ABOUT CHRIS HARRIS PRESENTS
NOIZE MAGAZINE PROMOTER SPOTLIGHT: CHRIS HARRIS
Written by Jason Salzenstein
Known as New England’s best party promoter—and certainly the region’s most important—Harris is no newbie to the nightlife scene. And he’s not just another pretty-faced party boy. An adept businessman, Chris is credited with single-handedly reviving the once-languishing nightlife scene in Boston; although now, he has extended his reach much farther afield.
With hundreds of parties and Pride celebrations under his belt, Chris knows what he’s doing and he does it very, very well. Don’t think, however, that this means that he’s sitting back and sipping mojitos while letting other people do the dirty work for him! He didn’t get to be where he is today on his good looks and charismatic smile alone (although I’m sure they didn’t hurt).
Chris has a long history in the industry.
He’s worked in club operations at various levels for almost
20 years. But it wasn’t until he moved back to Providence from
Miami that he decided to start throwing parties himself. Luckily for
him, the administration of the Rhode Island capital was supportive
of his efforts. His events were successful for him, the city, and
the charities for which his events raised funds.
Knowing about Chris’ successful fundraising and fabulous parties in Providence, Boston Pride asked him to bring his Military Ball to the old Avalon as the main Pride event for 2007. The party ended up doing so well that although the club was scheduled to close in six months, the owners offered him Saturday nights for the remainder of the lease. Chris jumped on the opportunity. Together with the Boston promoter Raffael Sanchez, he began his ascent to the top of Boston’s gay nightlife scene.
Just as the six-month run at Avalon was ending, Chris got a call from the owners of the Roxy. It seems they had noticed the 1,200-plus turnout of gay boys at Chris’ parties at the Avalon, and these packed events looked better than the smaller straight crowds they’d been dealing with on Saturday nights.
EPIC Saturdays, Glamlife Thursdays, Hot Mess Sundays
Chris Harris, along with Gay Mafia, is now running three very different weekly parties in Boston. Each one has a different vibe—literally, in terms of music; and figuratively, as for the crowd: Glamlife Thursdays at The Estate (Top 40 and hip hop); EPIC Saturdays (big room dance party); and Hot Mess Sundays at Underbar, where Chris says “you’ll hear everything and anything… except Boy George.”
Boy George and Chris Harris have a somewhat tumultuous history, largely because the made-up DJ (pun intended) still reportedly owes Chris $10,000. Big Boy G was a no-show for a party he was contracted to do last year before he got busted on drug charges. Although Chris has tried to collect from the DJ, his management, and lawyers, and left very clear and detailed contact information (literally) at his house in London, he’s yet to see a penny. He even confronted him with picket signs while the karma chameleon was picking up trash in Manhattan as the community service part of his sentence.
No ex-Culture Club member could keep this cultural club phenomenon down, however. Chris has become known in the industry as a global promoter. Unlike some promoters who never hit the dance floor in their off hours, he tries to get to as many other parties around the world as he can, which contributes to his ability to mix it up when it comes to hiring talent. Chris’ events feature a balance of internationally known DJs with local and regional up-and-comers and established scenesters.
Aside from the Military Ball, Chris has been responsible for organizing and throwing world-class parties. At one time or another, he has been behind events around a White Party, Black Party, Nation V and Winter Party, as well as Erect, Voyage, Eruption, Volcano, Chinese New Year, Ego, Northern Decadence and Ego. Although these events have made him well known among the Circuit crowd worldwide, he’s still very much in touch with the cities where he throws parties, and always looks out for the locals.
Right now Chris is back to living in Providence, but since he’s in Boston nearly every weekend (the two cities are barely more than an hour apart), he keeps a flat there too. As a promoter at the top of his game, he’s looking to expand into real estate, gay travel, and some more surprises that he’s keeping under wraps.
