5 Ways BUKU Kept It Intimate in 2018, Despite Festival Expansion

Article by: Eden Saltzman

Mon March 12, 2018 | 14:30 PM

This past weekend, on the edge of the Mississippi River, where Mardi Gras floats call warehouses home for 364 days a year, the seventh BUKU Music + Arts Project made its mark. Through lights, sounds, and a deeply devout collection of festival-goers, BUKU has become an attraction for EDM, hip-hop and indie lovers alike. In fact, BUKU has grown so much that it expanded its festival grounds this year, venturing over the train tracks to place a new main stage in the once-vacant field in front of the concrete venue.

Expanding a festival can lead to a lack of intimacy and familiarity that patrons enjoyed in years past. Though everyone seemed directionally challenged and legs were more sore than usual come Sunday morning, BUKU was able to maintain its reputation for bringing all attendees together to form the weird and passionate festival family known simply as the Bukrewe.

Here are some of the ways BUKU kept the same strange and beautiful energy despite this year’s expansion.

It Created the Illusion of Smaller Spaces

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Photo by: Linka Odom

Venue is a unique draw for BUKU. Located at Mardi Gras World, stages range from inside a warehouse of Mardi Gras floats, appropriately titled the Float Den, to a large ballroom with a mezzanine level for VIP and handicap viewing. With so many intimate indoor spaces with sounds bouncing off walls and drowning ears in deep bass and mesmerizing beats, an outdoor stage in a field without trees may seem bleak.

However, through the ingenious use of light and art, BUKU beat the odds of their landscape. Extraordinarily powerful lasers created a translucent ceiling at the Power Plant stage (the main stage). Lighted art installations and a towering VIP viewing stand encouraged people to move closer to the stage. And by traveling over the narrow passage across the tracks to this stage, entering the field had the illusion of walking into an oasis.

The Wharf: BUKU’s New Back Alley

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Photo by: Linka Odom

The Power Plant stage may have made the move across the tracks, but the festival didn’t cut the old site out of the picture. Beside food stands and a plethora of decently hidden porta-potties, The Wharf made its debut. Though the Back Alley, once a grungy dark corner of the festival, became a VIP stage this year, its spirit didn’t die. Rather, a reincarnation occurred, resulting in the birth of The Wharf.

Bordered by the river on one side and stacked neon shipping containers on the other, The Wharf was an intimate venue that screamed dance party all weekend long. Dancing bodies were facing and moving in every direction, letting their ears guide them rather than the stage itself, lending the entire space a freewheeling vibe. The Wharf captured the essence of BUKU: to be with friends, make new ones, and to dance like nobody's watching.

A Focus on Stageless Acts

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Photo by: Linka Odom

Through its intimate set-up, The Wharf encouraged attendees to dance and expand their BUKU family, but it was by no means the smallest stage at the festival. Both Friday and Saturday featured numerous acts roaming the grounds with no stage or start-time listed anywhere. These nomadic acts included a decked-out shopping cart blasting groovy tunes, a pedi-cab turned pedi-DJ, and a duet of violinists that proved the symphony isn’t the only place string talent can be enjoyed.

These mobile music sets are a highlight of BUKU Music + Art Project, and show that no matter where you are, music can encourage people to let go and just enjoy themselves for a spontaneous dance party, even if it's beside a shopping cart.

It Encouraged Engagement

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Photo by: Linka Odom

There’s a reason why friendship is an ongoing theme here. BUKU fosters a culture of interaction and community-building. One of its most outstanding features was two shipping containers connected by a giant bouncing hammock, internally dubbed the hampoline (for those who may not follow: hammock+trampoline). Accidentally toppling into the laps of other members of the Bukrewe may not be the most traditional or graceful method of making friends, but it definitely works.

BUKU also hosted a lineup that – for the most part, *cough cough* Migos – understood the importance of engaging the audience. There was plenty of encouragement to jump at the drop of the bass. Plus, many artists were very vocal about their appreciation for New Orleans, and while shout-outs to cities may seem cliché, these messages felt wholehearted and honest.

It Lets Quirkiness Rule

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Photo by: Linka Odom

The true nature of a festival is measured by those who attend it. By the number of fishnets, colored wigs, neon clothing and butt cheeks seen at BUKU, it’s clear it once again hosted a wacky and spirited festival. The average attendee’s age certainly skews to the younger side, but that only brings more energy to the festival, something that is certainly needed to get through two days of nonstop music.

BUKU certainly had some hiccups this year, which it handled deftly and swiftly. Namely, we're talking about the last-minute lineup change thanks to Lil Uzi Vert’s upsetting refusal to leave Philly; the festival quickly let the audience know what was up, replaced him with Gryffin, and donated Lil Uzi Vert's performance fee to the Upbeat Academy Foundation. However, BUKU is not beloved because of its flawlessness and pristine perks. BUKU remains a draw after all these years due to its intoxicating culture of neon lights, tight-knit friendships, sweaty dancing, and bass-heavy beats. Merci, Buku.