Blow Pony

“NOT HAVING a safe space as a dancer, and in light of the Orlando massacre, my queer dancer friends and I have nowhere safe to express ourselves,” said fire dancer and hula-hooper Derek Archer in late June. Archer has attended nearly every Blow Pony event for the last six years, but last month, the home of the wildly popular queer event, Euphoria Nightclub, abruptly kicked out both Blow Pony and its counterpart, Bearracuda.

“I’m appalled that the home of Blow Pony and Bearracuda is no more,” said Christopher Detzler, a fan of both events. “Their decision clearly targeted a specific group, and that’s discrimination.”

“To see a venue disregard and exclude the LGBTQ community in Portland is really troubling,” said Debra Porta. “As someone active in the LGBTQ community, I am well aware of the important role that venues and events play for our community—Blow Pony among them.”

Drama unfolded on June 3, when nightlife promoter Airick Redwolf walked into a meeting with Mike Wolfson, the owner of Euphoria Nightclub, where Redwolf’s monthly Blow Pony event had been held since 2009.

Redwolf wanted to coordinate with Wolfson about the upcoming Pride edition of his party on June 18, one of the biggest and busiest of the year. Blow Pony had four performers flying to town for the event.

But Redwolf was blindsided: The club’s soon-to-be new owner, Paul Song, and his promotion company, Red Cube, wanted to change things up, Wolfson told Redwolf. From here on out, Euphoria would focus solely on electronic dance music.

“What does that mean for us?” asked Redwolf, a tattooed and bushy-bearded fortysomething. He had performers booked, deposits paid, and contracts to honor for Blow Pony through November.

“They don’t want to continue doing business with you,” Wolfson reportedly told him. June’s Pride events would be the last for Blow Pony and Bearracuda, the other recurring LGBTQ-based event at Euphoria. They were getting kicked out.

“That’s odd,” said Redwolf. “What’s the reason?”

When Wolfson relayed Red Cube’s position—that continuing to have queer events at Euphoria could “confuse” the club’s new sole-target demographic, EDM fans—a controversy sparked. When Red Cube gutted Euphoria’s lighting system right before the final Bearracuda and Blow Pony events, it fanned the flames. And then, when the venue planned a fundraiser for the victims of the terrorist attack at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub—a “fundraiser” in which the club would donate the cover charge, but keep proceeds from the lucrative liquor sales—full-on outrage exploded.

Hordes of ardent supporters of Blow Pony and Bearracuda soon took to social media, accusing Euphoria Nightclub and Red Cube of homophobia and disrespect.

“They need to understand that they can’t push other groups of people around,” said Nikki Lev, a Blow Pony go-go dancer. “If you cancel a successful gig, you better have a better reason than they gave.”

Euphoria’s Wolfson blames the outrage on miscommunication.

“I think people are really heavily misconstruing it,” Wolfson told the Mercury. “I said essentially what I heard from the new ownership, which is they want to have consistency of programming, and they don’t want to confuse their customers. I think people have taken that language and said this means that Red Cube is homophobic and they’re worried about gay people being here, and my take on it is it’s not accurate... Airick asked me if I thought there’d be any more queer events in the future, and I said, verbatim, ‘I doubt it.’ He also could have asked me if there will be any black metal events there, because we did lots of those, and I would have said ‘I doubt it.’”

“We don’t want to have [queer-specific events] because we want to be consistent with EDM events on the weekends,” Song, the new partner of the club, told the Mercury. “I’m not homophobic and we’re not saying those guys need to go away because they’re queer events. We just want to keep it consistent.”

That wasn’t what it felt like for the organizers and participants of Blow Pony and Bearracuda, who had been patronizing the venue now known as Euphoria for the better part of a decade.

It didn’t help that the queer events in Portland were booted the same month 49 people were gunned down at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It also didn’t help that whoever was running Euphoria and Red Cube’s Facebook pages started deleting comments from Blow Pony and Bearracuda supporters—making it seem as if they were silencing those trying to make their voices heard.

BLOW PONY is one of the most popular queer events in town, drawing long lines and regularly packing 800 people into the two-story Euphoria. When they spilled out into the back parking lot—and when the fire marshal wasn’t cracking down—some nights could draw 1,500 to 2,000 people, Redwolf said.