Helping out friends & worthy causes
Aside from being a master promoter, Chris is also known for helping out his friends, standing firm behind true talent, and even pushing those in whom he sees great potential to go even further. A perfect example of this is DJ Dena.
A novice DJ when they met, Chris encouraged Dena to hone her skills at spinning. He made sure she had the opportunity to play for ever-larger crowds. In just a few years, DJ Dena has come into her own as her reputation continues to rises on the Circuit.
When Dena was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Chris decided to do something about it. Together with others in the industry, he put together “Divas For Dena: The Breast Party Ever!” to benefit the “Save the Ta-Tas Foundation” and raise awareness of breast cancer.
Right now, he’s more than busy managing the three weekly events in Boston and traveling the world. He likes to keep up with the industry and explore new concepts to keep his parties fresh. With all of those miles, it’s helpful that his Hawaiian boyfriend of eight years, Dominic, is a flight attendant.
In the next few months, he’s really looking forward to “Caligula,” a Roman-themed party he and Raffael Sanchez are throwing for New Year’s, with Manny Lehman at the helm musically. He’s promising “the best party New England has ever seen.”
Chris is also eager to turn his attention back to Providence and throw more parties there. Nor is he stopping at the party scene. Providence is already famous as the largest city in the country with an openly gay mayor. If, as expected, he runs for governor, check out http://www.ChrisHarrisForMayor.com to see what this ultimate multitasker has in store for 2010.
Damon Tripp September 26, 2007
A little over a year ago, New England's best party thrower calmed the nerves of night owls when he discredited rumors that he was leaving Providence, the town that he nearly single-handedly made a destination for everyone from Bangor, Maine to New York City.
"I'm not going anywhere," he told In Newsweekly, responding to on-going buzz that his muse of the club world, Diesel, was about to close and that he would be shut down, too. It promised to blight nightlife in the Renaissance City. Harris made a small town a mecca by pulling in such power houses as Junior Vasquez, CHUS+Ceballos, Mike Cruz and Connie Casserole. For five years he ruled with parties like Military Ball, the White Party, the Black Party, Erect, Voyage, Eruption, Volcano, Chinese New Year, Nation V, Winter Party, Northern Decadence and Ego. He groomed DJ Dena and took on the likes of Boy George, a n'er do well DJ who had the misfortune of experiencing Harris' wrath. Still, Harris did add a caveat to his exclamation that he wouldn't be going anywhere with one small word: "yet."
That "yet" was cashed in at Pride last summer when the honchos at Avalon took a cue from Linda DeMarco of Boston Pride who suggested that Harris move his Military Ball from the fickle Castle on Columbus Street to the iconic - but ailing - Avalon on Lansdowne.
For anyone in the know, the Saturday night event was the pinnacle of Pride with Dena and Billy Carroll at the decks, 2,000 sweaty boys and girls in attendance, and all the pomp that makes a Chris Harris event just that: an event. Harris had done what many had tried, but had fallen just a little short, namely recreating the excitement that stirs for days before a big party and then deliver in his trademark way.
The folks at Avalon were so impressed that they asked C.H. to keep the momentum up. He made his way to Boston, and revived a languishing scene.
There's a sad end to this story: Avalon, and all the clubs on Lansdowne Street, are about to close, bringing to an end decades worth of the best parties in Boston. For many, Lansdowne Street was the ultimate coming out party, whether it was at Avalon (or Metro before that), Venus de Milo, The Modern, Axis ¦ the list goes on. That's why Harris says that closing Avalon once and for good with one of his parties is bittersweet. In fact, he came out there, but spent much of his professional life competing with the í¼ber club.
Nonetheless, he leaves with pride, and the promise, once again, that he won't go away.
Damon Tripp (D.T.): Providence was your city. Frankly, the rumors are that numbers are a little off since you hightailed it to Boston. What made you leave town?
