Self-made event-production duo seeks to raise the bar at parties and concerts

Self-made event-production duo seeks to raise the bar at parties and concerts

October 28th, 2011 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Justin Lyonsand Justin Casey pose for a portrait inside of the studio at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Lyons and Casey are co-founders of JMJ Presents, an event planning company. They have organized and coordinated several events, including the annual Boneyard Halloween Bash.

Photo by Jenna Walker/Times Free Press.

When some people throw a house party, their first thought in the aftermath is how to clean up the mess and avoid ever hosting another one.

After Justin Casey and Justin Lyons, both now 25, began hosting gatherings, however, they saw a potential career.

The founders of event planning outfit JMJ Productions met in 2005. At the time, Lyons, then 20, was managing a microwave repair shop, and Casey, then 19, was an assistant manager at Moe's Southwest Grill.

Casey was a fan of electronic producers such as Sound Tribe Sector 9, and Lyons was raised on a diet of country and classic rock, but they found common ground in a shared love of Pink Floyd and Jamiroquai.

Within a year, they were roommates at a Hixson house with an unfinished basement they dubbed "The Party Room," which they decked out with lights, sound equipment and a homemade bar.

In late 2007, to celebrate a friend leaving to tour overseas with Cirque du Soleil, they put the room to the test.

"About 300 people showed up," Casey said, laughing. "We started off and it was just some friends, and then friends invited more friends."

Despite the mess, Lyons and Casey said, they realized they had found their niche.

"It was so huge and so much fun," Lyons said. "To have your friends come up and tell you they had a good time at your party and how awesome the decorations were, those were the moments that, 'Wow, we're good at this.' "

Soon, The Party Room was full on a regular basis. After packing their house to bursting half a dozen times, however, Casey and Lyons realized they needed to move their events somewhere larger.

They eventually settled on a storage area in My Back Yard, a garden store on Ringgold Road in East Ridge. There, they hosted their next eight to 10 events.

By October 2008, Casey and Lyons decided to offer their promotion and production skills to others and applied for a business license for JMJ Productions. Soon thereafter, Casey quit his job to focus on the new company, and Lyons devoted as much time to it as he could while continuing to work full time at the repair shop.

Being so young, Lyons said they faced a constant test to prove their seriousness.

"I focus a lot on professionalism, whatever makes us look as legitimate as possible," he said. "At 21, people look at you like you don't know what you're doing, and [a professional approach] legitimizes us.

"We do everything by the books. We don't cut corners."

The duo have sought to prove that intention at their shows by securing top-of-the-line sound and lighting equipment, which they often lend out to local bands in need of a boost to their production values. In all, Casey said they've invested more than $20,000 in time and equipment into the company.

The goal, they said, is to offer 20-something Chattanoogans a reason to stay in town instead of heading to events in Atlanta or Nashville.

"For Chattanooga, there's not a whole lot going on for that crowd, except ... going to a bar," Casey said. "That's where we get loyal fans from. We want them to enjoy events the way we enjoy events, something they wouldn't come across on the typical bar scene."

Casey and Lyons also began helping promote concerts in 2009. That year, they helped to street team for March One Music on a concert by Colorado-based electronic producer Pretty Lights at Rhythm & Brews. The show sold out the 500-seat Market Street venue, Casey said.

Although it is primarily a two-man operation, JMJ Productions has been responsible for some of the larger concert parties in Chattanooga since it was founded, including several Bangers Balls DJ dance parties at 412 Market in 2009 and the Boneyard Boogie, their annual Halloween party.

After attracting more than 1,500 to the 2009 Boogie after moving it from their East Ridge location to Loose Cannon Gallery on Rossville Boulevard, Casey and Lyons decided to aim even higher last year.

Relocating to a large warehouse down the street from Loose Cannon, they added a second night and offered live performances by The Protomen, from Nashville, and Signal Path, a Colorado-based live electronic trio.

Halloween is both men's favorite holiday, and as their flagship event every year, they said the Boogie provides an opportunity to show off.

"The entire time, our backbone was Halloween," Casey said. "That was when we went all out, spared no expenses and tried to do all we could to our fullest potential."

Last year, Casey and Lyons said they might have done too well. The event attracted about 2,600 people, but the large crowd lacked the intimate atmosphere they said is the hallmark of their events.

This year, they're taking a break from the Boogie to host a smaller, invitation-only event at the Crash Pad on Main Street, but next year, they said they plan to flex their planning muscles again with an even bigger Boogie.

In the meantime, Casey and Lyons earlier this year joined the production crew for Solid Rock Systems, another local event company. As they learn even more sound and lighting tricks through that job, they said they should be even better equipped to wow audiences next year.

"We want to make sure it's something people haven't seen before and make sure it's different and fresh," Casey said.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.

Boneyard Backups

JMJ Productions founders Justin Casey and Justin Lyons are taking a year off from their annual Boneyard Boogie Halloween concert/party, but there are plenty of other options for in-costume grooving through Halloween night.

1. Halloween Bash concert, featuring Glowing Bordis, Toneharm and The Nim Nims. Dance to the music of local artists performing a rendition of The Beastie Boys' fourth studio album "Ill Communication," watch horror films screened in the VIP lounge or wander an indoor haunted maze.

*Where: Track 29, 1400 Market St.

*When: Saturday, 9 p.m.

*Cost: $10.

*Phone: 521-2929.

Website: www.track29.co.

2. Concert by The Unsatisfied with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Celebrate Halloween night with the music of local punk-rock veterans and do the time warp with a post-concert screening of the classic 1975 horror/comedy musical.

*Where: JJ's Bohemia, 231 M.L. King Blvd.

*When: Monday, 8 p.m.

*Cost: $5.

*Phone: 266-1400.

*Website: www.myspace.com/jjsbohemia.

3. 12th annual All Hallows Eve Bash. Continuing a tradition begun in the days of Parkway Billiards, The Honest Pint celebrates its first Halloween with a performance by Athens, Ga.-based southern alt-rockers Dead Confederate and local rock band The Bohannons.

*Where: The Honest Pint, 35 Patten Parkway.

*When: Saturday, 10 p.m.

*Cost: $10.

*Phone: 468-4192.

*Website: www.thehonestpint.com

4. Halloween night variety show, featuring music by the recently revived Shock Theater Orchestra, prog rockers Odist and local alt-funk group Opposite Box. Local carny troupe, Subterranean Cirqus, will perform a mix of burlesque, comedy and stunts.

*Where: The Honest Pint, 35 Patten Parkway.

*When: Monday, 8 p.m.

*Cost: $7.

*Phone: 468-4192.

*Website: www.thehonestpint.com

5. Halloween costume bash with local soul blues artist Pontiac Blue and local folk/bluegrass band Strung Like a Horse.

*Where: Market Street Tavern, 850 Market St.

*When: Saturday, 10 p.m.

*Cost: Free.

*Phone: 634-0260.

*Website: www.marketstreettavern.com

6. Halloween Cover and Costume Party with Weathered, One Crushing Blow, In This Hour, Half Price Hero and Oaklynn. Artists covering music by Creed, Advent and As I Lay Dying, as well as original material.

*Where: The Warehouse, 412 Market St.

*When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

*Cost: $5.

*Phone: N/A.

*Website: www.warehousevenue.com