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Bushwig Tears it up Again: An Experimental Art Community Proved its Worth

A spectacular fan routine.

Two hot days and nights of heavy drinking, nipples, genitals, a wedding, drugs, sweaty wigs, lip syncing, heavy beats, hardcore rifts and exuberant dancing. It was two nights of Bushwig this year and anything less would have taken the joy out of life.

On Saturday the 6th, right in the middle of New York City’s fashion week, all of the best dressed in the city (because who dresses better than drag queens?) congregated in one spot in Bushwick to celebrate the third year of Bushwig, a festival dedicated to drag, music and all things queer.

In order to properly honor the event I dressed in drag for the first time. My girl friends helped me get done up proper before the event at home. It was a nerve racking, sweaty, hilarious operation that required several martinis for me to sit through. When it was all finished, I looked into my bathroom mirror. What I saw, wearing a black wig, tutu, and full makeup (including eyelashes), made me feel like the ugliest Betty in Brooklyn, and I was sure it was going to show that I had never worn makeup before.

But all my fears of looking out of place were quickly torn apart. As I entered the doors of Secret Project Robot to see the first of over 80 performances, including drag acts and live music that spanned multiple genres, I realized that my little trial was right at home in this orgy of artistic and intimate experimentation.

Horrorchata makes a guest feel comfortable.

This year’s Bushwig was a marvelous mix of queens, straight folk and everyone on either side and in between. Many of them dressed for the occasion by wearing elaborate wigs, color contacts, excessive makeup, or, in one case, pig snout mask. Handmade articles of clothing were common among performers.

Although not everyone was in drag, unfortunately, it would be impossible to see the festival attendees and imagine that this was anything else but a drag event in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In fact, it was seeing a mixed bag like this that reminded me why drag is so gravitating for people who want to stand apart from mainstream culture. It isn’t just boys in wigs putting on falsettos that makes drag what it is: it is the mutual agreement that everybody has the ability to create a character that is a mixture of who they are and who they want to be regardless of what society expects of them. It is playing dress up with your soul while fearlessly and gleefully obscuring heteronormative bullshit as much as possible.

For example: Drew Daniel’s musical project, “The Soft Pink Truth.” Daniel’s music mixed industrial, black metal and electronic dance sounds. He called it “queer shame oriented dance music.” Daniel sported a signature gigantic exposed fake set of genitals around his waist and rocked onstage and in the audience, his music and energy feeding the audience with an aggressive exuberance that stunk up the room with sweat and untamed pheromones. It was one of the most exhilarating live performances of the festival by far, and The Soft Pink Truth has just released a new album titled, “Why Do The Heathen Rage?”

A mixed group of performers and guests hiding from the rain on the first night

It was right after this performance that one of those classic late-summer thunderstorms began, making half of the venue undesirable for anyone who wanted to prevent their makeup from running, including myself. Although most folks ran inside to watch the rest of the shows, a pleasant handful of attendees ran up to the covered outdoor stage for a sit and a smoke under the colored lights. A few mentioned how much they are going to miss the summer rains. This was when I finally got the opportunity to have a quick chat with one of the most well known queens in the borough at the moment, Merry Cherrie.

Most of our conversation was forgettable, neither of us was in the best state of coherence, but when I told her that it was my first night in drag, she came at me with more makeup tips than I thought could possibly exist. Her advice was filled with plenty of terms that I did not understand, but the sentiment was one of “welcome to the club, let me help you out.” Merry mentioned that she occasionally has people over for tutorials, which was when another first-timer piped up, “Oh I am so there. With a bottle of rose, I am so there.”

Scarlett Envy

My first evening concluded at Bizarre Bar. That was where Bushwig organizer Simon Leahy (aka Babes Trust) and her band, Bottoms, turned up some of the most hardcore music of the day, causing a small mosh pit front and center that I was happy to be a part of. I went home after that, ears and mascara bleeding, my wig a hot tangled sponge of rain and sweat, but the night’s festivities went on into the next day for many.

