Photo credit: Kaitlyn Parry / Shoot People
If you ever have the honor of speaking to James "Disco Donnie" Estopinal in person, you will see how he is undoubtedly passionate about creating epic and memorable live events. His passion has clearly reflected in his success as he has pioneered this field for the past 26 years.
Since his company was founded in 1994, Disco Donnie Presents has sold over 17 million tickets to over 17,000 live events, arena shows and outdoor festivals in over 100 markets around the world, including the US, Mexico, Canada and Panama .
In 2020, Disco Donnie announced that it had repurchased sole ownership of DDP. This historic acquisition completed an epic eight year journey by being the first company to be acquired by SFX, surviving SFX's subsequent bankruptcy, becoming part of LiveStyle, and eventually buying back its company.
Since the return of the live shows, DDP has implemented novel COVID-19 protocols for its festivals, including COVID sniffer dogs and event-specific smartphone mobile health screening applications. Creating secure environments that are incredibly fun was undoubtedly a challenge, but DDP went out of its way to achieve this goal.
Be it through initiatives that encourage people to register for voting, expand into new markets like Seattle, and most recently have committed to providing first responders, veterans and Goldstar families with a $ 1,000,000 ticket donation in the Honoring Donnie's passion for creating iconic events at the same time focusing on making a lasting legacy and a positive impact on the world is evident and incredibly inspiring.
I had a great opportunity to speak with Donnie to take a look behind the scenes of his unstoppable will to create these meaningful experiences. Have fun with this exclusive interview with Disco Donnie!
I want to quickly rewind to the start of this pandemic and you are making the announcement that not only are you buying back your company, but you are becoming completely independent. A decision that takes a lot of courage. Can you walk us through the process of how you made that decision and then followed it through?
Fortunately, the conversation was already underway, which is why it could go so quickly. I've seen agencies fire agents almost over the weekend as soon as things shut down. I could see the writings on the wall from people who had worked for me for 15-20 years. I once tweeted that everyone would get a refund for a certain event and was reprimanded for it. I had no choice: either I would regain control of the company and make those decisions, or I would let someone else make them for me.
Buying my company back was a real headache for everyone, but it was something I had to do.
It was really fascinating to see your passion behind your voting initiative over the last year. Can you tell us a little more about your R.A.V.E. (Register and vote everywhere) Initiative?
We have tried in the last two election cycles (2016 & 2020) to get people to register to vote. We know we have a platform and a voice. My attitude is not to influence anyone's voting because I have a 20 year old and if I tell him what to do, he will do just the opposite!
I try to get people to get involved, register and get involved that way. I'm trying to keep it really apolitical. I think voting is important and we will continue this initiative for each election cycle as long as I am around.
What made Disco Donnie's expansion into Seattle? How has the response been so far?
I had actually done shows with USC events in the early 2000s. At the time, I was touring nationwide, bringing with me artists like Paul Oakenfold and Tiesto. I also helped produce the original Beyond Wonderland at WAMU that nobody talks about (laughs). We did Freak Night, Lucky and all the USC events that were going on. Eventually, our partner at USC wanted to change the terms of our partnership, so I eventually pulled out of Seattle.
The return of the Higher Ground show was great. The venue was great, the artists loved it. It's unfortunate because I never wanted to leave Seattle. When I got the chance to go back I made sure we had something big to do on the way back!
Just last week, news broke about your amazing initiative to donate $ 1 million to first responders, veterans, and Goldstar families. Can you say more about it
We have a large community of veterans and first responders attending our events. Usually, organizers sell them tickets to fill seats for shows that are not doing well, which is still admirable and a good thing. I thought, why don't we give them tickets to shows that are selling too? This is where the idea came from. I wanted to honor everything that they have endured and done for us over the past few years.
My little cousin (PFC Jason Hill Estopinal) actually died in Afghanistan in 2010 and I've wanted to do something this big for a while. After seeing everything that happened in Afghanistan that year, it came back to my mind that now was the time for this initiative to honor him and to honor our first responders, veterans, and Goldstar families.
I think it is important and I am asking all other promoters to do something similar. These are people who protect us and we have to acknowledge that.
How do you see your company developing in 2022 as opposed to 2021? Are there things that you have learned / or new ideas that you would like to implement for the next year?
2021 was a strange year. There were many great unknowns. We worked all the time, but we shouldn't really start working until April. There are still many unknowns for 2022, but we want to keep growing and do new things that are interesting to us. We want to keep building new brands, new partnerships and see where that leads us.
You have entered another new room and with Illenium you are offering your first all-inclusive destination music festival Ember Shores in December and Paradise Blue with Excision next April. Is that something you want to do more of in 2022?
Yes, it's definitely interesting to me and I'm learning as much as I can. I had a facility with Pretty Lights about 4-5 years ago but it was canceled due to a hurricane. I don't see myself doing a lot of it, it's definitely a lot of work. But who wouldn't want to put on a show on the beach in Mexico?
Growing up I didn't know what I wanted to be, but I knew I wanted to be on the beach! (laughs) That's when I made my dream come true. If I can figure out the formula and do 4-5 of them a year it would be great.
You are undoubtedly a legend, leader, and pioneer in the live events industry. What do you hope your company inspires among other promoters and even artists in the space during these times?
Well, I think legend is a bit much … legend means old! (laughs) I've worked with a lot of different people over the years and spoken to a lot of promoters, artists, managers and agents. I've always tried to keep a positive attitude and encourage them that if they keep fighting, working really hard, being a little lucky and not giving up, they can also be successful. Hopefully I'll show people that someone like me can be successful in this industry.
When I started I didn't know anything and people didn't teach me anything, so I had to learn everything myself. It's a long lesson and I still study every day. I just hope people take away from this that it's a good story, there have been so many ups and downs but here today we are still doing shows and making people happy. I'm happy to do what I do and I'll keep doing it until people tell me to stop.
Photo credit: Kaitlyn Parry / Shoot People
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