Since August, one side of Lake Merritt has been lit by headphones from a silent disco and movie night. Two Bay Area natives, Arzo Johnson (aka DJ Slowpoke) and Brandon Bailey (aka DJ B. Bailey) have hosted Movie Night At The Lake, a weekly evening event at Lake Merritt’s Empowerment Park. The movie showings have included classic 90s era movies such as House Party, What’s Love Got To Do With It and The Sandlot.
DJ Slowpoke, a 20 year veteran who has toured with many local Bay Area artists including Too Short, Mr Fab and a host of others, collaborated with his friend DJ B. Bailey to create the outdoor experience. Johnson and Bailey said the idea was born as an effort to be innovative in bringing people together in a safe environment, while also generating income during the economic pressures created by COVID-19.
Once events shut down due to the pandemic, the two weren’t able to continue promoting parties. The duo opted to use the resources from their silent disco parties to create movie nights for the community.
“We can get people to kind of gather but then they can distance themselves,” Johnson said. To organize the concession stand, they recruited a friend and local bartender from Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in Oakland, Veronica Webber, to make a Sunday night movie night a go-to event, averaging up to 75 moviegoers and growing.
There was another plan in action built into how the movie selections are made. “We’re not picking these movies and shoving them down your throat. We’re allowing people to choose and I feel like that interaction helps draw people in,” Bailey said.
Every Monday, a poll with the choice of up to four movies is displayed on Movie Night at The Lake‘s Instagram Page. Followers of the IG page vote on a movie during the week. Movie polls are closed on Saturday and the movie with the most votes wins. “Since everyone needs to get in the mindstate of voting, it’s showing them how to vote,” Johnson said.
The interactive voting process for the movies keeps people engaged and ready for voting by allowing the collective to choose the movies for Sunday night. “Instead of saying we all need to vote November 3rd, it was another way of getting people in the mode of voting, [That] was getting them to vote for the movie.” Bailey has also promoted #weridewevote on his IG page, an effort to encourage Oakland residents to register to vote.
The headphones are cleaned by scanning with a UV light and then when they are distributed, patrons are provided with a sanitized wipe to wipe them again when they are rented. They are wiped again once the headphones are returned at the end of the movie.
Movie night starts with a silent disco at 6pm. A silent disco uses headphones to play music prior to the movie. The headphones also minimize the distraction of outside noise or disturbing the neighbors. Moviegoers rent headphones from the concession booth for $15. A movie package includes headphones and refreshment available for $25, for a single adult. For children, the package cost $15. “We advise folks to use apps so we don’t have to exchange cash. We are hooked up with Venmo and CashApp to limit cash exchange,” Veronica Webber said.
The concession stand has popcorn, candy, and beverages for purchase. For parties who want their outdoor movie night to feel a bit more comfortable, there is patio furniture seating with a fire pit and heat lamp at an additional cost. Free masks are also available on site for those who forget theirs.
What is it that draws the crowd to movie night at the lake? “The sense of community, the good vibe that it has,” Bailey said. “It’s a good family night. It’s a good date night. When you come out here, it looks cool to see all the headphones lit up. The people that come are all good people.”
Slowpoke says they intend to run the movie through Halloween or longer, depending on the weather. “As long as the weather is cooperating, we’ll keep being out here,” said DJ Slowpoke.