It was Memorial Day, the hottest day of the year so far -- nearly 90 degrees. And though this part of the country is blessed with very few beaches, that didn't stop Chancellor Cochran from putting on the Mayday Beach Concert and Party 2000. The man's nickname is Chance, after all, so why shouldn't he have taken a gamble and put on a "beach concert" at the Kansas City International Raceway on Noland Road, a treeless, wide-open facility with no cooling stations or tents for shade -- and, as everyone would discover soon enough, no water.
"It's so hot even the devil is looking for shade," said one person in the crowd that day.
The concert had been heavily promoted on KPRS 103.3 (Hot 103 Jamz) in a spot produced by DJ Fresh, whose futuristic beats thundered under super-hip narration that appealed to hip-hop lovers all across town. Chance had also distributed fliers throughout the city. They were crude and barely readable, with two of the headlining acts' names spelled incorrectly. Still, the message was effective: Be at the Kansas City International Raceway on Memorial Day at 2 p.m.
The radio spot may have been hot, but the most effective form of advertising had been word of mouth. For weeks, everyone had been talking about the Mayday Beach Bash.
When the day finally came, the speedway's grassy parking area was loaded with cars, many with license plates from Iowa, Nebraska, and even Illinois. Once the lot was full, some people ended up parking two miles from the entrance.
The line to get into the track snaked several hundred yards along a metal fence. People at the head of the line had been waiting for hours to get in. The crowd -- almost all teenagers, mostly black, but with some whites and Hispanics -- stood while Crowd Systems staffers searched everyone, scanning them with metal detectors before allowing them inside. The process was slow and tested the crowd's patience, but everyone remained orderly, even after rumors started circulating that some people had avoided the line by paying ticket-takers at the front gate $50 to $100.
People slowly spilled into the raceway, bypassing a car show -- 28 low-riders, luxury cars, SUVs, and sports cars with music blasting -- because they were in a hurry to stake their claims to the prime real estate in front of the stage.
Chance had hired some of the area's best urban DJs to keep the early birds entertained. Turntablists DJ Fresh, DJ Mike Scott, DJ Dink, DJ Hank, and DJ Def took turns spinning the latest hits, songs that had been played over and over on the radio. They didn't display any turntable wizardry, but people in the audience were familiar with the tunes and showed their appreciation by reciting lyrics and jumping around enthusiastically.
At 2:30 p.m., the concert began with a performance by the Marching Cougars, an independent drill team. Then, 20 local rap groups that had paid for the opportunity to perform delivered second-rate sets. Only rap soloist The Incredible Zig, who spat out several energetic bars of clever lyrics, could create any hype. None of the groups, including rap veterans DVS Mindz from Topeka, captured the crowd's attention. They paced the stage, spewing out unintelligible lyrics. The audience wasn't rude -- but it clearly was unimpressed.
As they tried to capture the crowd's attention, most of the artists began calling the people in the audience "motherfuckers" and yelling "Suck my dick!" They started talking down to people in the audience, calling them "haters" for not responding to their music, and they invited women to dance explicitly on stage. The crowd briefly got excited as young women flashed their breasts, but the strip-club antics grew tiresome as each group tried the same stunts.
"There were too many local artists. I didn't pay 20 dollars so I can watch people I can see everyday," says 17-year-old Tosha Carter. "The local groups were bad. They used a lot of profanity, degraded women, and had too many people on stage. It was a mess and lasted too long."
After about an hour, the audience completely lost interest. The young, unsupervised attendees began looking for other entertainment options -- and that's when they started openly drinking and smoking dope. Beer vendors carded everyone who purchased a beer, but those who were of age weren't identified with wristbands, so the beer often ended up in minors' hands.
Since the event had been billed as a beach party, many people wore swimwear -- but even that began to come off. "I think a lot of people were taking their clothes off because it was extremely hot," says 17-year-old Shawna Williams. "There was no shelter from the sun."
On stage, women were shaking their backsides while men slapped their butts. Many of the women were pantyless and eager to display their private parts -- several of them tried to take off all of their clothes -- and a male dance troupe performed a lewd dance routine. "I couldn't believe it; it was like the concert was one big sex show," says 19-year-old Lisa McDaniel. "Every time you looked around, somebody was getting naked."
