Over 2,500 people gathered in the parking lot of Gator Moving and Storage Co. to watch Steve Aoki, a Grammy-nominated DJ, and supporting acts perform.
In a little over 24 hours, the usual semitractor-trailers that fill the area drove out of the gates to make room for a stage, sound equipment, LED screens and Halloween decorations – elements that transformed the lot completely by the time concertgoers arrived.
“It has an almost Wynwood feel,” said Finn Sunshine, 20, a photographer at the concert, referencing an entertainment district in Miami.
The venue was situated in an industrial park near Gainesville Regional Airport. A massive cinder block building shielded the set-up from concertgoers until they entered the gates to face the stage. It was an innovative solution to one of the local music scene’s problems: Few open-air venues for a large population of college students and citizens eager to attend concerts.
For decades, big-name artists have flocked to Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami to perform. However, two local companies, Boosted Events and Vivid Sky Vertical, are teaming to bring them to Gainesville.
A year ago, the University of Florida’s Stephen C. O’Connell Center, which holds around 10,000 people, and High Dive, located in downtown Gainesville, with a capacity of about 400, were the only viable venues in the area. The city lacks medium-sized ones that could put on larger shows more frequently, said John Papoulis, the owner of Vivid Sky Companies.
Gator Moving and Storage’s parking lot first hosted a concert in April. Three 21-year-old UF seniors – Jack Schuster, Justin Lapidus and Paul Kocenko – attended the Diplo show and were amazed at what they saw.
“We never knew the scale of what could be done in Gainesville,” Lapidus said. “We were like, ‘If someone else can do this, why not us?’”
The next day, they started Boosted Events and began to plan its first concert. They called hundreds of agents before one took a chance on them. The group eventually met Peter Gross, CEO of the entertainment firm Coalition Entertainment, who noticed their determination and backed them through the process of finding an artist, Lapidus said.
They eventually landed on RL Grime, a bestselling DJ and producer of songs “UCLA” and “I Wanna Know,” as the headliner for a show on Sept. 17. Before the event was over, they were already promoting their next show – featuring Aoki on Halloween.
Boosted Events teamed with Vivid Sky Productions for the Grime concert and Vivid Sky Vertical for Aoki’s show. Papoulis, Eric Lenasbunt and J.D. Chester co-own Vivid Sky Vertical.
Lapidus, Schuster and Kocenko spend six to eight hours a day working on Boosted Events while balancing classwork.
“We’ve always wanted to start a company together,” Lapidus said. “So we make it work.”
Gator Moving and Storage receives rental fees through a contract with Vivid Sky Vertical for use of the space. When Papoulis first suggested the partnership, the storage company’s co-owner, Gerold Pitts, was apprehensive. Others had pitched similar ideas, but they never worked out.
“There’s always hiccups and bumps in the road,” Pitts said of Vivid Sky Vertical and Boosted Events. “But when they say what’s going to happen, it happens, and that means a lot to us.”
The companies made waves through the community, providing artists, students and citizens with opportunities they never thought they would find in Gainesville.
Unlike at other venues that Cade Siedbecker played at, Vivid Sky Vertical and Boosted Events didn’t limit his creative freedom by making him play music within a small genre.
“The guys at Boosted Events put a lot of trust in me,” said Siedbecker, 22, who goes by the stage name Butler and opened at the concert.
“They told me not to stray away from what I wanted to play,” he said. “I think that’s really cool”
Schuster said his team works to ensure that their love of music is apparent with each show.
“We’re fans first,” he said. “That will never change.”
Nick Issacs, a Los Angeles-based DJ who goes by the stage name Mahalo and opened for Aoki, praised what Boosted Events and Vivid Sky Vertical have accomplished.
“After traveling around the country and seeing lots of different shows, this was very well put together,” Issacs said.
Boosted Events wasn’t the first company that serial entrepreneurs Schuster, a senior business major, Kocenko, a senior finance major, and Lapidus, a senior computer science major, started.
At 12, Kocenko made thousands of dollars through Minecraft. Lapidus sold weighted blankets, CBD for dogs and started Fit Band, a fitness jewelry business. Schuster owns Audigree, a company that connects music producers to professionals.
Through all of the doubts from agents, the team believed in its own abilities to succeed. That carried them through a massive national airline flights cancellation the day of the show.
“Steve Aoki’s flight was just canceled,” Schuster said. “We might have to spend $27,000 on a private jet to get him here in time for the show.”
It was 12:30 p.m. on Halloween, and Aoki was set to perform in less than six hours. The call came in two hours after the afterparty act, Gatusso, canceled due to another flight cancelation.
“It’s not ideal,” Schuster said. “But we’ll get him here.”
After numerous calls to agents, Aoki’s tour manager and his business partners, Aoki’s team found him a commercial flight from Philadelphia to Orlando (where a “runner” was waiting to drive him to Gainesville) and booked another DJ for the afterparty.
This determination impressed Chester, who also owns various local bars. While many people in the entertainment business get caught up in the novelty and partying side of concerts, Boosted Events always put business first, he said.
Although Lapidus, Schuster and Kocenko are still unsure what they will do after college, they hope to turn the business into something they can pursue full time. They have job offers to work in investment banking and the entertainment industry but haven’t yet accepted them.
“The reason I’m pursuing a degree in computer science is to start my own company,” Lapidus said. “It runs in my family, and it’s kind of just the way I’ve been built.”
Because the profit margins in the festival and concert industry are relatively low, people who stick with it are those who do it for their love of music, Kocenko said.
“I apply the question, ‘Why not?’ to almost everything in my life,” he said. “So, why not at least try to build this company?”