Austin's Godfather of Clubbing has left the scene
On an unseasonably cool Sunday evening in May, a 69-year-old man shares the stage at an outdoor club on Sixth Street with a DJ, two silver mannequins with disco balls for heads, and an inflatable cow.
Each time he leaves the stage, people quit dancing so they can hug him — and say goodbye.
His name is Yorkie Louie. And he is, well was, Austin’s self-proclaimed Godfather of Clubbing.
Last week, he packed up his disco ball (presumably) and headed to Denver.
“I shed a lot of tears; I gave it a lot of thought,” Yorkie told KUT about his decision to move west. “But after COVID, I started seeing a lot of things differently.”
Who is Yorkie?
Yorkie was born in New York in 1952 and started clubbing in his late teens. He moved to San Francisco in his 20s, fell in love, and then moved back to New York. Right around that time, many of Yorkie’s friends started getting sick.
“They didn’t know what AIDS was. They didn’t have a name for it,” he said. “They were calling it gay cancer in the beginning.”
After losing friends and a partner to the disease, Yorkie moved back to San Francisco. He fell in love again — but then out of love with the city. In 2015, he moved to Austin. Knowing no one, he started showing up at dance clubs by himself.
That’s where Aimee Lynn Scarborough, a manager at a downtown club at the time, met him.
“It was kind of a conundrum to see this older Asian gentleman head-to-toe rave-geared out ... rocking harder than some of the 21-year-olds on the dance floor,” she said. "All night. They were taking water breaks. He wasn’t.”
Yorkie said people would approach him on the dance floor, commenting on his style and moves.
“I love your energy. Where the f*** did you come from?” he remembered them saying. “I see you here every week. You’re badass on the dance floor.”
He formed a community: a crew of 20- and 30-somethings he went clubbing with every weekend. He called them his kids or grandkids; he was their Pop-Pop.
“It’s uninhibited joy,” Scarborough said. “I think that’s the thing that you see with him: pure love and light and energy.”
A godfather lives through a pandemic
Months after I first met Yorkie, COVID-19 began to spread.
“Hi kids, it’s me, Pop-Pop. And as you can see, the coronavirus has landed on Planet Austin,” he says in a video posted to Instagram in March 2020. He wears a light-up mask and a fur hood.
While Yorkie said this pandemic felt in many ways different from the AIDS epidemic — “We didn’t have to stay home; we could still go to the movies" — moments felt similar.
As he did in the 1980s, Yorkie watched Dr. Anthony Fauci advise the nation on how to prevent spread of the disease.
“They didn’t just pull this man out of a hat,” Yorkie said.
Fauci began his career as the nation’s top doctor during the AIDS epidemic. While people have criticized how he handled the crisis, Yorkie called him a "guiding light."
"The one who knows how to save us," he said.
Yorkie began hosting dance parties on social media and posted videos encouraging people to stay home and wear masks. He did all this while also trying to process the hate and vitriol aimed at Asians and Asian-Americans — scapegoated, as gay people were, for the spread of a virus.
“It just brought back all the racist remarks that I heard when I was growing up in New York,” he said. “I heard them all the time. I would just start tearing up. It was a horrible, horrible feeling.”
'I was just dancing. That’s all I was doing.'
Yorkie began to think about leaving Austin. The reasons were manifold: He wanted to be closer to family, friends were leaving Austin, he was sick of the state’s conservative politics.
“How liberating is it that when I go to Colorado the governor is gay?” he said. (Jared Polis became the first openly gay governor when he was elected to the position in 2018.)
Disdain can make departures easier, so Yorkie jots off the things he doesn’t like about Austin.
“I will not miss the summer,” he said. “I am not going to miss the allergies.”
When asked what he will miss, Yorkie says the people, whom he calls "aliens."
“When I got here from San Francisco, this place was like going to another planet. It was Planet Beautiful People,” he said. “The best thing about Planet Austin are the people.”
Yorkie said as he prepared to 'blast-off' from Planet Austin, he was inundated by goodbye messages and parties; there was even an album made in his honor featuring some of his most beloved DJs.
He said he felt undeserving of all this attention.
“I was just doing my thing on the dance floor,” Yorkie said. “I was just dancing. That’s all I was doing. That’s it. And look what happened.”