DJ Hodel is back spinning, celebrating 40 years

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Tuesday June 20, 2023
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Page Hodel was back in the DJ booth during opening night at her new dance party, JOYride, at the White Horse in Oakland on May 20. Photo: Heather Cassell
Page Hodel was back in the DJ booth during opening night at her new dance party, JOYride, at the White Horse in Oakland on May 20. Photo: Heather Cassell

The music was pumping and the dance floor and bar were packed at Oakland's White Horse Bar last month.

Veteran award-winning San Francisco Bay Area lesbian disc jockey Page Hodel was behind the turntables, keeping the energy upbeat. A diverse crowd — queer, straight, young, middle-aged, old, Black, Brown, and white — was at the sold out night to grind and groove, working up a sweat at the May 20 grand opening of JOYride.

JOYride is a weekly dance party every Saturday from 8 p.m. to closing time. In true Hodel style, this club is open to everyone who simply wants to dance to a mix of old-school and hip-hop dance classics, 1970s funk, and house music that brings people out onto the dance floor to have a good time.

The club also marks a new era as Hodel, 66, celebrates four decades of spinning the beats.

During the pandemic, Hodel took an extended break from getting people up on their feet dancing. COVID-19 put Hodel's disc jockey business and working at Living Jazz, a jazz education organization, on hold for several years. The pandemic even kept her from celebrating her four decades of bringing the sounds and rhythm to all kinds of parties. For more than 40 years, Hodel has spun at every type of party, from private gatherings to bars and nightclubs (including promoting her own successful clubs, the BOX and Club Q) to the high seas. Wherever music was needed, Hodel brought the beat.

During the downtime, Hodel launched Page's Carpentry School in the North Bay city of Sebastopol, where she lives. Being the businesswoman that she is, Hodel took advantage of the pandemic by nurturing her second love of building tiny homes and converting buses into livable spaces. Today, she spends part of her time teaching her building and carpentry skills to others.

However, the siren call of nightlife — music and people gathering in community on the dance floor — and an old friend, Patty Dingle, called with an opportunity to bring Hodel back to the DJ booth. Dingle recently bought the White Horse Bar in Oakland, which bills itself as the oldest operating bar in the nation, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

It is also an opportunity for Hodel to finally celebrate her years of spinning the music by partying it up during San Francisco Pride weekend at an extended dance party taking partygoers through four decades of dance music at JOYride at the White Horse, she said.

"She's always going to bring it and she's always going to create that environment for people where they're gonna walk away and they're gonna say, 'Man, I had a great time,'" said Dingle, who has known Hodel for decades dancing at the BOX and sometimes at Club Q when she wasn't behind the bar mixing and serving drinks at Townsend.

Dingle called Hodel a "unicorn," spinning the hits at weddings, nightclubs, and street parties with thousands of people, which she said is "incredibly significant."

"She's a gift to the community," she said. "We need to cherish that. We need to honor that."

Clubgoers danced the night away at opening night of JOYride at the White Horse Bar, DJ Page Hodel's latest dance party. Photo: Heather Cassell  

Hodel always knew that she was going to be involved with music. She entertained friends, business associates, and family, as music filled her father's homes in Marin County north of San Francisco, where she and her three siblings — the late Mark Hodel, Ann Hodel, and Alex Hodel — were born and grew up.

"My father loved music," said Hodel, who was close to her father, Eugenio "Dany" Hodel, who was from Romania. "As the alcohol would flow in our house, the stereo got louder."

Then "my father would get out his guitar and start singing and playing," she said.

Hodel said the kind, tender, and warm man transformed "when he put that guitar in front of him. I just recognized it was like his whole being opened up and his emotions flowed through the guitar. I was very moved by that."

Page Hodel's sister, Ann Hodel, who is eight years younger, echoed her sibling's memories of their father's tenderness and love for the arts, recalling him playing music all the time.

"She just had it in her too," Ann Hodel, who's also a lesbian, said about her older sister, calling Page Hodel her "greatest hero." She is not surprised that Page Hodel is still in the DJ booth getting people out onto the dance floor.

Ann Hodel recalled the energy in the nightclubs Page Hodel created when she worked for her for nearly three years between college and graduate school at the BOX and Club Q in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"It's where she shines," said Ann Hodel, 58. "She has that magic of creating incredible energy on the dance floor and bringing all kinds of people together.

"She just creates such a unique energy, that is such a celebration of life, people, and all the things that make us who we are," she added.

Ann Hodel, who lives in Colorado, won't be able to celebrate her sister's career milestone during San Francisco Pride weekend at JOYpride at the White Horse Bar, she told the B.A.R. But she plans to visit and dance to the beats her sister spins as soon as she can.

Their father went to boarding school in Switzerland. He later moved to Paris, where Dany Hodel met her mother, Peggy Hodel, an American. They moved to California, married, and settled. Her father ran a textile factory in San Francisco. Page Hodel and her siblings' childhood was at times a "bumpy ride." Their parents divorced. Her father remarried. A younger half-sister came into the family. Then Hodel's mother suddenly died of a heart attack when she was 14 years old.

