The Life of the Party

Start with $12,000, 20 teenage entrepreneurs, and a crowd of anywhere from 200 to 2,000. Let's see you throw a better party.


When they return to the Armory at ten o'clock sharp, there is a line stretching half a block from the door to the venue's parking lot. At least 500 kids are standing in the 30-degree weather to attend the party, and its elated organizers have to fight their way through the crowd to get inside.

Not long after they walk in, opening jock Boogie drops his first beat, and the doors are opened to let in what would be pandemonium if security weren't so tight. The money table--manned by J.R.'s mom, Mercia's mom, and a friend of hers--is positioned close to the door, narrowing the entryway so that only one person can pass through at a time. Two officers stand by. One pats the kids down and the other goes over them with a metal detector and shines a flashlight inside their bags. Almost immediately, the line is in order. Even more remarkable, it doesn't seem to have an end: For the next three hours, at least 300 kids will be waiting in line at any given time, and they won't stop coming until 2 a.m.

Lords of the dance? The Family Werks crew: Jeff, Mercia, Pepe, J.R., Matt, and Thai
Lords of the dance? The Family Werks crew: Jeff, Mercia, Pepe, J.R., Matt, and Thai

No matter which possible party scenario the Family Werks members arrived on while imagining the Love of their dreams, none of them was quite prepared for this turnout, and although they handle it as well as can be expected, it clearly throws them for a loop--the phrase "Oh my god! I don't believe this!" receives a thorough workout. The door people find themselves trapped in place for two hours; at a couple points, they stop admitting people for a few minutes so everybody can catch some breath. The Minnesota AIDS Project staffers, who have set up a table near the bathrooms, watch in disbelief as 400 condoms disappear in an hour. By 11:30 p.m. you can't move without stepping on the cuffs of somebody's phat-pants. There are no major problems, but getting through the room and out the front door is so difficult that J.R. and Matt are late picking up several DJs.

At 2:15 a.m. Justin Long starts his set with Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart," and Olson walks--no, struts--backstage to announce, with as much modesty as he can muster, that the party has broken even on $20 bills. (They haven't even started counting the tens, fives, or ones yet.) Love, Jeff tells me later, will not only recover the money spent on it, but the money spent on their last three parties combined.

By the time the show closes at 6 a.m., a room that last year seemed to barely accommodate 1,000 people has had roughly 1,500 pass through its doors, and about half that number are still present. The house lights go up as J.R. finishes spinning the night's final set. He tries to maintain the energy in the room for just a few more songs, and though the masses are already grabbing their stuff and heading for the door, a few dozen die-hards keep dancing. Even after Slamhammer cuts the sound in half, a few keep going.


It's 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. The remaining members of Family Werks are eating at the Midway Perkins and enjoying their first quiet moment in almost 24 hours. Breaking the equipment down took 90 minutes (the group would have been there twice as long if the Armory's janitors hadn't helped clean up the trashed floors and bathroom). The morning sun is incredibly bright, and the group closes the blinds to save their tired eyes. Some of the Family are still wide awake after the daylong adventure, but most are quietly winding down; a couple even fall asleep in front of their half-finished plates.

But just as the kids start readying themselves to separate, someone brings up the obvious question, the question that every young entrepreneur asks himself after a windfall: What next? J.R. pauses, places his tired head against Mercia's, and musters what seems like every bit of his remaining energy to speak one sentence. "We're gonna rest, just chill," he says. "I think we've earned it."

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