(All photos courtesy of Airick Redwolf)
Back in 2007, gay nightlife in Portland was mostly segmented into two parts—clubs for gay men and clubs for gay women.
Then Blow Pony galloped onto the scene.
At the time, a monthly queer-centric dance party open to all identities was a revelation. Add in its punky spirit, and Blow Pony quickly became one of Portland's most welcomingly freaky gatherings.
Over a decade later, that's what it remains. Few Portland institutions have had a lifespan as epic as Blow Pony's. It's changed venues four times in 11 years, and still draws lines of partygoers that wrap around the block, and has even expanded into other cities.
We spoke to the event's sole organizer, Airick Redwolf, along with some of the performers and attendees turned go-go dancers who've made Blow Pony an institution.
The first Blow Pony was held on the second Saturday in March 2007, at the now-defunct Eagle on West Burnside Street near what was known as Vaseline Alley, a string of gay bars along Southwest Stark Street. A promoter since his club-kid days in the '80s, Airick Redwolf started DJing at the Eagle, and quickly noticed the audience was made up almost exclusively of gay men. So he decided to start his own, more inclusive dance party.
Airick Redwolf: I've just always enjoyed spaces that have a variety of people. I appreciate and understand the need for spaces that are women-only or trans-only, but I also appreciate having all-inclusive spaces.
Charley Sharp, go-go dancer: A lot of our early advertisement was like, "This party's for everyone, we want everyone to be here." I think that's the thing that stood out the most—we were in this leather-daddy club, but everyone was there. By the second or third party, Airick decided he wanted to add dancers. Airick had seen me dancing and asked if I'd be interested. My dance style was already female-stripper style. It wasn't anything I had planned, but it sounded fun when they offered it.
Heatherette, go-go dancer: I got in free because I'm a femme, and I just had the best time. They had all this bondage stuff hanging in the middle, so I was always getting up on the bar and dancing and like climbing on the bondage gear. [Eagle staff members] were always like, "Get down off there!" Then one day, I remember Airick being like, "You know what? Stay, we'll pay you. You're a go-go dancer now." I was like, "That's right, bitches!"
In 2008, the Eagle closed down, along with several other bars in Vaseline Alley. Blow Pony moved to Casey's in Old Town.
Redwolf: Everybody got pushed out. The whole gay area was gone. [At Casey's,] we had this upstairs area where it was basically rock 'n' roll and punk, and then downstairs was this kind of dingy, kind of dirty dance party. It almost felt like you were in the basement of someone's house.
Sharp: There was a Pride where we had a Blow Pony boat cruise on one of the small boats that goes up to Sauvie Island and back. When the boat came in, Airick had the bike taxis reserved. Everyone who had a ticket for the boat also got into the party, and they got a free trip on the bike taxis to Casey's. When they got there, all of the dancers were dressed up like sailors.
A few years in, Blow Pony began hosting parties in cities like San Francisco, Denver, Austin and Vancouver, B.C. One of its early trips outside Portland was an American Apparel-sponsored party at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs during Pride Season 2009.
Heatherette: It was just all these tan buff dudes with perfect teeth. And then here comes Blow Pony.
Sharp: We're like crass John Waters characters that all these bougie-ass LA people are looking down their nose at. They barely want us in their pool, let alone their town. But by the end of it, we're all dancing together and having a great time.
At Casey's, Blow Pony guests were frequently harassed by the residents above the club. The harassment escalated over the party's two years there.
Redwolf: We were surrounded by straight bars. When you had people coming out of [Blow Pony] with dresses on, looking different, [wearing] glitter and just being themselves, now they're having to worry how they're going to get to their cars safely. [One time,] this guy was harassing people in the front. He punched me in the face and called me a faggot while I was on the 911 call. The police completely dropped the ball, lost seven witnesses, and he pretty much got away with it. I approached the owner of Casey's, who was a gay man, and said, "You need to talk to your landlord because this can't be happening." He said, "I'm not going to get involved with your political agenda and activism." That really frustrated me because I didn't see it that way. I just saw it as, "You're a gay man, you should care about your attendees and their welfare."