Day two began innocently. Folks slowly staggered in for some hair-of-the-dog action at 3PM, a delightful drag queen named Shaquanda’s sold some of her delicious “Hawt Sauce.” A small cat relaxed under the shade of a rainbow flag on the outside bar, instantly becoming a photo opp sensation. Wigstock founder (a sort of pre-Bushwig drag festival that used to be held in Tompkins Square Park) Lady Bunny showed up while I was talking to Leahy about his intention to create a permanent drag performance space in Brooklyn, which will likely be called “Foucault.” Once he saw Lady Bunny, the interview was over. “Oh my god it’s Lady fucking Bunny” Leahy screamed, jumping up to go greet the iconic drag queen in a beehive wig and gaudy red summer dress.

A tuckered out kitty can still sport some gay pride.

Then the performances began, and each was just as original as the one before it, some kinky, some creepy and some just downright euphoric. One of the first acts ended with a wrestling brawl between an audience member and the performer, Kadavir, after the attendee threw a water bottle at him mid act. Because it wouldn’t be proper drag if there wasn’t a little bit of shade.

But after that came the act that is my personal choice for the best drag performance of Bushwig 2014: Sasha Velour.

Incorporating two songs (including Kate Bush’s classic, “Wuthering Heights”) dialogue from The Lord of the Rings movies and grotesque false teeth, Ms. Velour created a caricature of obsession that was immediately relatable, frightening and hilarious. The black lace number and Kate-Bushy choreography in three-inch heels were definite bonuses.

A special announcement was made as the light faded in the early evening of the second day (yes, Summer is leaving us and it is taking its 9PM sunsets with it): it was time for the wedding.

An ordained and licensed minister officially married Andy Pandy and Gigi, both in drag, onstage with Merry Cherrie, Horrorchata, Lady Simon and others standing by as their wedding party. The couple, both nervous and at times shaking, managed to get through their heartfelt vows with their huge smiles never leaving their faces. “As your husband, I want to be an ambassador of pure intense, deep, spontaneous and raw love,” said a very sincere Pandy in his vow.

I have been to many weddings, but this was definitely the first time both the bridesmaids and the groomsmen were wiping their eyes to keep their makeup from running. The whole thing was adorable, cheered on by a very supportive audience, and the smooch at the end was nothing but a passionate love embrace.

Arcie Cola during her daring tampon act.

I only stayed for a few of the musical performances of the second night, having to wake up in the morning and still incredibly hung over from the night before, but I can tell you that Tami Tanaki, a electronic dance musician, completely tore it up, threw it on the ground and made people go nuts over it. Grimes or Mount Kimbrie came to my mind during her second song, but that might be doing a disservice to Tanaki’s enchanting lyrics: I never came this hard, this long before/but then again I’ve never fucked a boy like you before/Never had somebody I could fuck hardcore before. She was a goddess when she dropped her dance beats, and whole atmosphere felt empty when her set ended. Merry Cherrie put it right when she got onstage and said, “there are going to be so many Dj’s downloading you tonight.” She isn’t on iTunes, but I highly recommend looking her up on Spotify.

It's all about the Brooklyn look.

After a few other acts and several beers, it was time for me to go home and wash off yesterday’s makeup, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

I texted my friend, who also went in drag and under the name, “Buick” to see how he was faring, what he thought of Bushwig 2014 and if he would ever go back. His response: “doing coke off a house key in a rainbow bathroom. It was just what I had hoped for.”

As for my opinion, I will certainly be going back next year. For the music, for the drag queens, for the single ladies and for the artistic community that has put an incredible amount of energy into making each Bushwig bigger and better than the last. This especially goes for Simon Leahy (aka Babes Trust) and Matthew Mendoza (aka Horrorchata), but also to all the folks that didn’t cast shade and those that wanted to make this the best Fall opening party ever.

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