Chris Harris (C.H.): Well, it wasn't really a conscious decision. As you know, I was traveling all over the country with The Military Ball and one of our stops was Boston for Pride. I was originally gonna do it at the Castle, but as the date got closer, I was getting some bad vibes. At one point, someone said we should do Saturday night at Avalon because they were pretty slow.
D.T.: So is Boston your new home?
C.H.: No, Providence is still my home, I have plans to have events there this fall, but as long as there is room for me in Boston, I will continue the party there as well. They are only 45 minutes apart.
D.T.: It's no secret you enjoy the attention, some say you have an ego, so why share the spotlight with other promoters and not take all the glory yourself?
C.H.: I have known and respected Raffael for years, we actually have worked together in the past and I knew I needed someone with his strength and ambition on the front lines of Boston. He has a good rapport with all the other clubs, there really isn't anyone else I would share my ego with.
D.T.: And the rest is history?
C.H.: You could say that. We packed the place with more than 2,000 people. It was crazy. The next day, the Lyons Group called me asking if I wanted to do their Saturday nights. So, I launched 7-7-7 and brought in DJs, like Brett Henrichsen, Chad Jack, Joe Bermudez, Michael Sheehan, Tony Moran, Mike Cruz, Dena and Junior Vasquez.
D.T.: A lot of people think it's pretty dope that you always have a good mix of international talent sharing the decks with local jocks.
C.H.: It's the only way to do it in New England, and I think it's part of what has made my parties successful. People aren't stupid here, and they are Yankees! They like excitement, but they also like a sense of locality. It's something that just works, and a lot of local DJs have actually gone on to do some great things after playing Chris Harris parties.
D.T.: It's no secret that nightlife has been languishing in Boston. How do you think you turned things around?
C.H.: I don't want to be arrogant and say it was me me me, because I've had a love affair with people from Avalon forever. We just marketed the hell out of it, we targeted our marketing, hitting people in Boston, Providence, New Bedford, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire ¦ everywhere. We wanted to bring fresh faces into town because that would make it fun for the locals. I don't really think the Boston people ever stopped going out, they just didn't have anything new offered to them. That's what I did.
D.T.: The formula obviously worked.
C.H.: Well, The Military Ball blew us away, and we got a lot more people than we expected. We didn't even have enough staff. After that, I knew it couldn't be Pride parties every week - our goal was 800 to 1000 - but we consistently did 1,200 every week.
D.T.: And it was all at Avalon. Was it a rush? And now the grande dame is closing for good.
C.H.: I would just say that competing with Avalon for so many years made it a little bittersweet. But, like a lot of people, that's where I came out, so taking over the reigns was awesome. It's been today's age Studio 54. Having it close is a real blow, but we're seeing that happen everywhere. We lost Avalon in New York, The Roxy. I mean, it was the last large gay venue on the East Coast on Saturdays. There's nothing bigger. It's definitely the end of an era for nightclubs, but there's something coming. It's going to be epic. I do have big plans.
D.T.: Are you being coy?
C.H.: Of course! For now, people should be focused on our closing party at Avalon on September 29. We have James Andersen, and Rich LaDue will be doing the closing set. In the end, Avalon really is his club, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
D.T.: Any final thoughts?
C.H.: Once again, I'll just say, "I'm not going anywhere, and our next move will be epic."
"I'm not going anywhere."
And, with that brief admission from promoter Chris Harris, anyone who enjoys nightlife in Providence will heave a huge sigh of relief.
After all, it was Harris who blew into town a few years ago and almost single-handedly brought big parties with big name DJs and the spectacle that marks the massive parties that only happen in places like New York, Miami and Atlanta to an otherwise sleepy city. While helming the gay parties at clubs like Strand, Kamp, Energy and Diesel, Harris has brought in every major DJ, from Junior Vasquez to CHUS + Ceballos, while, along the way giving DJs like local girl Dena and up-and-comers like Mike Cruz and Scotty Thomson those little pushes that all jocks need.
