The Premier Events Group makes space for people of color in the Hub’s hottest clubs
In a city where veiled racism has historically trickled down to clubs, Robert Eugene and Kenneth Rivers have had to work extra hard to arrive at the epicenter of the nightlife scene. Premier Events Group, their entertainment production company, was formed by the duo in 2013 and serves as a panacea to the rampant anti-blackness that the Hub has grappled with for years.
“There was a certain time in Boston where you couldn’t even put the word hip-hop on a flyer—it was like a swear,” Rivers recalls. “People were like, What do you mean hip-hop? That means black, that means no good, that means shootings. Boston wasn’t really open and welcoming to diversity.”
Eugene says a group like his was necessary to eradicate stereotypes that have plagued young people of color who just want to go out, celebrate their culture, and have a good time.
“If you were black and wanted to go out in the city, you had to adhere to a strict dress code. Hard-bottomed shoes, no jeans, collared shirts. Kenny and I decided that we had to do something about this. … We had to start throwing events that cater to our crowd and where people feel comfortable.”
Rivers, still seemingly in disbelief about the past, reinforces the point: “You had to dress like you were going to church to go to a club in Boston if it was anything black related. But it’s changed so much because hip-hop has become all-encompassing.” Eugene, who also works as an account manager for Hennessy and hosts parties for the liquor brand, attests to that observation.
“Over time, hip-hop culture has just taken over,” he says. “We’re the ones that go out and spend the money. We’re the ones that popularized bottle popping in clubs. It could only be so much of them wanting our music and our lifestyle, but not wanting us.”
From brunches and day parties to fashion shows and live performances, the Premier Events Group’s various creative gatherings have transformed the narrative of how black fellowship is experienced in Boston. According to Eugene, he and Rivers thought large-scale from the very start.
“Pandora Thursdays at Felt was the first big urban night Boston had seen in a while—and it was purely a hip-hop night,” Eugene says. “We brought the idea of bringing guest hosts to the city because that wasn’t something people really did before. From Wale to DJ Envy, we had a great run for a year or two, but the building ended up getting sold.”
Eugene continues reflecting on some of his company’s most cherished moments from its six-year history: “The first time we ever did a boat cruise on the Spirit of Boston will always be one of my favorite memories. We used to do it every season, and actually we’re going to do another one in August. Look at the waterfront now … you don’t really see people of color in those spaces. But to have 600 of them—dressed in all white for that particular event—down Seaport Boulevard was phenomenal.”
Rivers jumps in to make it clear that things don’t always run so smoothly.
“We had crazy moments, too,” he says. “There have been certain venues—and I won’t disclose names—that would work with us but technically couldn’t have a DJ onsite. It was to the point where we were doing these events and would have DJs hidden in the kitchen in case a licensor walked in. It was chaotic, but it was also a lot of fun.”
Although some may assume the pair has effortlessly mastered the art of professional party-throwing, Rivers explains that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than most heads realize.
“We do a lot of work that people see, but we also do a lot of work that people don’t see,” he says. “We’re meeting with nightclub owners, with neighborhood associations, with liquor licensing boards. Doing the legwork, though, ensures that we’re able to keep doing what we’re doing and allows other people to also produce their own events.”
The Cloud 9 Rooftop Social, taking place on Saturday, June 29, kicks off the group’s Prive Summer Series. An extension of the Premier enterprise, Prive focuses more on social and professional networking than solely the club experience.
“It’s an intimate event where you can interact and actually talk to other like-minded individuals—and of course drinks will be curated by me,” Eugene says. “Again, we try to have functions in places where you don’t typically see people of color. We just want to enjoy the weather while generating a certain vibe.”
“The cool thing with any city is that we do it once, we do it twice, we do it three times, and venues see that this is profitable and desired,” Rivers adds. “We’re then able to just keep doing it. We’re breaking out of certain strongholds and changing the type of business that we bring to the table.”
Balancing work with their personal lives can be taxing, especially with such late nights, but Rivers says it’s worth it.
“Rob and I understand the hardships of being a minority in Boston and not having something to call your own. The work we do keeps us very busy, but the love that we get takes the edge off.
“In order to keep going, we constantly remember why we started. It helps us stay focused, grounded, and grateful.”
Candace McDuffie is a respected cultural critic and music journalist who focuses on the intersection of race, gender and entertainment. Her written work has been featured on digital platforms such as: Rolling Stone, MTV, Forbes, Grammy.com, Paper, Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, Vibe, Tidal, Marie Claire, NBC NEWS and Boston Magazine.