How Bushwig Became the Brooklyn Drag World’s “Gay Super Bowl”

"If you can't afford a fucking ticket, girl, it doesn't matter," says cofounder Babes Trust ahead of Bushwig 10. "You're coming with us."

Before drag queens regularly performed at sold-out stadiums and snatched Emmys for network television shows, there was Bushwig.

Founded in 2011, the Bushwig Festival of Drag, Music, & Love originated as Brooklyn’s version of Wigstock, Lady Bunny’s fabled Manhattan drag festival that ran from 1984–2005. Its cofounders, drag performers and longtime Brooklynites Horrorchata and Babes Trust, were already “sisters” with prior event-production experience under their wig caps and a shared dream of spotlighting the borough’s unique brand of drag.

“The first time we did Bushwig, we didn’t think people would come,” Horrorchata tells Logo ahead of Bushwig’s 10-year anniversary. Drag hadn’t yet reached the mainstream masses, and Wigstock was still on hiatus, so organizing a day-long festival celebrating local performers meant taking a leap dip of faith. But people did come — hundreds of people, in fact.

The first Bushwig was a one-day affair at Brooklyn’s Secret Project Robot with 55 performers and a crowd of about 400 spectators; by the time Bushwig 2 rolled around, the festival had doubled in size. It expanded steadily year after year, morphing into a weekend-long venture and outgrowing both Secret Project Robot and another venue before moving to The Knockdown Center in Maspeth, its current home.
 

Bushwig’s boom in popularity coincided with the “mainstreaming” of drag: RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered right here on Logo in 2009, introducing the classic queer art form — and a bevy of queens from different cities nationwide — to new viewers across America. “It’s so culturally interesting,” Babes tells Logo, recalling her humble drag origins as a homeless queer youth on the streets of Manchester, England. “There’s always going to be cross-dressers. There’s always going to be the queers, the gays, the trans people who are just figuring it out.” The truth is, drag has always existed throughout history; mainstream audiences are just catching up.

The mainstream appeal of drag also means “cuter booking fees” for performers, and not just at Bushwig. “It’s gotten to that level where, I’m going to be real, I don’t get in drag unless I’m getting paid,” Horrorchata says. “I feel like me and Babes and a lot of the girls, we paid our dues. So it’s really cool to see [drag artists] are actually getting coin.”

Even though Babes says Drag Race’s popularity has “helped us immensely,” she and Horrorchata believe Bushwig has grown so rapidly because it offers something special and necessary. For one thing, it’s genuinely fun. The lineup for Bushwig 10 features more than 200 musicians, artists, and drag performers in back-to-back slots, ensuring around-the-clock entertaintment.

The festival is also a perfect excuse to stunt, something many of us, drag performers or not, are searching for after months of COVID-19-related isolation. Bushwig had some smaller, outdoor pop-ups last year, but the team wasn’t able to pull together a large-scale event amid the pandemic. Horrorchata describes the festival as “the gay Super Bowl”: “It’s the one event of the year that people are shopping for their looks way in advance. They’re talking to their friends, collaborating on looks.”

Bushwig is now a business, but it wasn’t always profitable. For years, Babes and Horrorchata poured any money they made via ticketing back into the following year’s festival. The idea has always been to foster a safe, inclusive, and community-first environment for everyone, including drag performers and enthusiasts “at the intersections of race, of class.” Babes says drag and the drag community were there for her when she needed it most; with Bushwig, she and Horrorchata aim to channel that same ethos.

Even now, with an international reputation and a working budget of around $100,000, the festival still prioritizes smaller artists from the New York area over established drag superstars. “We’re not corporate at all,” Horrorchata explains. “I know that we’ve leaned on Ru girls for the past few years, but at the end of the day, we started Bushwig as a New York event. And I feel this year, it still has kept the same vibe.”

“I’d rather book all the trans girls, all the girls who are just starting out and have 100 followers on Instagram,” adds Babes. “I’m way more interested in providing them a platform with money.”

That healthy budget also allows Babes and Horrorchata to comp tickets for any LGBTQ+ person in need. As the Bushwig EventBrite page notes, nobody from the LGBTQ+ community will be turned away from the event for lack of funds. “If you can’t afford a fucking ticket, girl, it doesn’t matter,” Babes says. “You’re coming. You’re coming with us.”

As for what attendees can expect from Bushwig 10 this weekend? Horrorchata and Babes rattle off some names they’re particularly excited to see (ChaseIcon and Club Carrie, respectively), but other than that, they are uncharacteristically coy. “No matter what, it’s going to be fab,” says Horrorchata, “but there’s definitely little moments I think that are going to be very special.”

“I think also with not having Bushwig last year — I mean, we did have the park moments, but I think it’s going to be very special this year,” she adds. “Just that feeling of the morning of Bushwig, when you’re about to put on your makeup… I’m already getting shivers.”

Bushwig 10 will be held at The Knockdown Center in Maspeth, New York, this Saturday, September 11, and Sunday, September 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.
@_sammanzella