Upon waiting in the architectural masterpiece that is the Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan, I watched the tall, somewhat svelte, 29 year-old make his way towards me. After many observations at many events around New York City, I’ve always thought that I would be met with a somewhat timid demeanor from the budding star, should I ever find the chance to actually meet him. All preconceived notions however, were tossed out of the looming glass windows surrounding me, as Kameron McCullough – Director of sales strategy at Esquire Magazine and the proclaimed “Godfather” of one of the country’s hottest parties – met me with a firm handshake and a swift kiss on the cheek. “Danielle!”, he said as he greeted me. “So nice to meet you, how are you?” as he ushered me to the security desk for my visitor’s pass. While we gabbed about the weather, I immediately detected why this man was quickly becoming the social king of New York – and why my initial thoughts of timidness were dashed. Possessing an infectious smile as wide as the enormous lobby we were standing in, with a “boy next door” charm, it’s hard not to take an instant liking to the young entrepreneur. There is an art form to throwing the perfect party, and McCullough, the Harlem born, Buffalo, NY raised socialite has effortlessly mastered it over the years – and I was eager to pick his brain on just how exactly he did it.
McCullough’s start in the party promotion business began in 2002 as a freshman at Buffalo State College, where he essentially was the street team for the house party scene in Buffalo. He credits long time friend and mentor Bart Williams, with his start on the promo scene. “Back then, the promotions business was something that was a very big deal.” says McCullough. “Bart [Williams] is probably the smartest man I’ve ever met in my life. He just knew how to attack the business from a logistical standpoint and essentially, I became his apprentice,” adding that he became the brand ambassador of sorts for the party circuit around Buffalo State. “[Bart] had the vision but in a sense lacked the people skills that drew them to the parties. So that’s where I came in.” While learning the tricks of the trade, as well as picking up a bartending certification along the way, his love for creating a good time for those around him never faltered, as he took his talents back to his home-base of Harlem, NYC.
Though McCullough is seemingly sitting on top of the world as of late, with multiple features in major media outlets such as Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Baller Alert, it wasn’t always easy for the rising phenom. After taking a major paycut to do what he thought he loved, the promoter was gainfully employed by popular magazine GQ. “I had a lot of internal battles,” he says. “70 hours a week in the finance industry just wasn’t for me. Needless to say throwing parties stopped for awhile as well.” Finally working his way up to a full time position in Women’s Wear Daily a short while later, he was later fired from the company, citing creative differences in the workplace. “It just wasn’t a good fit at all,” said McCullough, shaking his head in memory. “Everyone thought that position would be a good fit for me and it just wasn’t. But it taught me a lot.” And while dealing with ending a long-term romantic relationship shortly there after, almost nothing came easy to the twenty-something. “2012 was probably the worst year of my life thus far,” says McCullough. “For the first time I didn’t feel invincible. I didn’t feel like I could talk my way through anything. It began an internal struggle of really trying to know myself.” Though it was difficult and a bit deflating for the then 27 year old, he refused to give in, and used the hard times to his advantage. “That year was the year I would say I became a man,” said McCullough. “I said to myself that I wasn’t going back home to live with my parents and I wasn’t going to stop trying.”Still in a funk from the events that surrounded the year, McCullough decided to throw a small gathering for him and a few close friends in his apartment as a way to close out the year on a positive note. “When I threw this party, it literally happened by accident. I hadn’t thrown a party in so long, probably since my birthday that year – which sucked.” “I literally sent a text to a few people and said to bring a bottle and come through for a game night,” he said. “Then we added the hashtag #HennyPalooza as a joke. It was literally all jokes, because it [Henny Palooza] is just something silly we came up with.” From there, the unprecedented life that grew from the intimate, “feel good” gathering took a form of its own. “I walked to the store to get ice, came back 10 minutes later, and there were a line of people waiting to get in. Joe Budden and Tahiry were tweeting about it,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t know Joe from a hole in the wall at that point. I couldn’t believe it.” The word of mouth triumph didn’t stop there however, as the popularity of the party grew overnight with tweets from just about everyone around New York City. It’s interesting to note just how much it’s the first party to claim success because of the popular social media platform, Twitter. “I remember waking up the next morning and checking my timeline in disbelief” says McCullough. “Then I remember Low turning to me and saying ‘Listen, you might really have something here.”
“At the first unofficial [Henny Palooza], we had a bunch of random games, people were playing flip cup, you know, twister, all that.. .”
I interrupt his reminiscing: “Wait – Twister?! Could you imagine now, what that would be like?!”
He laughs hard and rubs his temples. “Oh my – no. People can barely keep their clothes on now! I couldn’t even – no. Oh my God, it’s…out of control!!”
And that he did. Two years post of what has now become the legendary tale of HennyPalooza, the party – and McCullough’s stock – has soared to heights unfathomable by most. With great success comes great burden however, which proved to be evident during the two-year anniversary event last December. “I think that was the first party we’ve thrown where we didn’t get 100% positive feedback,” he says. “For that I take the blame absolutely.” Though there might have been hiccups along the way, McCullough promises that there will better execution moving forward. “After [Forbes] published that piece on us, the interest went to an all time high. It changed everything for us going forward.” “There’s so much more to be done. We didn’t expect this much recognition.”
With the wheels spinning in rapid rotation following their successful 2014 run, expect to see more HennyPalooza talk across your timeline for the remainder of the year. Taking the party on a “tour” of sorts, with stops in Atlanta, Houston and overseas to Bermuda, within the first half of the year, in addition to being in talks with Hennesey US for corporate sponsorship, don’t expect this well-oiled machine to stop producing anytime soon. “At the core of it all, I’m a consumer first and I’m about the consumer’s needs,” says McCullough. “We’re working on ironing out the kinks and making it easier for everyone, especially for those that have been with us from the beginning.” Through it all, the creator preaches that he wouldn’t have made it this far without the support of the team surrounding him. “When you have people like Lowkey, Kaz, Austin Millz, and all of the familiar faces you see at every party, it feels almost like a family for everyone. That’s the authenticity of it. Nobody is above anyone else here.”
As we neared the end of our meeting, with Kam feverishly checking the notifications on his phone, I pushed to ask him one last question before he dashed off to his desk. “What was the best HennyPalooza moment for you?” I hastly asked. His rushed demeanor changed instantly as he sat back and reflected with that familiar poignant smile. “I think the moment that really put things into perspective for me was when we were in DC [in 2014]. Kaz, I can’t thank him enough; it happened because of him. But when Pusha T came through after he said he wanted to attend – and he came in so quietly too – and gave that improptu performance. I saw the crowd’s reaction. That was the moment for me that I really was like ‘Wow. We’re really doing this. There’s no coming back from that.'” He paused and laughed a bit at the memory of the crowd erupting. “People paid $40 and got to see a Wale and Pusha T concert and didn’t even know it! I didn’t even know! Just….incredible…”
Henny Palooza returns to NYC Memorial Day Weekend 2015! For more information on all upcoming events, check out Hennypalooza.com and be sure to follow Kam on twitter now! And if you’re looking for a place to vacation for July 4th weekend, check out more information on #HennyPalooza Bermuda edition here!
*All images via theStashed