This story ran in the Thursday edition of The Daily O’Collegian
Valerie Hill encountered an uninvited guest after stepping onto the dance floor.
Hill, a creative writing senior, wasn’t worried because her boyfriend wasn’t too far away and dozens of dancers surrounded her. The stranger offered his hand to dance and she took it to soften the blow of the bad news.
“I have a boyfriend,” she yelled over the music.
The stranger wasn’t discouraged.
“So do I,” he said.
Hill said she laughed and they went their separate ways.
This is a scene from the Electric Beatdown, a weekly dance party at the Stonewall Tavern, 115 S. Knoblock St. It’s across the street from Oklahoma State University’s Seretean Center Music Hall, but the tunes at the Beatdown are a departure from anything OSU music majors perform.
Every Thursday night, OSU graduate Granger Brown, better known as Danger Granger, and Justin Laughlin, or Beatpunks, exit their day jobs to play music at the Beatdown. They’ve spun weekly since summer 2008.
“It’s one of the biggest parties in the state,” he said. “We will have people come and say there is nothing like this in New York or L.A.”
The Stonewall’s turnout on a Thursday night is huge. Although a crowd-size limit doesn’t exist in the outdoor portion of the bar, bouncers have to stop people at the door when the crowd is too big. The line can stretch to the street, roughly a block in distance.
- Breaking Hearts and Picnic Tables
Not everyone enjoys the pulsating beats at the dance party.
Ask one of the several picnic tables that have met their demise at the Beatdown.
Dancers cause more damage to the Stonewall than the nastiest termite colony could ever dream of and watching a picnic table shatter is a spectator sport.
It starts with a slight wobble from the legs of the table and the knees of those dancing. Then there’s a noise similar to what you would hear after a lumberjack yells timber. The table snaps, falls and moves on to a better place.
“Have you ever heard the slogan?” Brown asked with a smile. “‘Breaking hearts and picnic tables since 2008.’ We are going to make it onto a shirt.”
He said he has seen this happen more than a few times.
“One night last summer, four broke,” Brown said. “I’m talking, like, break in half.”
He also said sometimes he can’t resist joining people on the tables.
“That’s part of my business,” Brown said. “I’m a hypeman. I like to get there and get people riled up.”
And the picnic tables that don’t break become center stage for some of the most ridiculous Beatdown stories.
Carson Jewell’s first night at the Stonewall ended on a picnic table. At least that’s what he remembered.
The evening started with some assistance from Tom Collins.
“It was the drink special that night,” Jewell said. “It’s great, but terrible.”
He climbed onto a picnic table and began dancing. He closed his eyes and was wearing an orange jump suit when his eyes opened. Everything between was a blur, he said.
He doesn’t remember being put in a holding cell at the Stillwater Police Station, but the police do.
Jewell said he was told he walked into a moving police car.
- What goes up must come down
The idea of people falling like dominoes on picnic tables didn’t seem believable until it happened in front of me.
A trio danced on a table and it busted, but the three weren’t fazed. Before the next song lyric left the subwoofers, each person found another table advertising more sturdiness and resumed fist pumping.
“It is funny when you see the people fall and they get on those tables and they break,” Laughlin said. “They get right back up. I guess it’s just the power of the Beatdown, man.”
A bartender walked past the shattered remains of the table. He shouted an obscenity, similar to the way an alarm sounds at a firehouse. Two more bartenders ran toward the mess and started carrying away pieces of the table away like a battalion of wounded soldiers.
“Picnic tables are the biggest causality,” he said. “They have been broken over and over again. When you throw a party that good, everything can’t go right.”
Joe Cervantes, Stonewall’s owner, does everything in his power to keep an eye on the madness and supply enough hammers and nails to repair picnic tables. He makes sure either himself or three bouncers are monitoring dancers. On Thursday nights, his staff balloons from three to about 12 workers.
After two years, the Beatdown continues to surprise Cervantes.
“As long it was above 45 degrees in the winter we’d still have it,” Cervantes said. “People show up in their coats and scarves and still go out there and dance. Just shows how fun a gathering of people it is.”
“It is the highlight of my week,” Brown says. “It’s pure energy.
“If I wasn’t doing the DJing, it would be an exotic vacation every week in town. It’s something different that takes you away, but I have to work.”
Laughlin and Brown have to be on their toes while in the crowd.
One night a girl climbed onto the subwoofer sitting next to him. She jumped from the speaker onto the DJ booth, which is made to hold a turntable and not much else.
Brown said she screamed while Laughlin held the DJ booth steady.
“I don’t see how she didn’t fall,” Brown said.
She jumped from the booth into the crowd and continued dancing.
Brown hesitated before telling anymore crazy stories because of the nudity involved, but he couldn’t resist telling one story.
“I got flashed last (semester),” Brown said. “Not an attractive girl. I was sitting there DJing. And there’s a tap at the DJ booth. I look up and bam.”
As crazy as the Beatdown gets, the origins of the party are completely relaxed compared to DJing on a Thursday night.
Brown used to hangout inside OSU’s Paul Miller Journalism and Broadcasting Building and work on a KXZY radio show with Laughlin. Brown hadn’t used a turntable before the radio show started and did most of the talking while Laughlin spun the turntables.
Brown said he had only touched a turntable twice before the first Beatdown in 2008, but Laughlin was a good teacher.
“He’s an ambitious little guy,” Laughlin said. “Every time I DJ, I’ll show him different tricks. He’s like my protégé for DJing. Now, we’re the perfect pairing to make parties going. That’s what it comes down to.”
Laughlin, an Oklahoma City native, has been a DJ for about a decade. He spun in high school before leaving for California in 2002.
In Los Angeles, Laughlin would record dialogue for film, television and DVDs. If you have wondered who puts the commentary on DVDs and records the foreign language version of “Frasier,” then you should talk to Laughlin because he knows all about it.
Laughlin said the sagging economy lead him to Stillwater in 2006.
Brown asked Laughlin how to spin and the duo started working house shows together.
But they wanted their DJing to get bigger.
“Let’s throw a real party,” Brown said.