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Raising the bar 

Competing promoters face off at the River Market.

Last Thursday, the River Market sidewalks held hundreds of people. Two long, winding lines of bodies mirrored each other on either side of President Clinton Avenue, each seemingly oblivious of the other, each buzzing, laughing and enduring the dank July humidity to be part of the new, undeniable epicenter for Little Rock's urban nightlife.

On the north side of the street, the line waited to get into "In Too Deep," held in Deep Ultra Lounge's downstairs, run by Jason "J-One" Marshall, 27, singer, producer, promoter and head of J-One Productions Inc.

On the south side, the crowds waited for the debut of "Posh," held in Ernie Biggs' upstairs and overseen by Chris Bowen, 39, singer, producer, promoter and head of One Stone Productions.

By the end of the night, both venues were packed to maximum capacity. While a sold-out event on a weekend is commonplace, this type of weekly success on a Thursday is almost unprecedented.

It's not only a sign of a reinvention for Little Rock's urban nightlife, but also a testament to the tenacity of the events' promoters, whose personalities tend to be as big as the parties they throw.

Despite keeping a professional distance, the two men complement each other. J-One is a Little Rock native and graduate of Robinson High who translated a vocal and production career into his own promotion and graphic design business. Four years into professional promotions, he's taken a DIY approach to the industry, churning out his own flyers, commercials and voiceovers for his own events, including a karaoke night at Prost on Tuesday and the party "First Class Fridays" at Bill St. Not to stray from self-promoting, either, he threw a three-day-long rager to celebrate his own birthday in June.

Bowen is a Kingston, Jamaica, transplant who's been in the game since 1998, when he started organizing events for One Stone Reggae Band, his own musical outfit that's been based in Little Rock for years. Since retiring early from a successful, lucrative career in auto sales, Bowen has dedicated his time to his promotions and production company, One Stone Productions. Beyond weekly parties like "Posh" and "Successful Sundays," he's known to regularly bring name acts to town like Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, Frankie Beverly and Maze and Whodini.

But if J-One, local nightlife's new young gun, caught the promotion bug in 2006 after selling out his first event at Juanita's, his elder, Bowen, deserves credit for perfecting the urban party. He brought to town "grown and sexy" parties, each with a 25-year-old minimum age standard, and required "grown and sophisticated" attire for entry to his events.

"Check your attitude at the door, come dressed properly: trendy and upscale. Don't come looking like a hoodrat; I'm gonna call it what it is," he explained with his signature stoicism.

By his estimates, Bowen regularly packed the now-defunct On the Rocks space with anywhere from 800 to 1,200 people per week for "Thirsty Thursday," the precursor to "Posh." The parties became so popular, entry so in demand, that Bowen began incrementally raising cover prices as the night progressed and the room filled. It wasn't uncommon for men to happily hand over upwards of $50 or $60 to get in towards the end of the night. Ladies, of course, enjoyed a set price all night.

"Downtown people weren't ready for the business we were doing at On the Rocks," Bowen recalled in a deep patois. "There were so many people — so, so many black people — they just weren't ready."

J-One speaks of one day opening his own club to permanently house his parties, but keeps coy about it.

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