"Music was always a place that I could go and escape," Page Hodel said about growing up in the 1960s. Fortunately, "music was everywhere here in California."

When she was 16 years old, Page Hodel was sent to music school in Paris to learn classical guitar. Hodel was a self-taught funk guitar player. She pulled out her electric guitar in class and the teachers just looked at her.

"It was hysterical," she said. "I'm not a classical guitar player."

Paris ended up being a magical year for Page Hodel. Aware from an early age that she is a lesbian, she found community in the City of Lights. She immediately found herself adopted by a lesbian couple — Lucy Ap Roberts, an American from Berkeley, and Germaine Mendlshaft, her French partner — who were her neighbors and remain lifelong friends. She also fell into the circus crowd and fell in love with Robin Mide, a mime from New York City.

After a year in Paris, the couple returned to the states and settled in Oakland. It was the early 1970s, the Stonewall riots in New York City had just happened, and Betty Friedan's book, "The Feminine Mystique," had touched a nerve, kicking off the feminist movement. The LGBTQ and women's movements were emerging and so was Oakland's women's music scene, as the B.A.R. previously reported. Page Hodel joined a short-lived women's funk band, Mama Says Funk, and other bands, playing rhythm guitar.

Page Hodel knew that she should have kept playing guitar and creating music. She feels the pull of it every day, she said. However, life intervened and she found her musical outlet in mixing and spinning music and throwing birthday parties.

"I've found the same voice," she said.

'She was the party'
Page Hodel ended up in San Francisco after she and Mide broke up after three years together. It was in the late 1970s, when Page Hodel, who was then in her early 20s, attracted the attention of legendary San Francisco lesbian bar owner Rikki Streicher, who owned Amelia's and Maud's, two of the city's beloved bygone lesbian bars. Streicher's bar manager, Susan Fahey, invited Page Hodel to spin at Amelia's.

"Susan called me up and said, 'I don't know what you're doing at your birthday parties, but we're empty. So, why don't you bring them over here?'" said Page Hodel, who was wowed that she was paid at the end of the night for playing music and having fun at Amelia's.

Fahey, a 71-year-old gay woman, told the B.A.R. in a phone interview from the East Coast that she noticed a dip in business on certain nights. She asked around. That's how she ended up at one of Page Hodel's warehouse parties and invited her to spin at Amelia's.

"She was so fresh and bright," she said about Page Hodel, who also became a friend, recalling her energy "was just infectious" and "her music was also fresher, in my experience." Fahey mentioned Page Hodel's ability to mix genres and emerging artists with well-loved dance favorites the crowd sang along with.

"There was something about when Page started playing that people really came alive," Fahey said. "She really was the music. She was the party."

Page Hodel spun at Amelia's every Thursday in the early 1980s for about four or five years, said Fahey, who retired in 2021 from the San Francisco Sheriff's Office, where she worked in communications.

Page Hodel also recalled the fun times at Amelia's.

"It was just such a good fit. I just started DJing right then and there," said Hodel. She immediately sold her guitar and bought turntables.

Soon after, Page Hodel befriended the mix master of the late 1970s and early 1980s the late disc jockey and producer, Cameron Paul, who taught her the ropes of how to mix and edit. That was the beginning. She didn't look back. She worked other jobs, such as a bicycle messenger and at a phone company, during the day and spun at night and on the weekends.

Paul's influence on clubgoers of the era from his master mixes on radio stations KSOL and KMEL and in the DJ booth was the reason to head out to the nightclub at that time, according to 48Hills.

Page Hodel herself was the first woman mixer on local mainstream radio stations. She spun the noon mix on the Bay Area soul radio station KSOL and she was mixtress Page Hodel on LIVE105 doing the midday mix.

Page Hodel spun for anyone and everyone in San Francisco through the late 1970s and much of the 1980s. She stepped into the DJ booth as the resident disc jockey at the old Oasis in San Francisco in 1984, which at the time was straight-owned, as the B.A.R. previously reported. She DJed all over the Bay Area and in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Paris.

Running her own show
Toward the end of the 1980s, Page Hodel was restless. For a decade she conformed to what other people, such as nightclub managers, wanted her to play rather than what she wanted to play and what she felt the audience wanted.

"The one thing that was very hard for me was having to conform to somebody else's palate, not playlist," Page Hodel said, noting that back then the clubs were racially segregated meaning the Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and whites went to their own establishments — they didn't mix. "Each club has its own sound, which is totally fine of course, but people wanted to hear what I was playing, and I knew what they wanted to hear.

Page Hodel, right, escorted Queen Latifah, center, who brought the late Oaklander Tupac Shakur, left, to perform at the BOX in 1992. Photo: Courtesy Page Hodel  

"I wanted to have my own thing and play what I want and invite everybody and make everybody feel really welcome," said Page Hodel, who not only kept the energy up in the DJ booth but also brought then-emerging artists, like Queen Latifah, who brought the late Oaklander Tupac Shakur, to perform at the BOX before he became a rap legend, she recalled.

