- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Heading into its fifth year, the Buku Music + Art Project remains on the cutting edge of entertainment as it fuses electronic dance music, hip-hop and indie rock in a city famous for its music celebrations.

Founded in 2010 by Dante DiPasquale and Reeves Price, the two-day festival is scheduled March 11-12 in New Orleans’ warehouse district along the Mississippi River front. It will showcase four stages of musicians in a lineup that includes retro-future electronic artist Pretty Lights, multi-genre rapper and collaborator Kid Cudi, rappers Future and Fetty Wap, DJ/electronic producer and saxophonist GRiZ and others.

“We like to think of it as having the feel of a big festival but with a house party, underground vibe that marries the subculture of New Orleans,” DiPasquale said.

GRiZ, whose real name is Grant Kwiecinski, said it will be his third time performing at the festival.

“It’s a real good event, the way they treat the people, the performers and the opportunities for the fans. Everything about what they do is geared toward wanting to show them a good time and that’s what they do,” he said. “They’ve managed to create a lineup that’s fresh and new.”

Kwiecinski, 25, of Southfield, Michigan, is a producer and instrumentalist who plays saxophone during his sets. Asked to describe his show, Kwiecinski said, “It’s like James Brown in the future with funky beats and a lot of edge.”

DiPasquale said GRiZ is one of their more popular EDM acts. “We really like him,” he said. “He’s grown in his career and we’re excited to have him back.”

The festival, produced by HUKA Entertainment and Winter Circle Productions, also features a signature arts component boasting an array of unique art installations, street performers and assorted food vendors.

DiPasquale said the BUKU festival concept emerged after he and Price had promoted shows in the area and “felt there was a community that was underserved.”

“We knew there was a lot of interest in this style of music,” he said.

And he wasn’t wrong.

The 2015 festival was sold out and DiPasquale expects that again in 2016.

“We averaged about 15,000 fans a day,” he said. “There’s a limit to the number of people who can get in because of space but also because we want to keep it small. I’m not saying we don’t want to grow, but if we do, it will stay true to the boutique feel.”

DiPasquale noted some obvious comparisons in the style of music and artists who perform at the Voodoo festival. But he said Voodoo is about four times bigger and has more traditional heritage acts and older acts like Ozzy Osbourne. “We’re on concrete in the city-center. They’re on grass, in a park. We’re a little more gritty and lead toward a more younger audience,” he said.

DiPasquale said Winter Circle’s non-profit Upbeat Academy, which hosts several underprivileged at-risk children on-site at the festival, benefits too. Fifty cents from each ticket sold goes to the program, which currently has 24 students who are focused on developing their skills in hip-hop and EDM.

A two-day, general admission ticket to BUKU costs $189.50. A two-day, VIP pass is $399.50. The more expensive package includes access to special performances on the SS BUKU, a VIP steamboat docked on the Mississippi River. Last year’s secret sets included New Orleans’ own Queen of Bounce Big Freedia giving a “twerk” lesson and the Gaslamp Killer, an alternative hip hop producer and DJ, doing a two-hour set with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

General admission tickets go on sale at 11 a.m. CST Thursday.

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