The event started nine years ago in the “old” Eagle on W Burnside. Redwolf, a Colorado native who’s lived all over the country and Europe, was a DJ at the Eagle and saw a number of gay clubs and events in the city catering mostly to men, like at the Eagle, or mostly to women, like at the now-shuttered Egyptian Room and others. When he was approached by the owner of the Eagle to start his own event, he wanted to do something that was inclusive to the entire queer community.

“Blow Pony was created as a place for people of all walks of life to gather in a respectful place, and to feel safer to express themselves, but also to showcase queer talent and queer artists,” he said. “It’s also a social, a dance, a good time. I moved to Portland from London, and the queer spots there are pretty much what you get with Blow Pony: low tolerance of bullshit and assholism, and a high tolerance of people expressing themselves and being themselves, respectfully. I enjoyed that. People were having fun and enjoying themselves and doing drugs and getting drunk, or not doing drugs or getting drunk—being sexual, enjoying music, whatever they felt that element was to bring them out of their box.”

The business side of events such as these goes like this: Event promoters essentially rent out space in clubs and bars. Promoters make money off the cover charge, and use that to pay the musicians and entertainers, as well as themselves and the people running the event. Meanwhile, the club, benefitting from the increase in traffic, rakes in money from liquor sales. When both sides work well together, it’s a worthwhile symbiotic relationship.

And from the start, Blow Pony was successful.

Jason DeSomer

“We started Blow Pony [at the Eagle] and immediately, off the bat, it was packed,” Redwolf says. When that bar closed down not long after, Blow Pony moved to Casey’s in Chinatown. It didn’t last long there, either.

“We were there for less than a year at Casey’s,” he said. “We would have continued there, but this is where I was gay-bashed. There were tenants above Casey’s lobbing bottles of urine, and water balloons, and anti-gay slurs down on people having cigarettes outside.”

Redwolf relayed the story of a 2009 scuffle with a group of guys outside the club and with a man who he says called the eventgoers “AIDS-infested faggots.” A fight broke out when Redwolf confronted the guy, and he was punched in the face as he was calling police, he said.

According to Redwolf, after Casey’s owner refused to do anything about the upstairs tenants or the attacks, Blow Pony needed to find yet another home.

That’s when they crossed the river and joined with Wolfson at the space on SE 3rd, now known as Euphoria Nightclub. At that time, the two levels of the venue were Rotture and Branx.

Not long before Blow Pony took residence at the club, the venue started hosting another recurring gay event, Bearracuda—“the largest bear party in the world,” with corresponding events in 58 cities in 11 countries, according to its Portland resident DJ, Matt Consola.

The two events, Blow Pony and Bearracuda, would become mainstays in the Portland queer community, even as gay clubs and events disappeared around them. Blow Pony made the club “loads of money,” Redwolf said, saying that Wolfson told him the club regularly made $15,000 off liquor sales in a single night.

And then Red Cube showed up.

EUPHORIA’S WOLFSON has been trying to phase out of the nightclub business for a while. In mid 2015, he brought in a new partner to the club. Together they renamed the place Euphoria Nightclub, attempting to turn it into a full-time gay club.

The new guy “dumped a load of money into the place, somehow got in way over his head, and wasn’t able to pay a lot of the performers and he got a lot of backlash from our community over that, and he ended up leaving town,” Redwolf explained. “So Euphoria was handed back over to Mike [Wolfson].”

Then Wolfson connected with Song of Red Cube, who began putting on EDM shows there.

But Song had experience in other business ventures, too: Following a 2005 investigation, he spent 30 months in federal prison for his part in a crime ring that imported cocaine from California and distributed it in Portland nightclubs. “Song was primarily responsible for distributing the cocaine,” court records show, and he admitted that his group “distributed approximately one kilogram of cocaine per week between three and four times a month” for a year. After getting busted by undercover agents for selling cocaine and MDMA in Portland, Song’s house was raided. Authorities found $14,995 in cash, a shotgun, 650 grams of cocaine, and ecstasy tablets.

After promoting EDM events at Euphoria last year, Song’s role with the club gradually increased. He’s currently in the process of buying the club from Wolfson. That’s why he had Wolfson give Blow Pony and Bearracuda the boot on June 3.