The result was the BOX and Club Q. The clubs were an instant hit. Page Hodel mixed hip-hop, soul, and house music and welcomed everyone to dance at the BOX at the Kennel Club, which is now the Independent, from 1988 to 1999. A year later, she opened Club Q, an all-women's dance party at the former nightclub, Townsend, which ran from 1987 to 2003.

Former club owners all said there was always a big crowd when Page Hodel was in the DJ booth.

Jürg Spoerry, 65, who owned the Kennel Club with his wife, Brook Spoerry, said he will never forget the opening night of the BOX, calling it "nuts" and "crazy."

"The place was drenched in sweat. It was so hot. The energy was off the charts," he said, adding it was "unbelievable."

"We are not prepared for such a success," Spoerry said.

The couple loved hosting the BOX for the decade they owned the nightclub. Spoerry, who landed in San Francisco from Switzerland in the 1980s, said that there was never a fight. It was always a good time.

"It was a crowd: they came to celebrate themselves, they came to celebrate their lives," he said. "It was an upbeat mood."

Audrey Joseph, a lesbian who owned Townsend, a former nightclub in San Francisco's South Beach neighborhood, hosted Club Q for a decade.

"Let's just say she is the most famous lesbian DJ in the San Francisco Bay Area," said Joseph, a former San Francisco entertainment commissioner who now lives in Palm Springs. "There were other DJs that came around. I don't think any of them had a name or reputation like Page."

Joseph described Page Hodel's magic as the danceable familiar songs that people sang along to while on the dance floor.

"If she did a Club Q reunion today, I think women would show up if they were in wheelchairs and on crutches," Joseph said. It would remind older queer women of "some of the best times of their lives going out and what it was like to be in the midst of that many lesbians and to dance and to meet people, hook up, get a date."

Others also had fond memories.

"It was just magical," said one of Page Hodel's good friends, Gia Giasullo, 56, who considers her sexuality as being fluid. She said Hodel had the ability to keep taking the crowd "up higher and higher and higher."

Joseph added, "It was important. She was important."

Lauren Hewitt, 67, the lesbian former owner of the Bay Brick Inn, the lesbian bar also known as The Brick and Clementina's Baybrick, said Page Hodel's DJing simply was "sheer joy and embracing of all people" and it "had a very rich joyful celebratory sound."

She described Page Hodel as a "fantastic DJ" who set the bar very high.

"She came up through just an ocean of men and she took them on," Hewitt said. "She could make a house get on its feet and dance faster than any other DJ I ever had in the club, male or female. She just could feel the human spirit, what that room needed."

Brit Hahn, 63-year-old ally, who managed and now owns multiple San Francisco nightclubs — City Nights and the former Trocadero (a legendary gay club), Dreamland, Club Rouge, and others — and worked with Hodel for a long time, called her an "entertainer" long before DJs sold out stadiums.

"She was one of the few people that kind of took it to the next level," he said, talking about the diversity of her music genres. On a professional level, he added, "One thing I loved about Page was, she was just so well-rounded, [talented, and easy to work with]," he said, talking about how "DJs are a unique breed."

Aside from knowing how to throw a party, Hodel knew how to create community and "understands business," said Hahn.

"It takes a very special talent," he said about Page Hodel's longevity in the business. "She really loves what she does."

Fahey noted that Page Hodel always had day jobs, but it was to support her music.

"Her inner identity is someone who brings music to people," Fahey said, explaining Hodel "embodies the best in that profession of DJing" because her goal was to "share love through music."

Page Hodel said several years ago that she wants to keep going.

"I want to keep making people dance, even if I'm old and gray and with my walker," Page Hodel told Girls That Roam, a women's travel site, in 2015.

When Club Q closed and the BOX closed in the early 2000s, Page Hodel said that she went to live in the school bus she renovated in 1985 named Roxanne Roxanne, after the pioneer female rapper Roxanne Shanté.

She continued to spin and dance into the 2000s, throwing Girl Pride, her annual Pride party, from 1993-2013, producing Respect at Club Rouge, and DJing at the Starlight Room on Saturday nights and some Fridays and Sundays from 2010-2017.

She also spun at Christiana Remington's Butta in Oakland in the 2000s and DJed Rockaway's Play parties around the Bay Area from 2015-2017.

In 2007, she even briefly co-owned a queer women's bar, Velvet, in Oakland's Laurel District, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

At the same time, Page Hodel became an artist and author of "Monday Hearts for Madalene," a photobook of a collection of hearts that she made every Monday for her partner, Madalene Rodriguez, whom she met when she was 48. Sadly, Rodriguez died in 2006 from ovarian cancer at the age of 46, 11 months after the couple fell in love. Hodel continued making the hearts for years after Rodriguez's passing.

Page Hodel is celebrating 40 years of spinning at a special JOYpride party at the White Horse, 6551 Telegraph Avenue, in Oakland, Saturday, June 24, from 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Tickets are $15 per person, and can be purchased here.

For the B.A.R.'s 50th anniversary in 2021, Page Hodel was a panelist for the eighth episode of "B.A.R. Talks" talking about the San Francisco Bay Area's queer nightlife.

Full disclosure: Heather Cassell is the founder and publisher of Girls That Roam.

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