Danbury, Conn. – It all started in 1991. At the time, Alan Kohn, operating as Premier Entertainment, was working for an El Torito in Danbury, supplying DJs for the Mexican restaurant/bar. The Top-40-format venue was looking for a new club promotion, so Kohn suggested a “Dirty Dancing” theme. Management liked the idea, and ran it successfully for six months. After running its course, the GM asked Kohn for another promotion. He said he needed a few days to think about it.
That weekend, he was DJing a wedding in Southbury, Conn., when a few guests came over to his console and asked for Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”
Kohn’s reply: “Who’s Garth Brooks?”
A guest went to his car and retrieved a cassette. “I played the song and I noticed that 40 guests were doing a couples dance called the El Paso,” recalls Kohn. “A light bulb went off in my head. Could there be something to this? I started asking questions about this country dancing, and the guests told me that a venue in Milford called Ellery’s was doing country dancing a few times a week.”
That Tuesday, he went to Ellery’s and walked inside as Clarence Carter’s “Strokin’” blasted from the club speakers. “I thought, ‘This can’t be hard to do,’” says Kohn. “As I sat through the night and witnessed…, it was very interesting, to say the least. The DJ was playing music I had never heard before. There were not a lot of country dances in 1991.”
The next day, Kohn called country radio station WWYZ in Waterbury, and asked to speak to a sales rep. “I was very impressed with the number of households listening to country music,” he says.
Kohn set an appointment with El Torito, and on that Friday he pitched the GM on his country-music idea. The GM, fearing that the idea would turn his restaurant into the laughing stock of Danbury, was skeptical. Kohn asked him to try it for 30 days.
On opening night, Kohn hired a country band (The Texas Outlaws), a dance instructor and a DJ. “That first night,” he recalls, “we had 450 people—that was my start.”
Since then, Kohn has been a Connecticut cowboy, an ambassador of the belt-and-boot boogie, not only booking 70-percent of Premier’s gigs in country theme bars and restaurants, but also organizing more than 40 country-dance weekends in the Catskill Mountains and the first Country Dance Cruise (in 1992). He’s even opened concerts for the likes of Brooks and Dunn, Hank Williams, Jr., and Marty Stuart.
“Believe it or not,” says Kohn, “Connecticut is the country-line-dance capital on the East Coast—hard to believe, but true.”
Kohn says country music has been on the rise for the last five years. “It has gone mainstream, thanks to artists like Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney and Florida Georgia Line,” he says. “Reality shows on TV have really helped and, of course, social media.”
Kohn points to a club in Stamford called BarBQ. “There may be 500 to 600 customers ranging from 22 to 35, and they are singing the lyrics to [Frankie Ballard’s] ‘Sunshine and Whiskey’ and [Luke Bryan’s] ‘Play It Again’ and many more country tunes. BarBQ is surrounded by four bars and it happens to be the No. 1 bar in Stamford.”
Granted, there are still challenges to being a country DJ in Connecticut. “There is still the perception for brides and grooms to back off from hiring you for their wedding,” he says. “Sometimes the first thought is, ‘I don’t want that Yee Haw at my wedding.’ But country is mainstream enough today where that’s not a big deal.”
Premier, a multi-system operation that Kohn started in 1983, books about 15-percent weddings and 10-percent corporate, in addition to 70-percent of the bar/restaurants—in which he leads dances like All About the Bass, Timber, Dem Jeans, Talk Dirty, Bye Bye Bye and Shoop.
“The latest country-dance phenomenon is Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off,’” says Kohn. “It is the hottest dance that I have seen in a long time. It was choreographed by a member of the Premier Entertainment Dance Team, and I actually have venues and crowd shaking the club’s foundation singing the song.”
Kohn says most of Premier’s bookings come from word-of-mouth—and also from a crafty idea, a publication called Alan’s Gazette. “It’s a continuation of The Cowboy Beat, a country newspaper I owned in the 1990s,” says Kohn. “The Gazette has a life of its own. It’s a weekly newsletter that reaches thousands of people throughout the world. It’s a breakdown of all our events by dates and venues, and we have gotten quite a few gigs and signed club venues because of it.”
Premier’s gear includes Virtual DJ software, a Denon MC-6000 controller, Shure PGX4 wireless system with SM58/PGX2 mic, and lighting packages that include various ADJ and Chauvet units. His active PA system includes a dbx DriveRack PX optimizer, two JBL EON 515 speakers and an Electro-Voice ELX118P sub. His passive system includes two JBL MR925 speakers and a Crown Power Base-1 amp.
As a country-DJ thought leader, Kohn has helmed seminar panels/workshops at the past two DJ Expos—produced by DJ Times each August in Atlantic City, N.J. Last year, he brought in Danny Williams (Entertainment Director for the Electric Cowboy nightclub chain), a pair of radio/party jocks and members of his Premier Entertainment Dance Team. “I wanted to give fellow DJs a look of what the country industry has to offer,” he says. “The dancers taught a dance lesson and I explained the possibilities of making extra money in the field of country DJing. My goal was for everyone in the audience to say: ‘I can do this and it’s fun.’”
When I ask Kohn where he sees Premier in 10 years, he’s got a ready, if not specific, reply. “Premier Entertainment has a 10-year plan at the moment,” he says. “We are exploring different avenues to grow in the country and mainstream areas. Our goal is to grow every year. Keep an eye out for us.”