“I know how to sell one product, which I’ve been selling for 13 years,” Song told the Mercury, “which is EDM events.”

When news of the June meeting between Euphoria’s Wolfson and Blow Pony’s Redwolf got out—along with the line about queer events “confusing” a new target demo—anger and resentment followed from the queer community. Redwolf texted his Bearracuda counterparts that day, and soon explained on the Blow Pony Facebook page what was going on. Word spread fast.

“I was pissed,” said Bearracuda’s Consola. As a veteran in the nightclub business—he’s also the promoter of Pop Rocks and Straight Outta the ’80s events—Consola understands the industry is tough, and events often change as new people come in. “But to tell us a new club owner is coming in and taking over your night, and they don’t want queer events any longer in the largest queer space in Portland—and one of the oldest queer spaces in Portland—that was just a kick in the gut.”

Redwolf and Consola also take issue with the idea that Song’s EDM events and queer events can’t coexist in the same space. On multiple occasions, a Bearracuda event was happening on one floor, while an EDM show was on another. Nobody was confused.

Two final incidents added insult to injury. Minutes before Bearracuda was to open the door for its final event at Euphoria during Pride on June 17, Consola discovered the club’s lighting had been removed. Red Cube, Wolfson told Consola, had taken the lights to a music festival.

They found two “LED bars up in the office, and we had to basically tape it to the front of the DJ booth and aim it up just to have some sort of lighting going on,” Consola said. “I had to hold the door for 40 minutes and go outside and apologize to everyone.”

Then came Red Cube’s Orlando fundraiser, scheduled for July 1. Supporters of Blow Pony and Bearracuda viewed it as an ersatz attempt to regain the queer community’s favor. Euphoria was only planning to donate the cover charge and keep the liquor sales, how most of a club’s money is derived.

“It’s not right to be making money off a tragedy,” said Consola. “How do you kick out all your queer events from a queer space, and then turn around and throw a benefit for a queer massacre?”

“I find it a slap to the face, as a gay man who had very close friends affected by Orlando,” said Bruce Ross, a Blow Pony partygoer. “As someone who frequents LGBT events and nightlife, I honestly can’t believe they would have the gall to do something like that.”

Amid peak anger, and shortly after the Mercury published a blog post about the situation on June 30, Euphoria and Red Cube cancelled the fundraiser. Queer event supporters urged people to attend a fundraiser at Holocene, where liquor proceeds were donated, too.

Ross echoes much of the sentiment expressed on Facebook by people in the community. Reaction was swift, supportive, and powerful.

“It was an overwhelming thing to see, because I didn’t know people really cared that much about this event, or would care at all that much about this situation,” Redwolf said. “I’m happy to see they care. I’m thoroughly enjoying that people in my community are using their voices. It may not be in a fashion that people would want to agree with, and maybe Euphoria or Red Cube don’t want to hear it, but the fact is, it’s a community that’s been silenced for so long that maybe just listening would be all right.”

Redwolf disagrees with Euphoria and Red Cube’s decision to delete the angry comments from their Facebook pages. “You just have to let people do it,” he says, remembering the time some years back when he was called out for using transphobic language. “It’s hard sometimes when you don’t want to hear things about yourselves, but sometimes you have to if you’re going to learn and want to change and create a better atmosphere. Sometimes you have to shut up and listen.”

OTHER PEOPLE, at least, were listening: Redwolf says that after Blow Pony was axed from Euphoria, folks from the queer and queer-supporting nightlife industry—places like Scandals, the Paris Theatre, Refuge PDX, Bossanova Ballroom, Holocene, and Wonder Ballroom—all reached out to him.

And it didn’t take Blow Pony and Bearracuda all too long to find a new home: Bossanova Ballroom, which also hosts Inferno, a popular lesbian dance party whose organizer, DJ Wildfire, helped convince Redwolf to come there. On Saturday, July 16, Blow Pony opens a new chapter at its new home, with performances by queer hip-hop artist Dick Van Dick and San Francisco-based electro-hop duo Double Duchess. Bearracuda will hold its first event at Bossanova on October 8.

Redwolf is thrilled about it: It’s near the old venue, it can hold almost as many people as Euphoria, and queer events there have been treated with respect, he said.

“Honestly, this is where we should have been ages ago.”