So, for most, the rumors that Harris would soon be taking leave of the Renaissance City and its jewel, Diesel, came as a shock. It's not gonna, happen, though ¦ yet. And, although changes are in store at what is now called Diesel, Sunday nights are remaining intact.
Call it karma, or an epiphany, but Harris says today that he has work to do here ¦ and he wants to push out in other directions as well.
"After losing my dad this year, I was really forced to put a lot of things into perspective - just why am I doing what I'm doing and how can I make things even better - so I'm looking forward to starting my own family with my amazing partner, Dominic, while focusing more on the larger theme parties," says Harris. "They have always been charity fund raisers, but now I'm committed to more, I know that we all have to do more. My pet project right now is the environment. Just check out my Web site - I am seriously committed to bringing awareness to global warming, and I want to be a part of getting the gay community out to vote."
Harris on the soapbox? Stranger people have been elected in the Providence area, but, no, his sites aren't on marble columns.¨To be sure, Harris, despite the rumors, seems more relaxed and focused than ever. For those who know him well, it would seem the most unlikely time for Harris to be calm and collected: in addition to losing his dad, he lost thousands of dollars and faced a loss of credibility when, last October, he was stiffed by pop singer turned DJ Boy George for what was supposed to be his biggest night ever at Diesel.
Harris recalls that the evening was to be, by all measures, grand. Named Buckingham, go-go dancers and greeters would be decked out in beefeater togs, Diesel would be draped in all the regality of an English palace, and, to promote the event, no penny was spared.
And then George was a no-show. Well, not exactly. A couple nights before the event, George was busted for cocaine in New York City, and, rather than make good on his Providence commitment, he returned to London. The good news was that Tony Moran was en route from Montreal and was able to pick up the gig - the bad news was that, to this day, Harris, who was promised his investment back from George and his management, hasn't seen a dime.
"I'm suing him for tens of thousands of dollars, and I'm actually going to London to collect," says Harris. "That would have been my biggest night that never happened."
Still, Moran is no chump change, and, knowing that Harris doesn't disappoint, people showed nonetheless.
That's the magic of Harris - he's intuitive in his choices and thorough in his planning. For his truly big nights, it's not uncommon for him to have someone like Chris Cox at the decks, a couple track acts to warm the crowd, and maybe a porn star or two on hand to dance and pass drinks.
"That's what it used to be like and that's what makes a good night. And, I think it can work in Providence, because all the right elements are here. The liquor laws aren't as stringent as in Boston, the location makes it easy to people to get to, and the venues have been amazing," says Harris who, at one time or another has been behind the Military Ball, the White Party, the Black Party, Erect, Voyage, Eruption, Volcano, Chinese New Year, Ego, Nation V, Winter Party, Northern Decadence and Ego,
With that, it would be understandable if Harris had a ballooning ego - but, although he is admittedly a bit full of himself, his idea of charity goes beyond tree hugging. For one thing, since arriving in Providence, he has done everything he can to develop his muse, Dena, booking her gigs throughout the world and making sure that she continues to hone her craft.
"I do it because she's amazing," he says. "She just needs that little push every once in a while, but she will definitely be playing in the big leagues before people know it."
He's also committed to working with
other people in Providence to ensure that nightlife is an equal opportunity
His events do draw people from all over New England, and the next blow out will be Sept. 3, Labor Day weekend when Diesel will be reborn with Dena, David Knapp and guest starts Anthony Lamont ("Oh Really") and Sarah Atereth ("Fade Away," "You Wouldn't Know How"). The fifth annual White Party, to benefit AIDS Care Ocean State will "wow people as the enter the space," Harris promises.
Of course, the event will be followed up by many more as the year progresses, but Harris says to look for even more. He knows that people are bored with conventional circuit parties, and he's committed to bringing his show on the road ... literally.
"I think it will be time to expand a little bit," says Harris of what might be something of a traveling Military Ball. "And I'll have Dena in tow. But, I will be back."