A glimpse into the life of party promoters
Jason White stands on the corner of Sherman Avenue and Georgia Avenue on an unusually warm day in Washington, D.C. As students, workers, and businessmen hurry up and down the crowded street, White stops to talk to some attractive female students that are walking in his direction. “Hey, how are you guys?” said a confidant White smiling. “What are your plans tonight?”
While some may find it a nuisance to be pursues by club promoters on their way to work or school, White shrugs it off and goes about his business of handing out flyers for The Reserve’s next big event. Fast forward to 11:30 pm in front of The Lounge and the 22 year old, Howard University student is there working the door, assuring the ladies that they won’t be disappointed inside. In addition to this, White works the door at Bar 7 located on the corner of 7th Street and New York Ave Thursdays and The Reserve found on L Street on Fridays.
“I had an older brother that used to work at Dream. The first nightclub I ever went to was Dream (which later turned into Love) when I was 15. Seeing a club filled with 5,000 beautiful people that massive; it was kind of hard for me to not want to do what they were doing.”
Since then, White has been working hard to establish contacts, network with other club owners, and continue adding to his resume o successful events thrown. But White isn’t ready to stop there. “I started a company Gatsby Entertainment that does nightlife promotion, social/corporate events, artist Management, wardrobe styling,” said White confidently. “We want to take over those four sectors of entertainment.”
While some people may think that the party promotion scene is all celebrities, glamour, and entertainment, the reality may be much different. Kris Ransom the former general manager of Love nightclub from 2001-2009, and current general Manager of Bar 7 understands the business.
“I worked in marketing, dealing with promoters, and producing shows where you have a staff of 385 people. Love was big, a very detail oriented job. It wasn’t like a 9-5 job; you had to be very disciplined to run that place,” said Ransom. “You have department head meetings, making sure the staff know what events are going on, then you do a walkthrough of the menu and upkeep is maintained on a daily basis. You have to forecast and project for the budgets as well. All of this is part of the daily routine.”
One of the main problems Ransom says he faces is lack of communication between his employees. He struggles on occasion getting the flow of information to be consistent from the promoters and the two owners so that everyone is on the same page.
Back in 1998, Ransom began working with the nightlife pioneer and owner of Love Marc Barnes as a busboy at Republic Gardens on U Street NW, learning how the business was run. “I was in a suit picking up trash. Six months later, Barnes let me become the General Manager. You learn how this business works by picking up trash. When you’re cleaning up behind people, you get to see their buying power; you get to hear their feedback, and what they’re talking about in relevance to their business. You also get to see how people work in terms of employees and I was able to give the owner feedback.”
Now at 38, Ransom runs Bar 7 with the efficiency and resolve of an experienced businessman. He says while the livelihood and money is a lot less from Love, the headaches are a lot less as well. The shelf life of a club or lounge may be higher when it is a smaller venue. Ransom has seen many people come and go, but the wave of people is always the same. Ransom’s advice to young party promoters is given with a warning to those that seek only the benefits of the job.
“It’s a business. It’s not for play,” said Ransom. “You have to be very disciplined. You can’t be in it for the parties, the women, or your ego. Do it because you want to run a business.”
None of the promoters interviewed for this article would discuss their financial arrangements with the clubs. Most agreed that the best circumstance, where the promoter keeps a percentage of the door proceeds and the club owner keeps the bar receipts, it is possible to walk away with as $5,000 from a successful party depending on the size and event. But they also admitted that the normal take is somewhere between $250 and $1,000 a night.
On another part of town, Justin Kittrell, music manager of the New Vegas Lounge on P Street is warming up with the seven-piece Out of Town Blues Band that is scheduled to play in 20 minutes. Doors open at 9 and the band is playing by 10 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, Kittrell, 26, performs with the band on the drums as the audience is captivated by their versions of Motown and Stax hits.
Whereas the allure from the modern looking, downtown lounge clubs bring in scores of younger partygoers, the New Vegas Lounge has a more laidback, intimate feel that is encouraged by the dark, ambient lighting and is the place to go for classic blues, R&B and soul, courtesy of Dr. Blues and the house band.
“I go from Justin the businessman to Justin the entertainer as soon as I’m on stage.” said Kittrell. “At the New Vegas Lounge, our clientele is 85 percent White which is interesting for an all-Black band especially in the D.C. area. I think it’s great that everybody wants to come here us play.”
The New Vegas Lounge was established in 1971 by Kittrell’s grandfather and has since become a hotspot for jazz and blues performances. Musicians such as Alvin White, BB King, The Stylistics, and even former president Bill Clinton with his saxophone have stopped by the New Vegas Lounge.
“It’s a family-owned business; just hearing my parents and my grandfather talk as they ran the nightclub allowed me to learn so much,” recalls Kittrell. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you’ve got to have patience and you got to have prowess to strive for excellence and the only way you can do that is work hard. I try to take care of problems and nip that stuff in the bud before it hinders me.”