It wasn't a good atmosphere for kids, but that didn't matter. "I couldn't believe how many people brought babies and children to the concert," says 16-year-old Princess James. "This was not the kind of event children and babies should have been at."
Small fights broke out, men began groping women (several women had their bikini and halter tops snatched off), and people began pushing and shoving in front of the stage. A 10-foot gap between the stage and the front row slowly disappeared as the crowd inched forward.
By 5 p.m., the heat had taken its toll on the estimated 15,000 people who had gathered for the show. "There was no place to buy water, and they turned the water off in the bathrooms," says 17-year-old Marie Crockett. "There was nowhere to get any water and it was hot. Really hot."
The concession stands had sold out of bottled water, and 20 or so small, colorful plastic swimming tubs sat empty all day. Most people had used what water was available to load Super Soaker water guns, and when the water ran out, they improvised. "The guys started putting pee in their water guns and shooting people with it," says Crockett. "People just started acting silly."
Chance called in the fire department, which sprayed the crowd with water for several minutes, and half an hour later he arrived with a new supply of bottled water. Chance wanted to give it away for free, particularly to the people in front of the stage who would not leave their spots.
With the help of the speedway staff and rappers, Chance began tossing the bottles into the audience. Someone threw a bottle of water back at the stage. Then someone on stage threw the bottle back into the audience. A couple of seconds later, people in the audience began hurling water bottles and empty glass liquor bottles at the stage. The people on stage had to evacuate, but the bottles continued flying at the stage.
"The water bottles that they were passing out hit people in the head and some people got mad. Some people also got mad because the water was hot, so they started throwing them back at the people on stage. Then a bottle war broke out," says 17-year-old Marie Hall. "It was bottles flying everywhere, and I was scared I was going to get hit, so me and my friends left."
"It wasn't the scariest situation I've been in in my life, but it was up there with a car that is about to hit you and a gun in your face, and I've been in both situations," says Gary "DJ Fresh" Edwin. "People backstage were yelling 'Incoming!' as the bottles came flying in. You were scared to move because you didn't know where the bottles were coming from. You could hear the bottles whistling as they flew in. It was a totally dangerous situation."
The bottle-throwing had started a few minutes before the national acts were supposed to begin their sets. At 7:20 p.m., Chance decided to cancel the concert.
The crowd was orderly as it left, though some people blasted loud music from their cars as they drove away in disappointment. Afterward, the cynical word on the streets was that the national acts had never even been scheduled to perform, that the ads had been a hoax to lure people to the event. "I don't believe any of them were ever here," says Tosha Carter. "We just went because we were trying to support local stuff, but they blew it. Never again."
Now 31, Chance Cochran started throwing house parties when he was 12. Twenty-five to 50 kids would gather in the basement of his parents' house at 78th and Paseo to socialize and listen to music. The parties usually were free, but Chance would charge for sodas and hotdogs. By 1984 he had graduated to promoting parties at Howard Johnson's, Rodeway Inn, and Crown Center. "We used to rent out hotel ballrooms and throw parties when they used to let you do that," he remembers. "We held parties wherever there was a hotel with a ballroom. But a lot of people started throwing parties in hotels and they would cut corners."
The trend ended after a couple of years because many promoters did not provide adequate security. "A lot of promoters didn't take care of business," Chance says. The crowds became increasingly unruly, and the hotel managers lost their patience.
After getting bounced out of the hotels, Chance began throwing sets at Starz (an all-ages club at 36th and Broadway) and The Cove (a hip-hop club at 31st and Troost, run by DJ Fresh).
Chance says he taught himself the promotion business by watching other promoters. He also studied his father, Mike "White Hat" Ross, a salesman and radio personality for Hot 103 Jamz (Ross promoted fish-fry blues and R&B parties in the '70s and '80s). Chance's first concerts were in 1989 at the Southeast High School Field House, a gymnasium with a capacity of 3,000. Although he called the three-show series The Anti-Drug Stop the Violence Dance for Peace Talent Shows, the sold-out events featured AMG (who recorded "Bitch Better Have My Money"), DJ Kool (a legendary veteran of the Washington, D.C., go-go and hip-hop scene), the late DJ Jimmy of New Orleans, and several local rappers. "I was the only one at the time putting on shows for the youth," says Chance. "I still get questioned, 'Why are you doing those concerts for those young kids? You know they don't know how to act.' But young kids need an outlet and they want to be entertained."
