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Francois Baptiste's ability to multi-task rivals that of an air-traffic controller. It's 6:30 p.m. Thursday, February 17, the first official night of All-Star weekend, and I'm sitting in the passenger seat of his silver Range Rover as we barrel down Speer Boulevard en route to his apartment. Baptiste has one hand on the steering wheel, while the other holds a two-way up to his ear; he's also speaking into a headset dangling from his other ear that leads to a cell phone resting on his lap. And then a commercial comes on KS-107.5 hyping tonight's event -- Jermaine Dupri's Welcome to Denver party, the first in a series of events that Baptiste and his 3 Deep Productions team, along with hometown heroes Big Jon Platt and Chauncey Billups, have put together.
"This is bananas," he says, looking over as he reaches to turn up the radio. "Talking on two phones and driving. I hope I'm not scaring you too bad."
Baptiste has agreed to let me shadow him all weekend so that I can see from a promoter's perspective what it takes to pull off something of this magnitude. It's been 21 years since Denver hosted an NBA All-Star game, and since then, the event has exploded into the world's largest hip-hop party.
We pull up to Baptiste's place, a modest one-bedroom walkup in Lowry Estates, sparsely decorated with a couple of framed Maurice Evans prints and a small love seat positioned in front of a wide-screen TV. Baptiste has only a few minutes to get cleaned up before he has to be at Vinyl. "Want to see some history?" he asks, handing over a small photo flip book to keep me occupied while he's in the shower. "This is where it all started."
Over the years, Baptiste has worked with all of these artists, either through House of Blues, where he holds down a day gig, or on his own with 3 Deep, a company he launched in the early '90s with Alvin LaCabe and Kevin Henderson shortly after he moved from his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to attend the University of Colorado. Since his days promoting house parties in Boulder, he's been involved in some of the most high-profile events to hit Denver. Still, one luminary's face is conspicuously missing from the book -- that of a certain Bad Boy who happens to be the guest of honor at the two back-to-back soirées 3 Deep is hosting this weekend at the Church.
The scale of these events is not lost on Baptiste. "This is the defining moment of my career," he confides on his way back downtown. As we pull up to the club, Baptiste hands his keys to the valet and shifts into overdrive. Emile Baptiste, his brother, who heads up the 3 Deep street team, stops Baptiste at the entrance to ask about an emergency addition to the guest list. "Walk and talk," Francois says, heading into Vinyl. "Walk and talk." He rushes through the club, making sure everything is in order, then heads downstairs to quiz the doormen about the correct prices and protocols for interacting with VIPs.
The doors are slated to open in less than an hour. Baptiste assembles the club's security staff in the main arena, so Mitch Bullock, a professional security consultant with Gotchaback Security, can brief them. Bullock's toured with a number of national acts and has imported a trio of East and West Coast-based peacekeepers -- the uni-monikered Mo, Marco and Juice, who look like moonlighting neck-breakers from the NFL. "This will be like nothing you've ever experienced," Bullock says. "You give a little bit, but you take none. And you also have to be polite, because once alcohol gets in the system, everybody's a killer. The main thing is: Have a presence. Any little thing you can think of could possibly happen. You will be tested in every way possible.
"This first night," he continues, "you have to set an example. Once it's over and it's on the radio tomorrow, they'll say, 'Oh, it turned out perfect, no problems; it was great.' That's what you want."
That's certainly what Baptiste and his team, including Brad Roulier and Melissa Kowalski, want. They keep making the rounds of the club, and then, just before the doors open, Regas Christou, who's provided the venues for this weekend's shindigs, makes a couple of last-minute adjustments.
All the effort is worth it, because the night runs smoothly. When Dupri arrives with his entourage around midnight, the security team whisks him to the VIP area. He doesn't stay there for long; instead, Dupri joins Kid Capri in the DJ booth, where he assumes the role of hype man. They're soon joined by Allen Iverson and Fabolous, who turns in a white-hot freestyle performance.
As the house lights come on a little before 2 a.m., Baptiste finally lets up a little. Over the course of the evening, he's slowed down only briefly to buy a few shots of Patrón for his friends. And while he'd warned me of the frenzied pace, I wish I'd brought my inhaler -- or at least put in some time on the StairMaster.