When Michael Freeman, Pete Garrett, James Mack, and David Mack decided to combine forces as the Deuces, it might not have made the impact of, say, a world summit, but reverberations were felt across the urban social scene nonetheless. Each man is a formidable party-thrower in his own right: Freeman's prominence sprang from the events he has hosted at downtown's Central Station in recent years. Garrett's huge '80s- and '90s-era shindigs were already legendary, while the Mack brothers were renowned for their South Memphis house parties.
"We made a gentleman's agreement to work together," Freeman explains. "James and David and I grew up together in Longview Heights, and Pete's my frat brother in Kappa Alpha Psi, so it was a no-brainer."
The Deuces' first party, the 2003 Memphis Holiday Bash, attracted a crowd of 1,000, including such movers and shakers as Mayor Willie Herenton and Judge D'Army Bailey. After their second event, Caribbean Nights, held last Memorial Day weekend, drew 2,100, the group decided to relocate from Central Station to the Cannon Center. "We expect anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people for this year's Holiday Bash," Freeman says. "And while we wanted a bigger room, we wanted to stay downtown."
"When I moved to Memphis in the late '70s, I didn't know anybody," says Garrett, a native of Gary, Indiana. "I decided to have a party, and the bug bit me. The Mack brothers are really good marketing people, and the first time I met Michael, I said this guy is on the ball -- he has the same attitude I do."
Freeman was well known in the community because of sports. "I played football, basketball, and baseball from third grade all through school, and I was also class president," Freeman says. While the Southside High graduate went on to get his business degree at LeMoyne-Owen College and his master's at Christian Brothers University before taking a job as an administrator with the city of Memphis, he's always found time to socialize.
"This is absolutely my hobby, my pastime," Freeman says. "Some people go hunting or fishing; some like to play table games. Having parties is what I do for fun."
That fun takes weeks to organize. According to Garrett, who works for the U.S. Postal Service, the Deuces spend three months just picking the date. Once that's settled, another six weeks is devoted to marketing and nailing down details like hiring a DJ. And it doesn't end there. "During the party, we have to make sure the coat check runs smoothly, provide adequate parking and clean restrooms, and make sure the ambience is just right," Garrett says.
The hard work, says Freeman, pays off for everyone. "When people have a great time and connect with each other, it's extremely healthy for our community," he says. "You'll see a wide range at our parties -- somebody who makes $15,000 a year dancing next to someone who makes 1.5 mil, and they're both having a wonderful, spirited time."
Although Freeman stresses that the Deuces' events are not exclusionary, he acknowledges that the city's African-American professionals, ages 30 to 60, are their primary target. "There's one big melting pot of young urban professionals, and then you have segments within that group. There are the people I'd call 'culturally Afro-centric.' Another segment, 'culturally neo-soul.' They have their own styles. There's also a segment that's more stymied with strict professionalism. That's where our niche is carved -- we're a little more mature than Tha Movement crowd," he says.
"We know how to 'genre' our parties," he continues. "We provide a friendly atmosphere, play some great dance music that isn't offensive, and we get a lot of well-educated people in their 30s who don't frequent the club scene. They actually rely on us to put together an event they can directly connect with. We know what kind of songs they're gonna like, what kind of people they're gonna like, and in the end, there's not a person in that room who's unacceptable. They really like the fact that our ideas match the atmosphere, the ambience, the class, and the rhythm they're looking for. People come to our parties, and they don't sit down." •
The 2004 Memphis Holiday Bash, Sunday, December 26th, 9 p.m. at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets: $15 in advance (available at Milano, Kelvin's BBQ & Wings, Ritzee Florist & Interior Design); $20 at the door. Call 315-5454 or 412-0449 for more information.