"Overall the show was good. It was better than most shows that were happening at the time," recalls Sean "Icy Roc" Raspberry, a rap producer who has worked with Tech N9ne, Snug Brim, and other local artists. "You can't have anything like that at the field house any more because they don't know how to act. Everybody is just ignorant now."
There were some technical difficulties, says T.L. Tyler, who worked as a sound technician for the series. "You have problems at every show. Only the million-dollar shows are exempt from problems," he says. "It was different working with Chance because he was one of the first people I can remember who mixed local talent with national acts. He gave a lot of people a chance to break into the industry."
In 1993, Chance promoted a New Year's Eve party starring Mac Mall, an up-and-coming rapper from Vallejo, California. Mall was new on the scene but was making noise with his debut, Illegal Business, which featured underground classics "Sic Wit Tis" and "Pimp Shit."
A year later Chance promoted what he calls his first big concert. Mall returned with E-40, the Click, and Brotha Lynch Hung for a show at Memorial Hall. The rap acts Chance brought to perform were at the height of their careers (E-40 had sold millions of records and established the Sick Wid' It rap label). But Chance was beginning to fall into a slump. After that show, he says, he experienced several lean years due to his own poor management skills and bad decisions.
Chance stopped promoting shows and moved to Oakland, California. He began working for Mac Mall and E-40, doing street promoting -- passing out fliers, hanging posters, and handing out trinkets and tapes at parties -- until he returned to Kansas City in 1998. "I went out there to learn how to start my own record label," says Chance.
He says he threw the Mayday Beach Concert and Party 2000 to showcase local hip-hop talent. He says local rappers have a tough time getting booked for gigs at venues and seldom get their music played on the radio. "I'm trying to give local artists exposure and a chance to perform in front of a large crowd. That's what the Mayday Beach Bash was all about. Every rap show I've ever done has always featured local rap talent because I've always wanted to help put Kansas City on the hip-hop map."
But that support for the local scene doesn't come cheap: Chance charged each local group $200 to perform at the event. He says it was a way to weed out unprofessional acts. "If a group was really serious about performing, they wouldn't have a problem paying," he says. "If they aren't serious, they are not going to waste their money." The $200 guaranteed each group five minutes to perform and a booth at the event, where they could sell their CDs and pass out promotional materials.
Chance's shows may be hastily produced, unorganized, and lackluster at times, but he says they all make money -- in a booming industry. For example, each week, someone puts on a hair show, fashion show, comedy show, poetry reading, concert, or party. Bigger shows happen less frequently, though still regularly. Tickets for these "ghetto-fabulous" events range from $10 to $50, double that for VIP tickets. Sometimes they provide exceptional entertainment, but often they're poorly planned and flat-out not very fun.
The problem for the ticket-buying public is identifying which promoters are legitimate. It's often difficult to tell the difference.
"There are some nonprofessionals out there promoting events, and when they put on bad shows it makes it hard for the people who are out there trying to be legit," says DJ Fresh.
"Chance isn't the only rap promoter in the city. He is just one of many," says DJ Fresh, who has promoted concerts at the Southeast High School Field House, The Cove, and Swope Park. Other independent promoters include Ryonell "Romeo" Frederick, who brought rappers to The Heart (on 40 Highway) and the Party House (near 31st and Gillham); Bennie Lewis, publisher of Mo' Cheeze Magazine; Jimmy Renfro; Chuck Littlejohn; and Larry J. Vample, who has been in the business for more than 20 years. Several companies have also promoted rap shows locally: Gold Rush Entertainment, R&R Entertainment, Deuce Seven Productions, Twin City Productions, and the once-mighty -- but now-defunct -- Twin A Productions.
"The toughest part of being an independent promoter is competing with Contemporary," says Renfro, whose Lil' Troy concert last August at the 1,000-capacity Kansas National Guard Armory sold out. "Most independents don't have the financing and connections to produce huge shows."
"People in Kansas City are starved for things to do, so they will go out no matter what," says Sean "Icy Roc" Raspberry.
