Sunday, January 29, 2023

Meet the man behind one of N.Y.C.’s biggest Pride parties


Sitting at a beer garden on New York’s Governors Island in the spring of 2010, world-renowned event producer Jake Resnicow was stuck. 

Earlier that year, Resnicow had quit his high-paying job as a consultant for accounting giant Deloitte to launch his career as an event producer, throwing a party for New York City’s Pride weekend. But Resnicow’s venue, a bar in Brooklyn, had just informed him that it would be closing down permanently.

Looking around at the 172-acre island of mostly empty fields and abandoned military structures just south of Manhattan, Resnicow had an idea. He would throw the party there. He approached a bartender at one of the few venues operating on the island.

“I remember going up to one of the bartenders and being like, ‘Hey, have you guys ever done an event here?’ and they were like ‘No, that’s not going to happen,’” Resnicow, 37, recalled.

The next day, decked out in a suit and tie, Resnicow returned, met with city officials unannounced and convinced them to give him the rights to throw the first-ever large-scale concert on Governors Island — now known for its many summer music events.

With hardly any experience in event marketing, Resnicow, who is gay, stitched together video reels from Pride parties he had attended in Ibiza, Spain, using Apple’s early video-editing software, iMovie. And it worked.

Come that last Saturday of June 2010, thousands of LGBTQ people ventured from all over the world to New York and schlepped by ferry to Governors Island for the event, a six-hour DJ set featuring ballerinas, aerialists, Broadway performers and fireworks.

“I felt a magic when I was on that island, and there was something so special about getting on that ferry and going there, and being in this magical place with an epic sunset, and being able to build a stage that really celebrated our full community,” Resnicow said. “It really came from the heart — and that’s really what I say and I believe is what makes every event so special — the heart.”

Resnicow’s premiere event made him an instant nightlife hit. In the nearly 12 years since, his company, Jake Resnicow Events, has produced roughly 1,200 parties, he said. Some of his events have included several of the world’s biggest ticketed LGBTQ celebrations, such as the Life Ball in Vienna, the White Party in Miami and World Pride’s WE Party, headlined by top musical artists like Ricky Martin, Janet Jackson and Katy Perry. 

2019 WorldPride Celebration
Cyndi Lauper performs at the 2019 WorldPride celebration.John Lamparski / Getty Images file

For this year’s New York City Pride weekend, held the last weekend in June, Resnicow, along with DJ Ty Sunderland, will produce the Planet Pride festival, a 12-hour party at the Brooklyn Mirage. Headliners include DJs Galantis, SG Lewis and LP Giobbi, with performances by “RuPaul Drag Race” alums  Aquaria, Gottmik and Violet Chachki — as well as a “surprise popstar.”

Resnicow, who lives between Miami and New York, was born and raised outside of Boston. He said he first fell in love with the nightlife industry while working as an MC and DJ for local bar mitzvahs and weddings throughout high school. He took a break from the nightlife industry to pursue his bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University, where he studied government.

After graduating college in 2008, Resnicow continued his interest in politics on Capitol Hill, working for late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Shortly afterward, he moved to New York to work as a human capital analyst for Deloitte for almost two years. During that time, Resnicow attended a party in Ibiza, where he found himself drawn back to his childhood passion for the nightlife industry.

“At the time, New York nightlife in 2010 was still very much like dark room, dark lights, very dark,” Resnicow said. “And then I went to Ibiza, and I saw drag queens and aerialists and shows that just had so much color and theatrics, and I was like, ‘Why don’t we have this here?’”

Resnicow credits that trip in Ibiza — known as one of the party capitals of the world — to his penchant for creating parties with “magical moments that blow people away.”

2019 WorldPride Celebration
The WorldPride celebration at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York on June 29, 2019.John Lamparski / Getty Images file

For New York City’s upcoming Pride weekend, Resnicow plans to recreate what he calls a “wow factor” by bringing his event global. People from all over the world will be able to attend Resnicow’s Planet Pride festival  right in their living rooms, through the metaverse, a virtual reality world.

“Not only can you walk around and interact with people, talk to people, engage with people, but you can go walk over to the stage and watch the live performance and experience the party,” Resnicow said. “So, instead of it just being like a … a linear live stream, you’re actually in it.”

Resnicow added that he’s also working with several LGBTQ advocacy groups to bring their efforts to the metaverse so that queer people from around the world can access their services anonymously from their homes.

Many of the parties Resnicow produces also double as fundraising events for LGBTQ causes. From 2011 to 2019, Resnicow said he helped raise millions of euros producing the Life Ball, one of Europe’s biggest charity events, to fight HIV/AIDS; it ran from 1992 to 2019. For World Pride in 2019, Resnicow’s WE Party at New York’s Javits Center raised over $500,000 for several LGBTQ charities, he said.

This year, his Planet Pride event will benefit nonprofits NYC Pride, which hosts New York City’s annual Pride parade, and FEMME House, which works to help women and LGBTQ people in the music industry. 

But while many LGBTQ celebrations and Pride parties have helped to uplift the community, some have also become a target for hate-fueled attacks in recent years. 

Late last year, LGBTQ Americans were spooked when federal prosecutors arrested a man who they said threatened to attack this year’s NYC Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referring to the massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida that left 49 people dead and dozens injured. And last month, a man walked into a Brooklyn gay venue, Rash Bar, with a bottle of flammable liquid and set the venue on fire.

The hate-based attacks “speak to how important it is that we do what we do’’ for the LGBTQ community, Resnicow said. 

“I say it over and over again, but I really mean it from the heart: We need to provide places where you can come together and celebrate Pride 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a safe space,” he said.

The LGBTQ nightlife scene has also been plagued with issues from within the community itself. In recent years, queer activists of color have accused the LGBTQ nightlife industry of catering exclusively to white, gay men, while excluding queer people of color and the transgender community.

In 2017, 11 owners of queer venues in Philadelphia went through mandatory anti-discrimination training after several alleged incidents involving racial discrimination at various LGBTQ bars. In 2018, a group of drag queens, all trans women of color, quit their jobs at a popular Atlanta gay club, Burkhart’s, after its white owner allegedly put up racist posts on his Facebook page. And in 2020, a bartender at popular Washington, D.C., gay bar, Number Nine, was slammed for apparently wearing a “black face” Covid-19 mask. The bar’s management later posted an apology, claiming that the bartender “had no idea what the mask represented.”

Resnicow, who is white, acknowledged the concerns of racial discrimination within his field. 

“The reality is, it needs to change,” he said. “And one of the biggest things that I’ve learned over the past few years is that we need to be inclusive of all, and that starts from the top. As an event producer, it’s really on us.”

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