Sharp: It really came to a head during Pride season. [The upstairs tenants] were pouring cups of piss on people that were standing outside to smoke. That was ultimately why we ended up leaving the venue, because we weren't able to keep it safe for everyone.
In 2010, Blow Pony relocated for a third time to Rotture and Branx, a warehouse complex in the Central Eastside Industrial District.
Sharp: I remember being nervous we wouldn't fill it up or that it would be too big. Then it turned out oftentimes to be too small.
Paul Soileau, aka Christeene, Austin drag performer: If I go through Portland, it's usually for Blow Pony. It's run by a bunch of trashed-out little rascal kinds of people. A normal entrance for me [is,] I put a butt plug up my ass and have balloons [attached]. Then I pull the balloons out and the butt plug floats over the crowd. There was one performance where some guy handed me poppers from the crowd. I did them, and then the security dude who was onstage got real mad and went to throw the guy out. I used the moment to lecture the security dude, and to say it's OK in that room to do poppers. He let the kid stay and kind of took a step back. It's kind of fun when this monster onstage can have a conversation with a security person and save a little fag's life in the process.
Dave Baker, go-go dancer Ruby Foxx: I'm a fat, femme, hairy, non-binary person, and unfortunately that means it can be hard for me to feel beautiful in a lot of spaces, even those catering to gay and queer folks. [The first Blow Pony I went to] I was truly in my element that night, and it showed through my dancing. By the end of the evening, Airick approached me and offered me a job as a go-go dancer.
Nikki Lev, go-go dancer and choreographer: I wanted to become a go-go dancer in general. I'm a non-binary, feminine person with a penis. And Blow Pony was clearly the biggest stage. [Airick would] periodically be like, "Hey, I'd like for you guys to do a go-go group number," and everyone would be like, "Yeah!" But no one would step up and make it happen. So I did that. There's a song, it's some sample of a guy spelling out the word "fuck." We did like a "YMCA" thing to those letters.
Rotture and Branx partnered with new owners in 2016. In June, the new owners told Blow Pony they were rebranding as an EDM club and no longer wanted to host queer-centric parties.
Redwolf: He waited to tell us literally two weekends before Pride. It also outraged me that somebody would think having queer and trans people coming to the door would confuse their fucking straight clientele.
Heatherette: It doesn't matter what scene you're in, when there's many big-money changes happening, all marginalized communities are at risk. Anybody who's not a white male, tech, straight bro is at risk of getting everything they found comfortable or happy ripped out from underneath them, and that's not just a Portland problem.
After Redwolf announced on Facebook that Blow Pony had lost its venue, clubs such as Holocene and Scandals reached out to Redwolf. By July 2016, Blow Pony had moved into the Bossanova Ballroom, where it continues to host monthly parties.
Redwolf: I was like, "Maybe it's time." We've had these several moves, I don't know if I want to continue. [But] the community, it came out. Venue owners, they came forward and said, "Look, we'll take you guys, we love what you do."
Lev: [A few months after the move,] we did a group number when Trump was elected. We printed out a bunch of pictures of all these shitty anti-gay Republicans and then we ripped them up onstage. I had bought a Trump piñata, so we put, like, a bunch of condoms and lube tester packets inside of Trump, and then smashed him with a baseball bat.
Isla Fauv, drag performer: It's no longer unusual to be gay, and our cultures are homogenizing. Blow Pony is sort of an oasis of, like, there's still punk-rock faggotry, there's still underground queerness, there's still radical expressions of self, and it's all done in this very warm and inclusive space. As everything gets candy-coated, it's nice to have something that has, not even something as generic as an edge, but has a heart.
SEE IT: Blow Pony's 11th Annual Queer Mutiny Fest is at Bossanova Ballroom, 722 E Burnside St., on Saturday, June 16. 9 pm. $15. 21+.