Some observers attribute Chance's success as an independent promoter to a hot streak. Others say he has been lucky. He credits his accomplishments to his ability to understand street culture. "I promote toward the streets. I know how to connect to the streets. I know how to deal with urban youth. I know what they want and who they want to see. When I promote I try to give them something that they've never been to before. Hip-hop has been around for 20 years, so my audience can go anywhere from 35 down to 16. A lot of people say they don't listen to hip-hop, but they do. You go to these old clubs and that's what they play, and the younger kids, that's all they listen to."
Chance had been thinking about the Mayday Beach Concert and Party for years. He billed the concert as Woodstock meets Freak-Nik (an annual urban party in Atlanta), and it was to be the largest gathering of African-Americans in Kansas City since Black Expo USA in 1996 at Bartle Hall. The event was also larger than any festival at 18th and Vine, the Juneteenth celebration, or the annual car show at The Loop Road in Swope Park.
The concert was supposed to be his dream event. It turned into a nightmare for the people who attended, but Chance still believes it was a success. "I was pleased overall. Problems are a part of the business. Anyone in this business knows that. The PitchWeekly had an event and the headliner didn't show up," Chance says, referring to the rap artist Solé, who was scheduled to appear at the Klammies in April. "But you didn't have people screaming on them like they are on me."
After his event, one rumor had Chance fleeing to the Caribbean with a suitcase full of money ($200,000 to be exact) and a posse of fly women. Other people heard he was moving into a mansion in California and buying a brand-new Ferrari.
Chance won't say how much money he made; he says he is still tallying figures and paying for services rendered and that the actual paid attendance was less than the number of people who came to the concert. "As a promoter, my job is to make money. That's the bottom line. Everybody is trying to count my pockets. Whenever you become a success, people are going to hate, and right now, a lot of people are hatin' on me. I did everything within my powers to produce a good concert. All of the allegations that I heard about the Mayday Beach Concert make me laugh because they are false.
"The same thing that happened at the Beach Bash happens all over the country," he adds. "Sometimes an event gets to go on, sometimes it don't. It's the promoter who takes a chance on putting it together -- that's the realness to it. But I'm all about doing something."
The concert was an ambitious undertaking, and Chance felt it was the right time to attempt an event of that magnitude. "A lot of people kept telling me that the city needed a large hip-hop event. I agreed and thought the show would work because the streets are supporting local artists like never before."
The time may have been right, but some people doubt whether Chance was capable of successfully promoting the event. "Chance hasn't changed, but he is more professional than he was in the past," says DJ Fresh, who first worked with Chance in 1989. "Some people are more into satisfying the customer and having a decent reputation so people come back to their next show. Chance is all about the money. He ain't really trippin' on if the people are totally satisfied. But he put a lot more effort into the Mayday Beach Concert than any project he has ever done. He took care of business and had everything in place this time."
"A lot of people came up to me after the show, talkin' about they would have done this and they would have done that. Don't talk about it, do it," Chance says. "I didn't ask nobody for nothing. I went out and did it myself. I didn't call Coca-Cola; I didn't call PitchWeekly and ask for no sponsorship. I put it down and put it together and they want to criticize me. They should be thankin' me for creating a mega event and at the same time appreciating that no one got hurt.
"Several people on the streets congratulated me and understand what happened. A lot of people have told me that I made the right decision to cancel the concert when I did."
The decision to cancel the concert may have been correct, but it disappointed thousands of people who expected to see Black Rob, The Ying Yang Twins, Nelly, Lunasicc-Luni Coleone, Kansas City native Shea Jones, and local big shots the 57th Street Rogue Dog Villains and Tech N9ne. All of the national acts had hits sitting near the top of the R&B and rap charts at the time of the event. Jones didn't have a song but had co-written the current Whitney Houston and Debra Cox duet, "Same Script Different Time." And everyone was eager to hear St. Louis native Nelly, whose "Country Grammar" has become the nation's summer street anthem. Tech N9ne and the 57th Street Rogue Dog Villains are from Kansas City, and their singles "Planet Rock" and "Let's Get Crunked Up" get just as much airplay on Hot 103 Jamz as the national acts that were scheduled to perform.
Canceling the concert was a major decision, considering that Chance had developed a reputation for promising glitz and glamour but failing to deliver. The beach concert was no exception.
