(Original Photo By: Kaitlin Parry)
1993 was a life-changing year for Donnie Estopinal, aka Disco Donnie. This is the year that he attended his first underground dance event and was immediately blown away by the culture and atmosphere. He felt like he had entered a whole new world. After attending this event, he wanted to help spread the word about the rave subculture. He would pick up flyers and hand them out to people around town on his own. At first he did this for free, but eventually other promoters noticed and wanted to hire him under their team. After a year of promoting, in 1994 he decided to throw one of his own raves at just the ripe age of 22. He would work at his mother’s CPA (Certified Public Accountant) firm during the day and stay up all night hosting some of the biggest parties, and he experienced a lot of success. He went under 15 different aliases so that he could throw raves every week. Even though he was set to take over his mother’s firm once she retired, he decided to follow his own path and turn this hobby of throwing events into a sustainable career.
He lived in New Orleans and began throwing less, but even bigger events at theatres. He threw about 12-13 per year and people would travel from all over. These events sold tickets in over 20 states. As we know, success doesn’t come easy and at times it might bring us some trouble. In 2000, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began raiding many of these raves and underground events because they were worried about drug use. The DEA used the “crack house” law to their defense. This law was created in 1986 “to punish the owners or operators of houses used to manufacture, store, distribute, or use illegal drugs.” In August of the same year, the police began their investigation on Disco Donnie Presents. They would go undercover and purchase drugs from some of the attendees at Donnie’s shows. They had a theory that employees were smuggling drugs into the sound equipment and then selling them to those in attendance. So, the force opened up a bunch of their sound equipment as a result, but found nothing.
In the fall of 2000, Donnie turned himself in, but he was released after one day. During this time, Donnie felt very alone because he had to remain silent and was unable to talk to anyone about the matter. He went before the judge, but plead not guilty. Had he plead guilty then he could have faced up to 20 years in prison with $500,000 in fines. Not to mention all other promoters in the U.S. would have been affected as well. He waited for the federal government to send him to trial, but they never did. With an outpour of support from family, other promoters, radio stations, the media, lawyers, etc. the case was closed and he was able to continue hosting events.
After these investigations, things started to take a turn for the worse in the dance music scene. The DEA went in front of Congress and lobbied them to pass legislation (the R.A.V.E. Act) to essentially prevent these events from happening. In addition, an economic downturn and the devastating blow of 9/11 left festivals with the inability to sell tickets, and they began to cancel. A lot of people left the scene and only the “older” ravers remained. Numbers were cut in half over the span of a year. DJs, agents, and promoters all dropped out as well.
So what does Donnie do when times get tough? He perseveres. After getting married and having a kid at 30, he moved to Columbus, Ohio and began hosting events there, as well as surrounding cities such as Cincinnati, Nashville, Cleveland, and Detroit. He continued throwing shows in New Orleans too. He was the only promoter in Columbus at the time. In the mid-2000s, he did a lot of tours for artists and hosted 50-60% of dance music shows in the States. He did this with very little money. In 2008, he rolled his company into LA-based Insomniac Events. Since Electric Daisy Carnival was such a success in LA, he wanted to take it to other cities as well. He helped Insomniac founder, Pasquale Rotella, take this festival to New York, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Puerto Rico. After a lot of success, however, their relationship went south in April 2012.
Despite the fact that there is a lot of risk and doubt involved, Donnie continues to follow his dreams. He left Insomniac and became the first EDM-focused company to be bought by Robert F.X. Sillerman’s corporation, SFX. Now, Disco Donnie Presents puts on some of the biggest festivals including Sunset Music Festival in Tampa, Florida, UME in South Padre Island, Texas, Something Wicked in Houston, and Sun City in El Paso, Texas. He does all of this while also being a husband and raising his two sons. There are times when he finds it difficult to go from being a promoter and then flying home and switching to a fatherly role. He said, “I’ve put my wife through a lot of unnecessary stress. It has taken me awhile to mature. It has been very hard, but I’m starting to find a balance.” He brings his sons and wife to shows, and tries to go to as many sporting and school events as possible. He has to miss things sometimes, but he hopes that when they are older, his kids will understand that he is a promoter for a greater purpose. Not only does he want to continue to follow his heart, but at the end of the day he is helping people experience happiness and peace. He wants to be a voice for people who wish to pursue their passions. People expect to have their whole lives lined up by their mid-20s. Donnie believes it is important to take your time, do what you love to do, and then figure your life out once you’ve really taken time to LIVE.
Watch Aspire to Inspire Live featuring Disco Donnie here: