The most talked-about part of No. 2 LSU's 2012 football season hasn't been a player, coach or game, but rather a "Star Wars"-themed keg at Tiger Stadium tailgates.
And with good reason. The motion-activated keg looks and beeps just like R2-D2 from the movies. It pours ice-cold beer. It even has a tip jar in its left arm that shakes up and down when a thirsty patron approaches.
Pictures of "R2-DBrew" in action went viral following LSU's 41-3 win over Washington on Sept. 8. It wasn't just sports sites like Deadspin, SB Nation, Larry Brown Sports and Lost Lettermen that were geeking out about it. The keg also received coverage from the "Food" section of The Huffington Post and the social media website Mashable, among others.
And the YouTube video of the keg in action last season now has nearly 20,000 views.
People saw R2-DBrew and assumed it was bought from a little-known custom keg company. Or that it was assembled by a team of people that were equal parts "Star Wars" nerds and Bayou Bengals fans. In fact, it is the creation of one person, a lifelong Baton Rouge resident with a love for "making anything that makes people happy."
"One of my friends spit it out as a joke: 'What if we had an R2-D2 keg?'" recalled 26-year-old Barton Gilley.
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Gilley, a 2008 graduate of LSU, is part of a group of friends that puts on a big tailgate before each home game at Tiger Stadium. When a member of that group suggested the keg creation two years ago, he didn't account for it being the type of thing Gilley was trained for.
"I've always been artistically inclined," said Gilley, who was a sculpture major at LSU. "I did a lot of 'moveable art' [in college], things that incorporated art and electronics."
Gilley's initial effort, which debuted in 2010, was "just" a spinning and beeping R2-D2 head sitting on top of a keg; the design for which came about by rather ingenious means.
"The head is made out of a Weber barbecue pit," Gilley explained. "I was thinking that I'd make a papier-mâché thing, but then I noticed the grill had the same shape. So I took the grill, patched up all the holes with fiberglass and went from there."
It wasn't until 2011 when, as Gilley put it, "I just got crazy and decided to build the whole body." While the full R2-DBrew was around last season, it wasn't fully functional. It poured foamy beer. The electronics often went haywire.
Before this season, Gilley was hesitant about whether he should bother with it again. Thankfully, when he tinkered with his creation before the Washington game, he fixed the glitches and it worked perfectly. Thus R2-DBrew spent less time breaking down and more time in the spotlight.
"Last year when it stopped working we'd tuck it back into the tent," Gilley says. "The Washington game was probably one of the first games where it worked the entire day, and more people saw it. It's always gotten attention locally but nothing [national] like this."
Gilley seems like the kind of guy you'd find at Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects giant founded by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and the designer of the original R2-D2. Gilley, in fact, spent his first two years out of college working at Composite Effects, a Baton Rouge-based company that designs custom masks and moldings.
But when Gilley's father Shelby passed away from cancer two years ago, Gilley went to work with his older brother Eric at the family gallery, which specializes in Louisiana art. Working at Gilley's Gallery has reminded Barton that the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.
"My dad started the gallery in 1978 after working as a social worker for 10 years," Gilley said. "He enjoyed that job, but his real passion was buying and selling art and Louisiana history. I have a little bit of that in me, too. I want to do what I love."
Gilley said he wants to "find a way where I can build stuff all day." He added that people have already sent him emails asking him to make animatronic kegs of their own. "I've already started buying materials and planning out another one," he said. "I worked out all the kinks with this one and can probably make another one really quick."
"Gilley's Custom Kegs" has a good ring to it. And Gilley's know-how makes it seem entirely feasible. For now, we'll have to be satisfied with his original creation.
So if you're an LSU fan who loves partaking in the legendary tailgating in Baton Rogue, keep your eyes out for R2-DBrew: This is definitely the droid you've been looking for.
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