Although security officers monitored the crowd, the local rap acts were left unchecked and caused mayhem backstage, he says. "A lot of the rappers arrived at the concert drunk or high or both," says Chance. Despite their condition, he let them perform. At a production meeting before the concert he'd told them to keep it clean and watch the profanity. "Once they hit the stage I can't control what they do," says Chance. "But there are several groups I will never work with again because they were unprofessional."
Regarding the concert's X-rated atmosphere, he says, "The flier and radio commercial explained that it was a rap show that would have a bikini and thong contest," says Chance. "As a parent if you want your child exposed to that, then it's on them. They knew what kind of event they were bringing their children to.
"The women in bikinis looked beautiful, like they were at Venice Beach. But Kansas City is a church town. This is the Bible Belt, so that's a no-no. It was a beach party; some women did have on bikinis and thongs, but there wasn't any explicit activity. There were thousands of young ladies out there. Some chose to wear swimsuits; some chose not to."
Chance says he'd told the concession manager to prepare for 5,000 people, and the facility ordered bottled water based on that estimate. Some people stole water during the event, he says, though "it was only a few. It wasn't a rowdy crowd, just a few bad seeds who didn't know how to act."
By mid-afternoon the concession stands were completely out of bottled water. After he called the fire department, whose hose-down provided only temporary relief, Chance ordered $1,000 worth of bottled water. "We didn't know how to distribute the water, but we knew we wanted to give it away for free. We did throw bottles and maybe that was a mistake, because all of a sudden someone threw a bottle back and that started a chain reaction," says Chance. "We were just trying to look out for the people so no one would dehydrate."
Chance speculates that there were so many glass liquor bottles because several thousand people got into the event through a back gate without being checked. "We adequately checked everyone who entered the main gate," says Chance. "We conducted body searches; men, women, kids, dogs, cars, whatever -- everybody got searched. You have to do this at this kind of event." Chance says he spent $10,000 on security, hiring Crowd Systems and off-duty police officers to work the event.
"The bottle-throwing incident only lasted a minute and a half, but it seemed a lot longer. They weren't doing it out of anger and frustration, they were doing it (to impress others). If the crowd was throwing the bottles out of anger, it would have been a riot when I announced that the concert had been canceled."
The national acts -- all of whom had signed contracts to perform and were backstage (except for Black Rob, who was in jail in New York) -- seemed more disappointed than the crowd. "We wanted to go on, but it was too dangerous," says Ying Yang member D-Roc. "It wasn't nothin' but glass bottles getting thrown. I said, 'Uh-oh, time to go.'"
"I wasn't tryin' to get hit by no bottle," says Kaine, the other half of the duo. "I was like, 'Maybe next time.'"
"I still had to pay them, so why wouldn't I want them to perform?" Chance asks. "The groups wanted to perform. They saw the massive crowd and were ready to rock it. I decided to cancel because I didn't know what was in the audience. A lot of people had snuck into the facility, and those people were not searched. If they threw bottles the first time, who knew when they would have started throwing them again. I had to look out for the safety of the artists and people in the audience. I wasn't going to take that chance and risk having someone get hurt.
"Everything was done from A to Z. There wasn't a letter in the alphabet that was missed. I covered everything that I needed to cover. I can't control the conduct of the crowd if they choose to get rowdy. I don't have no control over that. Everyone was not acting up. You only had a few bad seeds, but that's all it takes to mess something up."In the past, it's been Chance who has messed things up.
Last Memorial Day Chance promoted a smaller version of this year's Mayday Beach Concert. The production took place at Volleyball Beach, a bar and sand-volleyball facility at 13105 Holmes. Chance expected 1,000 people, but 5,000 showed up. The larger-than-expected crowd caused major congestion on Holmes, which spilled into residential areas, causing the mostly white, middle-class homeowners to complain for months after the event.
"Nothing happened. It wasn't an unruly crowd," says Tom Mockobey, owner of the Volleyball Beach club. "There wasn't enough parking. We expected fewer people and there were supposed to be a lot more security officers, so it was difficult to manage the crowd."
Chance had contracted with Westport Security, which had told him he needed to hire about 25 security officers -- but only four officers were at the event. "I wanted to hire some KCPD off-duty officers," says Chance. "There were no off-duty officers available because there was a big country show at Arrowhead Stadium that same evening. I tried to get them but they were all booked up.
"Because we didn't have adequate security I thought about canceling the show, but we went ahead and worked with what we had. There were no problems. It was nice and everything went well."
