, equipped with ears and a tail.
When you go out in New York, it’s pretty easy to feel pressure to “look cool,” but while I was getting dressed for Bushwig myself, I felt a sense of calm. The festival has a “come as you are” atmosphere; much like the individuality of the performers, there was no set uniform for the audience, just pure self-expression.
When you come to a night of drag, you expect to see a lot of lip syncing, but Bushwig featured people singers as well. At an outdoor stage Sunday, the hyperpop singer Mel 4Ever wowed an audience, while later, noted whistleblower Chelsea Manning took the stage for one of her widely-reported DJ sets.
Born out of the Bushwick drag scene, Bushwig is passionate, emotional and raw. Some of the local vendors that weekend included favorites included sunglasses retailer Smiley Art Goods, Pickle Kitten Jewelry (selling “Punch Nazis” earrings, among others) and D.Webb Designs.
All images taken by Christine Fiala for Bushwick Daily.
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