EVENTS | FESTIVALS
Wigwood Festival: Disrupting Miami’s Gay Tourist Scene
Even though Miami’s queer history dates as far back as 1930s, there has been a shift within its LGBTQ+ community in more recent years. A new crop of local drag talent started emerging, taking the local drag scene commercialized by tourism to more of a DIY route.
The way I discovered and got close to Miami’s LGBTQ+ community can only be described as fate. During one of my visits to South Florida in late 2018, where I usually visit my mom and my brother, I came out to my father as gay.
It was an intense exchange and a pivotal moment in my life, so the next day after what happened I headed over to a bougie hotel in South Beach where my friend was staying, in order to share the news about what happened. I told my friend that we needed to go out that night to celebrate my freedom and dragged him to the Lemon City Day School in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, to a party that I stumbled on in my Instagram feed earlier in the day.
The party was called “Build A Boi” and it seemed that it was a fundraiser for a local drag king, Sage, at that time known as King Femme. The fundraiser’s purpose was to raise money for Sage’s breast removal surgery and there seemed to be a lot of performers scheduled to appear. (Sage is still short of his goal, so if you’d like to help, click here.)
The moment we got there, we realized we were not in Miami anymore, it felt like we somehow magically transported to a DIY queer space somewhere in Bushwick. This was the first time that I encountered the local Miami drag scene in such an intimate way.
I was shaken by the performances I witnessed that night and was curious to find out more about Miami’s, what seemed to me a burgeoning, new drag scene. I ran into another flyer on my feed about a month later, but this time for a 3-day festival called Wigwood that was going to be taking place in the beginning of next year.
This was definitely my chance to dive a little deeper and learn more about this local queer community that I was so out of touch with.
I got in touch with the event’s organizer Queef Latina, and asked if I could attend as press. A couple of months later I was on my way to Miami, to the third annual installment of a festival that would eventually turn my life in an unexpected direction.
The first day of Wigwood was on a boat. The check-in line was long and I didn’t see anyone I knew. It is a sight to be seen: it looks like the second coming of Noah, only sea monsters and queer creatures are allowed to board this time. I’m desperately thinking about where I should stuff my edibles in case they might be spotted in my bag and thrown into the marina. I finally see a couple of people I know: Remy Black is passing by me, who I interviewed for “Conversations” just the day before, and Violencia Exclamation Point, who I had previously met at Bushwig and DragCon.
I got inside of the boat to scope out the surroundings first. There was not much happening on the first level, but it looked like the second floor was where people would eventually be dancing. The top floor of the boat was open and several cabanas were on either side, covered in turquoise tinsel curtains blowing in the air.
I made my way to the front of the boat and ran into a drag queen who was wearing her own fabulous version of standard diving dress. We struck up a conversation, she told me her name was Didi and that she lived in Jacksonville. I confessed that I had no idea about the thriving Miami drag scene; in turn, she mentioned that I should look into Taipei’s drag scene as well, and to get in contact with the island’s local drag queen Popcorn. Incredibly, this quick conversations became the stimulus for me taking a trip to Taipei later the same year for their Pride celebration.
I asked a couple of people who Queef Latina was and they pointed me to a vision dressed in orange, with big puffy hair and a beard to match. I came up to her to introduce myself and thanked her for having me. “She’s awfully nice,” I thought and moved on to explore what more the boat had to offer.
Shortly after takeoff, a slew of shows started on the second floor. The first performer of the night was Karla Croqueta, who lip-synced to “My Heart Will Go On,” whipping out “the heart of the ocean” from her bra and throwing it through the window, bringing about a wild frenzy. “Titanic is one of my favorite movies and when I was told we were going to be on a yacht, I was like, I am sinking this yacht. I’ve always wanted to perform that and I always wanted to throw ‘the heart of the ocean’ into the ocean, so I did,” Karla said during our interview a few months after the festival.
To my disappointment, it seemed like the boat pulled over to the dock way too soon and everyone had to disembark. Thankfully, there were two more days planned ahead.
The second day of Wigwood took place at Gramp’s bar in Wynwood. Milk from RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6 and All Stars season 3 was the headliner for the party. Milk was taking photos with fans in the smaller room of the venue, before performing twice later on during the night.
It seemed like the performances would never stop. I’d never seen so many scheduled acts performing onstage right after the other, except at Bushwig. What was most surprising is that everything ran right on time. I shared this sentiment with Milk later on in New York, when I ran into her at Aquaria’s birthday party. “It was so beautiful, I can’t believe I didn’t know about this festival before this year. Everything ran so smoothly and the energy was incredible,” she went on to say.
That night I witnessed some of the best performances I’ve seen to date. Andro Gin, during his rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” showed off his villainous side along with his prowess in improv and comedic timing; Lady Paraiso undressed at the end of her performance, triumphantly revealing “Perfectly Imperfect” written as a cross on her bare torso; Kat Wilderness crowdsurfed; The Abhora scared everyone shitless performing on her stilts; Opulenceeeee scared everyone shitless once again, performing as a post-apocalyptic trash mermaid covered in blood; Queef Latina showed everyone how to deal with a breakup; Mama Celeste made a huge ham sandwich right onstage and shamelessly devoured it; Remy Black and Lana Summers shut the house down (they literally closed the show) with their spot-on lip-sync rendition of Eminem and Joyner Lucas’ “Lucky You.”
And on the third day, Wigwood created a pool party. It was relaxed and glorious. The event was held during the day, going into the evening at the Broken Shaker bar at the Freehand hotel. Most of the people showed up in their best pool attire, ditching wigs and makeup from the previous days.
Several performance slots were scheduled throughout the day, where Abhora purposefully fell into the pool, filling it with dozens of floating balloons that were released from underneath her outfit; Celia Booze, covered in LV print head to toe, took a baby out of her purse just to throw it into the crowd; Adora gave Jinkx Monsoon and Detox a run for their money with her lip-sync to "Malambo No. 1" by Yma Sumac.
Queef Latina with Sleeper, one of the co-founders of Miami's legendary The Counter Corner party
“I was always connected to Miami, this is my home. There were many key people that were already doing the work before I moved back from New York. There was Sleeper, who was putting together queer parties, there was Juleisy y Karla that were already doing stuff and I kind of just jumped on board. I never did drag when I lived in NY, but I was always around drag queens in the Brooklyn scene,” says Queef Latina on sprouting her roots in the Miami drag scene. “So when I moved back, I was like OK, we need to get this moving, we need queer spaces, safe spaces, events to look forward to, and slowly but surely we started to build it out.” She says that Wigwood evolved organically, because there was a need for creating spaces for local queer communities, outside of just the tourist gay scene, which dominated Miami for quite a while.
“I lived in NY for a long time, and I went to Bushwig in the early days. I didn’t go to the first one, but I did go to the second one and the third one, when it was very family. It still is very family, but it just evolved organically and naturally, and I still remember that sense of family and community in those early days there. When I moved back to Miami I definitely used it kind of as a blueprint, but I completely changed it in the sense that Miami is so unique when it comes to certain cultures and the way we do things, especially with music. I wasn’t just copying Bushwig, I wasn’t trying to recreate it, I was really trying to create our own version of what a queer festival would be,” says Queef on coming up with the idea of creating the 3-day festival, which started off as a 1-day party during its first year.
Sidewalkkilla is beyond excited to be attending the fourth Wigwood Miami festival at the beginning of February and seeing what Queef has up her sleeve this time around. The first day of the festival is slated to happen on Friday, February 7, at the world's famous Club Space.