DJ Mike Scott begs to differ. Chance hired Scott to provide the music. "The whole thing was crazy," Scott says. "The show never happened because everybody kept getting on stage. One rapper would come on to perform and here come 50 of his friends."
A huge crowd had gathered at the club's entrance, ticket-takers couldn't get people in fast enough, and the crowd started rushing the door. "It was like a herd of people trying to get in one door," says Scott. To prevent a riot, Chance opened the side gate and let around 500 people in for free.
"Chance is a good guy to work with. Everything went well except for the shortage of security and lack of Port-a-Potties he was supposed to order," says Mockobey. "He had good intentions, but things just didn't work."
Mockobey says that he doesn't book rap shows at his club anymore. "The week after the event every regulatory agency in Kansas City was in here and everything they found wrong I had to correct. It cost me a bunch of money," he says. "The health, fire, and police departments all came in on a regular basis after the hip-hop concert. It just caused all kinds of unwanted attention on my establishment. I've been under the eye ever since."
"When venues do allow hip-hop shows, they catch flack for doing it because there is still a negative perception about rap," Chance says. "That's why when people attend rap shows, their conduct has to be on point because certain people expect us to act a certain way and we can't buy into those negative stereotypes by not acting right."
Chance has also promoted shows at the Scottish Rite Temple, a venue that hasn't received the same kind of attention as Volleyball Beach (but the temple is in a predominantly black neighborhood at 1330 East Linwood Boulevard). Last November Chance promoted a college step show at the historic venue. The event sold out, but the show was more like a rap festival. After two hours of continuous hip-hop, the crowd of mostly high-school kids began to show signs of displeasure by booing and yelling for the stepping to begin. The advertised steppers never performed. Afterwards, 1,600 kids may have felt cheated -- but most of them exited the temple with few complaints. A few people grumbled that they would never attend another step show.Usually when promoters produce a string of mediocre concerts they get sent to the office of new careers. Chance has continued to prosper.
"Chance rarely puts his name on the flier, so people don't know who is promoting the event," says Walter "The Popper" Edwin of the rap group The Veteran Click. "That's why the people keep coming back. Dude is so slick with his timing; that's his greatest asset. He always does his events during a holiday. He gets the college and high-school kids who don't know the deal.
"He knows how to get people to his shows, but he doesn't pay all of the time," Edwin adds. "If you do something you may have to wait a minute to get paid. We performed at the step show last year and still have not received full payment."
Chance has proven that he knows how to get people in the seats and to stack dead presidents, but how long can he get away with delivering sloppy shows?
Chance says his main problem has been finding good people, who know the business of promoting, to help him. "I don't have enough soldiers around me, so I have to do a lot. I need adequate assistance and that is my future goal -- to find talented people to join my team."
But recruiting for his team may remain a challenge. "Chance doesn't show any appreciation toward the people who helped make the event a success," says DJ Fresh. "You want to make people feel like this wouldn't have happened without them. Sometimes you want more than just money. An acknowledgment can mean a lot to people."
Chance is unmoved by those sorts of complaints. "I don't do anything on a small level. If I'm going to take criticism, I'll take the large criticism. I'm not using the bottle-throwing incident as an excuse. The bottom line is that's why the beach concert got canceled. I couldn't afford for anyone to get injured. If I was a greedy promoter or whatever or didn't care about the safety of the audience I would have said, 'Okay, let's keep partying.' But you are not going to have that at my show. I have a reputation to protect.
"I've been down for 15 years putting Kansas City on the map," he adds. "I ain't going to let some haters stop me from what I'm trying to do -- which is to showcase local talent and help them get in a position to acquire national exposure."
Although Chance is in the position to link local artists with the national rappers he books for concerts, thus far no rappers have directly benefited from this strategy. But he says it's only a matter of time. The phone rings continuously in his small office in the southeast part of town. He is working on booking acts for his next show.
"I'm not going to deal with the younger crowd for a while," says Chance. "I'm going to promote a couple of R&B shows for the mature audience." At the same time, however, Chance can't help thinking about ideas for next year's bash. "If God is willing there will be another Mayday Beach Concert and Party. I'm going to keep doing the event if I can because I'm a true pioneer for putting local rap on the map.
"No one can get the young urban hip-hop crowd to come out the way I can."