House of Horrorchata: Four Years of Bushwig, Brooklyn’s Drag Festival

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TKTKT.  Photos by Blake Leigh.

Bored and broke last summer, I decided to seek out some opportunities to give back to my community. My distinguished taste in volunteering led me to lending my time to Bushwig, Bushwick’s annual drag extravaganza. Before I knew it, I found myself inflating dozens of blow-up pink and blue unicorns at Secret Project Robot. While festival organizers, fellow volunteers, and pre-performance drag queens scurried around the venue prepping for the evening, ensuring everything was perfect for the evening’s festivities, I knew I was in love–yes, with a drag festival.

Bushwig, now in its fourth year, first came to Bushwick in 2012 as the brainchild of longtime queen Matty “Horrorchata” Mendoza and Babes Trust. Exploding with popularity, Bushwig is moving from its original home of Secret Project Robot to the Onderdonk House (just off the Jefferson L train stop), starting this weekend.

To prepare for the excitement, I visited Horrorchata at her home while she got dressed for the pre-party at the Jane Hotel. Horrorchata’s apartment is a mini-museum of years of drags, with old posters of Bushwig dates, mannequin heads, technicolor wigs and many, many outfits. Sitting at her vanity covered in makeup, stray fake nails and eyelashes (a sight familiar to me), Horrorchata began contouring her face, looking up at me with bright white contacts.

“I’ve been doing drag in New York for six years, branching out from the punk drag I used to do in Austin,” Horrorchata explained, blending powder into her hairline. “Bushwig kind of began when I was just walking down the street in the neighborhood, and had this idea and ran with it–and now it’s a thing. I was shopping for a wig and thought…Bushwig.

“At the time, drag was just kind of exploding in Brooklyn, I was one of the few full-time working drag queens. I was always out, and saw all these new queens coming in. I wanted to help expose them and let them shine, and that’s kind of what I love about Bushwig. It’s not just for big name queens–it’s for anyone. Now it’s just not even drag, especially in Brooklyn; we’ve expanded to performance art and live music,” she continued.

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Originally, Bushwig was going to be a one-night event at a bar. Once more planning went into it, it spread into a weekend festival with full days of shows. In their first year alone, they boasted more 800 attendees. This year, they are at a 2,000-capacity venue, and tickets are selling.

“The entire festival is supported by ticket sales, we don’t have sponsors,” Horrorchata explained, moving on to penciling in dramatic black eyebrows. “It’s scary–if tickets don’t sell, it comes out of my pocket!”

While drag has certainly evolved over the past few years, exploding from a niche art, deeply rooted in the queer community, it is now a form of entertainment sought by the masses. With shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race changing the landscape, with even American Apparel seeking out queens to participate in ad campaigns, I wondered how all this notoriety has changed Bushwig and drag here in Brooklyn.

“People know how to tip now! You tip your drag queen. People are learning drag culture and how to treat a drag queen,” Horrorchata joked, now spraying the Aqua Net seal on her nearly finished look. “You used to only see drag at gay bars, now i’m performing at a wedding. It’s gotten so huge. The popularity has also opened up doors for drag to change–it’s not just pageantry anymore. Drag queens were only supposed to look like women, and now people are wearing beards and expressing themselves in drag in a new way. There is no line now, go as hard as you want. People are doing some crazy shit!”

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The variety of queens performing at Bushwig mirror this evolution, with acts ranging from classic lip sync routines, to off the wall performance art. “Jake [of Dibeler, of the drag-punk band Bottoms] chopped a hand off on stage–it was a fake hand! But like, that kind of crazy shit can happen in drag now. There are no limits.”

Despite the wider variety of performers bringing their talents to the Bushwig stage, Horrorchata insisted she still doesn’t turn a queen away. “I ask some queens to perform, some ask me. If there is room, I don’t close the door,” she said.

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Showcasing that variety are Horrorchata’s friends, who have now joined us in her bedroom to get ready. I meet Patti Spliff, who is performing at the Jane Hotel that night, a tall beauty with wide cartoon eyes and a giant bow rested atop her braided wig that almost dusts the floor. Later we are joined by the boisterous Aja, whose Marie Antoinette wig is so tall, she has to duck in the door. “I made this outfit today, I had to haggle with the fabric store. That shit is $12 a yard, not $15,” she exclaimed, while showcasing her fantastic gold garb, covered in gemstones and completed with a huge stuffed bow. With her is Momo Shade, who oozes elegance in a classic red gown, and Dahlia Sin, who is clad in leather bondage-esque attire. With the entire crew with us, we pile down the stairs and into a van, headed to the hotel.

Horrorchata and company are greeted like royalty at the hotel, waving me in to follow them inside. It was nearing midnight, but Horrorchata turned to me and noted that we were early.

With drag only on the up and up, the next few years will be even bigger for Bushwig and Horrorchata. “Maybe I can get some staff, so they can deal with all the hate mail I get,” Horrorchata joked while holding a fan with her name scrawled across the front.

Horrorchata at the Jane Hotel

Check out the full lineup of Bushwig shows and after-parties. Tickets still available.
Like Bushwig on Facebook.

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