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A Durham moment: Fire and spirits light up the night at Moon Dog Meadery

In the backyard behind Moon Dog Meadery, the pounding percussion of techno music gives the sense that something epic is about to go down. Lopsided patio furniture with mismatching chairs faces a gravel “stage” marked off by a strip of LED lights. On one side is a pile of props and canisters of fuel, joined by a fire extinguisher. 

The meadery hosts Moon Dog Fire Jam on the last Saturday of the month. This evening’s is the first since winter.

“We back!” declared Moon Dog co-owner, Derrick Forrest.

Derrick Forrest performs with the dragon staff, guiding the spinning pole down his arms. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi – The 9th Street Journal

First up: Zach Dean, the DJ responsible for the incessant EDM. He grabs poi, which are chains with weighted balls on the ends, and dunks the wicks in fuel. Then, he sets them on fire. 

Dean spins the poi around his body, the blazes creating graceful streaks in the nighttime air. It’s mostly safe. Moon Dog made sure to secure the necessary permits. There’s another performer close by with a fire blanket on his lap. (Sure, there’s always the risk you might singe your eyebrows off, “but the hair grows back,” says Dean.) 

Derrick Forrest is engulfed in flames as he performs at Moon Dog Fire Jam. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi – The 9th Street Journal

For an audience witnessing a man in a tie-dye cut-off tank and patchworked cargo shorts jeopardize his facial hair, the crowd seems almost uninterested. Groups of friends are enjoying the company and mead, which is brewed in house. It’s like a drunken backyard tailgate. With fire. 

At the busiest point, there are about two dozen spectators. Also in the audience is Forrest’s partner, Kayla Klugman, eating a burger and steak fries from Moon Dog Meadery’s neighbor The Loop. 

Sometimes, her diet includes fire. Klugman began “fire-eating” five years ago, but she took a pause during the COVID-19 lockdown. (A global pandemic isn’t the time to end up in the ER.) She hasn’t decided if she’s going to extinguish flames inside her mouth tonight. 

First, she has to see how her dinner settles. “Because I’m introducing a carcinogenic within my mouth, I need to make sure that my mouth is in a good position,” says Klugman. “I just had very fatty fries. That means that it could catch all the grease that I just ate.”

Kenneth Thrower performs with poi. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi – The 9th Street Journal

The event is enlivened with $12 flights of mead. Although legally classified as a wine with 12.5% ABV, mead is made by fermenting honey instead of grapes. Forrest and his business partner, Kenneth Thrower, opened Moon Dog Meadery in December 2021. They brew traditional and flavored meads and sell locally-sourced craft beverages. 

Thrower’s favorite drinks are “Blood of the Dogs”— a morbid name given for its rouge mixed-berry infusions — or “Pupperscotch,” a brew with warm brown-sugar notes. Unsurprisingly, canines are popular at Moon Dog. A handful of them, including the owners’, wander around the backyard. Once the fire event begins, Forrest’s husky, Viridian, gets leashed to a wooden post outdoors. 

The co-owners take turns manning the bar while the other joins the performers outside twirling flames around their heads. 

With Thrower behind the bar, Forrest grabs a “dragon staff” — a menacing pole with six wicks on each end — and sets them on fire. A remix of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” rattles the air as Forrest guides the burning pole from shoulder to shoulder with the precision of a martial artist. Dropping his arms, Forrest impressively anchors the pole on his face as he rotates underneath it before guiding the instrument into another series of pirouettes down his arms. “Wow,” breathes an audience member, mesmerized. 

By 10:30 p.m., the spirits are setting in. “Ready to see some cool shit?!” asks Klugman. 

Dean retakes the stage with a red canister of fuel and a torch. He’s about to breathe fire. “You’re harnessing, like, an inner dragon,” he says. 

Dropping his tongue as far as possible, Dean creates a cavity in the bottom of his jaw. This space in his mouth is where a pool of fuel will go. And no, it’s not healthy nor safe, he says. If swallowed, the fuel greases the fire breather’s entire digestive tract (read: diarrhea). If inhaled, the fumes can cause chemical pneumonia. 

Dean guzzles the fuel and quickly spits it out to create a vapor that he sets ablaze with his torch. A magnificent pillar of fire erupts from his mouth into the sky. Each exhale assaults audience members with a wave of heat. In between bursts of flame, Dean wipes his face with a rag to keep any unignited oil from soaking his beard. 

He rotates in a circle, engulfing himself within his own inferno. The trails of fire paint the sky with dazzling oranges and yellows. He concludes the performance by swinging his torch down with enough force to extinguish the flame.

The meadery’s co-owners erupt in a chorus of barks and whoops. 

“MOON DOG, AWOOO!” howls Forrest.

Photo at top: Derrick Forrest spins his dragon staff overhead. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi – The 9th Street Journal