Bushwig 2019: All the Best Things We Saw

 Stephanie Keith/Getty Images 
Merrie Cherry performs during Bushwig on Sept. 7, 2019 in the Brooklyn, N.Y.

While DragCon NYC hit Manhattan's Javits Center over the weekend, Bushwig served as more avant counterprogramming across the East River at the Knockdown Center in Queens on Sept. 7-8 (although given the center's proximity to Bushwick and the predominance of Brooklyn queens, nearly everyone onstage addressed the crowd as "Brooklyyyyyyn").

A number of RuPaul's Drag Race favorites (Nina West, Aja, Tammie Brown, Scarlet Envy) and drag icons (Lady Bunny) were present and accounted for, but the bulk of performances were from up-and-comers or willfully fringe artists who aren't necessarily aiming for a family-friendly audience.

From a Susan Boyle impersonator with whirling nipple tassels to Gia Gunn's real talk about trans women doing drag to a gag-worthy mashup of Harry Potter and Lizzo, here are the best things we saw at Bushwig 2019.

-- Dressed as Susan Boyle, Queen Robert brilliantly recreated Boyle's gag-of-the-century Britain's Got Talent audition, from singing "I Dreamed a Dream" to bantering with Simon Cowell. After audio played of Cowell congratulating her, Queen Robert stripped out of her dress to reveal two nipple tassels ready and waiting for a celebratory spin. Maybe that wasn't exactly how that audition went in 2009, but Robert putting the 'boy' in Boyle was every bit as entertaining.

-- The brilliantly monikered Florida Man dressed up as a pig and performed ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All" while a photo montage of children smiling next to prize-winning hogs at county fairs played behind him. It was bizarre, incongruent and everything you want from Brooklyn drag.

-- Baby Love's Harry Potter-themed set brought the (goblet of) fire on Sunday night. Dressed as Hermione, Baby Love mouthed the words to Hermione's explanation of the time-turner device before cleverly segueing into Charli XCX's throwback jam "1999" -- and then after lip-syncing the polyjuice potion scene, she kicked into Lizzo's "Juice," naturally, complete with a killer costume change.

-- While hosting on Sunday night, Scarlet Envy told it like it was. "Did anyone go to DragCon?" she asked. Weak woos ensued. "That's exactly what I expected, and I love you for it," she said.

-- "I am a trans women who does drag -- is that so hard to understand?" Gia Gunn asked in the midst of a sickening performance. She also tipped to the fact that a Bushwig crowd, even toward the end of day two, is a little more invested than most. "I changed my song at the last minute because I said, 'I don’t really know the words to that one, and these people are actually paying attention,'" she admitted with a laugh.

-- Lady Bunny's rewrite of Ariana Grande's "thank you, next" as "thank you, PrEP" was filthy ("one gave me crabs, one gave me rabies, one taught me how to shampoo my scabies"), inappropriate and made you want to take a shower afterward. In short, it was drag parody perfection.

-- After a Disney medley lip sync with an astonishing number of costume changes, Miss Congeniality Nina West gave an impassioned speech. “This is where the art happens, this is where the fucking movement is right now, in Brooklyn,” West said. “Your community here is so strong and incredible and so vibrant -- all of us, all over the country, are envious of you. Thank you for allowing a little country boy from Ohio to come on stage tonight and have her little Disney fantasy while people were getting fisted just 10 minutes ago on this stage.”

-- “I’m so excited to be a queer candidate -- we need LGBTQ representation on all levels of government,” said Marti Gould Cummings, who recently announced he's running for Manhattan's District 7 City Council seat in the 2021 election, after a blazing lip sync to Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" cover. “We need to take down the patriarchy and take back the country -- it’s our obligation to fight back."

-- Brooklyn-born artist and rapper Aja spoke to the existence of Bushwig as a political act in and of itself (in addition to tearing up the mic on 2019 jam "Commercial"). “Thank you for creating a safe space for people of color, trans people and people like me,” they said, shouting out Bushwig founders Horrorchata and Babes Trust.

-- A drag queen on roller skates wheeling around a raised stage in a dark room seems like a terrible idea, but La Zavaleta pulled off the feat – performing in front of a flurry of kitschy cartoon imagery – without breaking a sweat.

-- Wearing everything from bananas to feathers to Marie Antoinette finery to coconut oil (rubbed all over her body while performing to Lizzo's "Coconut Oil") between two days of emceeing and a performance, Brooklyn scene mainstay Merrie Cherry had two vital truth bombs for the messed-up times we're trying to get through. "Stolen land doesn’t mean it’s your land," she reminded the crowd. "And while we're talking about reparations, I want my 40 acres and a Honda – or a Subaru," she said, joking that either Japanese car would be the 2019 replacement for a mule. The crowd was on her side for that, but less enthusiastic about her other line of discourse: "Don't go to fucking Metropolitan [a Brooklyn gay bar] on a Saturday night with a backpack."

-- Whether singing Britney's "Hold It Against Me" or Madonna's "Erotica," season 3 Dragula contestant Violencia Exclamation Point was giving delirious Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs realness performing with her gear stuffed between her legs.

-- Another reason to be excited for RuPaul's Drag Race UK: Crystal. The Canada-born contestant on the upcoming British iteration of Drag Race was one of Bushwig 2019's stunners. During a lip sync of Peaches' "Boys Wanna Be Her," she put on some goggles, whipped out a damn metal-cutting saw and started hacking away at a piece on her arm. Sparks were splashing into her face and people's jaws were on the ground; when it was over, one person in the crowd said, "well, I guess I do have to watch it now."

-- Melding Korn's "Another Brick In the Wall" cover with a little Billie Eilish, God Complex was like a demon unleashed during a ferocious performance that kept an easily distractible crowd riveted.

-- With her face painted white and lips blazing red, Untitled Queen – one of the scene's most reliably impassioned and inventive performers – performed Mitski's "Your Best American Girl" as a lip sync and through ASL. And the latter was hardly an afterthought -- each gesture was imbued with the same intensity she brought to the choreography and lip sync.

-- During separate sets, Angelica Sundae and Rara Darling – creators and hosts of Snack Theater, a new NYC drag/burlesque show that boasts a rare level of vision and thematic cohesion – dazzled the Bushwig crowd. Darling performed while dripping in rich girl pearls and a devil-may-care attitude, and Sundae emoted throughout a fervent lip sync of Fiona Apple's "Limp."

-- It can be tough to sell a crowd accustomed to lip syncs on original music, but Dionne Slay's effortless flow on the mic and irresistible confidence easily turned the crowd into fans on Sunday.

-- In addition to roaring on their own, the Dragon Sisters provided exuberant choreography alongside Ariana and the Rose's joyous dance-pop explosion on the first day of Bushwig, complete with a room-wide selfie.

-- At one of Bushwig's afterparties, Rify Royalty, Thorgy Thor and Tammie Brown brought the shows. It's always a delight to hear Brown telling the tale of a "Porta Potty Prostitute," but a rare vocal turn from Thorgy singing "L-O-V-E" – interrupted by her chugging a beer bong – was a close second.


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