For Keith Jones, there’s much to love about West Palm Beach — the tropical weather, the pristine sandy beaches, the lush scenery.
But there’s also something about the city that Jones would like to change.
“I want to turn West Palm Beach into a more cultured place where black folks understand everything isn’t about going to a club,” said Jones, who moved to Florida from Brooklyn, N.Y. 23 years ago. “We have to get out of that, ‘It’s not for us’ mentality.”
Jones, 42, is certainly practicing what he’s preaching.
The engaged, single father of two teenage boys owns and operates KJ Events, an event planning business that organizes and promotes parties, trips and events geared toward middle and upper-middle class black professionals ages 23 to 54.
From yacht parties to NFL bus trips to Caribbean cruises to Broadway plays to comedy shows, Jones is giving black Palm Beach County residents tired of frequenting mostly all-white nightspots – such as Blue Martini – a viable alternative to socialize and mingle with other people of color.
For the last several years, Jones, who has a telecommunications degree from ITT Technical Institute, has organized over 100 events. The yacht parties are currently getting the most buzz. You can understand why.
The four-hour Labor Day cruise, for instance, only cost $48, and included hors d’oeuvres and an open bar of top-shelf liquor.
“It’s a great deal,” Jones said. “When you walk into Blue Martini and order two martinis, that’s $24 right there. Most yacht parties are $90 to $100 for an open bar. We’re half that price.”
Jones said he can offer such a good deal because the parties always sell out and attract, on average, about 200 guests.
“I get two or three calls a week about the yacht party with people saying, ‘I just moved here from New York and this is the first thing I’ve seen that I want to do,’” he said. “They don’t like Blue Martini because it’s all white people. They don’t like Monarchy because it’s all white people. So they’re looking for something in between.”
Jones said the yacht parties cost about $4,000. That price tag includes fuel costs, renting the yacht, and staffing it.
It’s worth it, though. Jones said he makes a profit, but won’t disclose how much. “Let’s just say it has to be a sellout venture for me to be doing it every month.”
As for why more upscale black events don’t find their way to West Palm, Jones said the reason is simple.
“We don’t have anything that holds over 5,000 seats,” he points out. “The circus doesn’t come to West Palm, but it used to. Medium-sized black shows don’t come to West Palm anymore. The only thing I’ve been able to pull off are a couple of stage plays at the Kravis Center, but they’re not money makers because the Kravis only holds 2,200 people.”
Jones noted that more black folks should step outside their comfort zones and realize there’s more to nightlife than gyrating and getting low in a dark club to a pulsating hip-hop beat.
“The club scene is dying,” he said. “People are looking to do different things, like karaoke and game night.”
He said he would love to sponsor more jazz-themed events, but he isn’t sure if the strong demand is there.
“If I did a Boney James show here, it’s probably not going to be well attended,” he said.
“Jon Saxx is a great friend of mine and has a great band, but if I tried to get him to come to West Palm, people probably wouldn’t support it. There’s just a certain mentality here.”
Jones cut his promotional teeth while working as a DJ in West Palm over 20 years ago. After meeting 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell, Jones was signed to his label.
“Luther came to the studio for an interview and I told him I could get down and the next thing you know, I was in the studio,” Jones recalled.
He stayed with Campbell’s label for five years. He attempted to move to Atlantic Records, but that didn’t work out.
“Atlantic thought they could get a deal done with me, but it eventually got shelved,” he said.
Jones left the record business in 1994.
Through various entertainment connections, Jones wound up working for both actor/director/writer Tyler Perry and radio personality Michael Baisden before they were as widely known as they are today.
Jones handled all the marketing and merchandising for the stage versions of Baisden’s books, “Men Cry In The Dark” and “The Maintenance Man.” He created fliers and promotional materials for Perry’s early stage work.
What did Jones learn?
“Developing concepts and marketing materials for African Americans can be tricky,” he said “It can’t be too sexual and it can’t be too flashy. It has to be done just right.”
Clearly, Jones is taking those lessons and implementing them in West Palm Beach.
“I live here, my kids go to school here and my family’s based here,” Jones said. “I want to turn West Palm into a mecca for black shows.”
To learn more about Keith Jones, log onto kjeventsonline.com.
Photo: Keith Jones