Written by Matt Kalkhoff
This NYC master mixer’s evolving style keeps him relevant — in the DJ booth and the recording studio.
They say if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. That’s doubly true for creative types, who must compete with the best and brightest. Even more impressive are those rare and exceptional individuals who manage to accomplish their goals in multiple genres. Meet Randy Bettis. This Renaissance man’s dancing, acrobatic, and DJ skills have brought him renown in all those disciplines. Now focusing on music production and remixing, he’s gearing up to conquer yet another field.
His personal odyssey began in 1985, when he moved from Nashville, where he danced with a troupe at Opryland USA, to New York City to pursue a career on Broadway. He soon landed a gig touring with a production of Cats in Germany. When he returned to New York in 1987, three different stints in Cats followed, as did parts in the critically acclaimed revival of Guys & Dolls, and the highly successful and long-running Miss Saigon.
In 1992, he performed in a show at Walt Disney World in Orlando. That same year, he eclipsed a pre-superstar Britney Spears when his dance group “Boys Back East” was crowned Grand Champion Dance Team on CBS’s Star Search. Incidentally, veteran Broadway performer Marty Thomas beat out Spears in that year’s Junior Vocalist competition. Thomas is now collaborating with Bettis on music production.
Like all dancers, Bettis had to face the fact that all that hoofing tears up the body, and a dancer has a relatively short shelf life. So he began exploring other, lower impact, creative outlets. A major fan of dance music and club culture, Bettis attended Miami’s Winter Music Conference in 1997 and had his “Eureka!” moment. DJing, he decided, would be a perfect fit for his particular interests and skill set. He proved to be a natural at the craft and soon landed house party gigs for his Broadway pals that eventually caught the eyes and ears of two of New York’s then-biggest party promoters, Marc Berkley and John Blair.
Bookings for smaller gigs began trickling in, in Manhattan and on Fire Island. Eventually, he landed a coveted weekly residence at Splash. That helped Bettis establish a loyal local fan base as well as worldwide name recognition, thanks to the many out-of-town visitors for whom a night at the popular Chelsea club is considered as essential as a trip to the Statue of Liberty.
Breakthoughs: Winter Party, Black Party, Pier Dance
His first big break on the nationwide DJ scene happened in 2001, when Bettis was selected to participate in Winter Party’s annual DJ Showcase. “It was the first time that people outside of the New York club scene had a chance to hear me,” he recalls. “Tony Moran was one of the organizers that year, and that’s when I first came under his eye.” The showcase also introduced Bettis to Corbett Reynolds of the Columbus Red Party, and both connections helped pave the way for future success.
It was in 2005, though, when Bettis’ (second) career really skyrocketed with three high-profile bookings. First there was the Saint at Large’s New Year’s Day party, Escape to Candyland, at Capitale. When he was put on the roster to do the coveted Morning Music segment at the Black Party in March, it marked his arrival as a major Circuit DJ. Heritage of Pride chose him to open its gargantuan Dance on the Pier, the capper to New York’s Pride March and, like the Black Party, one of the best-known parties in the world.
Residencies at Limelight, Sound Factory, Stereo, Blu, XL, The Monster, and Pavilion in New York and Fire Island soon followed. Bettis is also unusual in having regular gigs in clubs in other cities, such as Velvet Nation and Town Danceboutique in Washington; in Provincetown; at Philadelphia’s Pure; Steel in Fort Lauderdale; RSVP cruises; and the party for which he has become most closely associated, Gay Days in Orlando, Florida. The latter spawned the nationwide Gay Days Tour. Bettis has helmed eight well-received Gay Days CDs for Centaur Music, as well as the White Party and Cherry CDs, as part of the label’s prolific Party Groove series.
Retooling Gay Days
Bettis is looking forward to touring again this summer in support of his latest Gay Days CD, but is planning to retool the concept to give audiences a slightly different and more innovative experience. “With anything that’s been around a while, people want something new and fresh,” Bettis says. “People used to love getting a physical CD to commemorate the party, but now with digital downloads being the norm, all you have to hand them is a card, which doesn’t feel as special. So we’re working on reinventing the tour to appeal to the next generation.”
For the better part of the last decade, Bettis has been exclusively associated with one of his personal favorites, the pool parties during Gay Days. This year, he’s ratcheting it up a bit to play another water-inspired event, Riptide, the signature event at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. “It’s an event I’ve always wanted to play,” Bettis admits. “But I never thought I’d be asked to play it because I do the Gay Days pool parties every year, which aren’t affiliated. So I thought it might be a conflict of interest.” Luckily, the event organizers at Broward House, Broward County, Florida’s oldest and largest non-profit HIV/AIDS community service organization for which the party is a fundraiser, felt differently. So with Gay Days’ blessing, Bettis will play one of the weekend’s largest events, mixing it up for an estimated 6,000 soaking wet revelers on Friday, June 3.
Also on the horizon is a headlining gig in Provincetown during the hot-hot-hot July Fourth Weekend. He’ll be spinning the Pier Dance on McMillan Pier as part of David Flower’s Summer Camp. Bettis considers it “a much more manageable kind of Pier Dance. It feels like you’re at the end of the world, on the ocean, partying with a smaller group of friends.”
Involvement With AIDS Causes
On Sunday, June 19, Bettis continues his long involvement with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS when he will DJ the enormous — and enormously successful event — at Roseland Ballroom. Bettis has played a pivotal role in nearly all of the annual benefits for the group’s events since its inception in 1990: first as a featured dancer for several early years; then as the evening’s DJ for all but one of the remaining years since.
In his spare time (yes, somehow he manages to find it), Bettis does a weekly mixshow on G.I.R.L. (Gay Internet Radio Live) and a satellite broadcast on Sirius Radio’s OutQ Saturday Night Out. He also acts as a reporting DJ for Billboard and is a member of the Recording Academy, meaning his vote helps determine who receives Grammy Awards.
Bettis revels in finding — and creating — fresh remixes of old classics. He’s been known to drop updated versions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon,” Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” and his personally remixed cover by Jason Walker of one of his favorite club hits, Sabrina Johnson’s “What Hope Have I.” Bettis is currently working with his BetBoyz production partner, composer/arranger David Boyd (whose many credits include writing the music for the off-Broadway smash My Big Gay Italian Wedding), on a cover of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” with singer Matt Zarley. The single is going to be released as a benefit for The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to preventing suicides in the LGBTQ community. Last year, he produced a Pride anthem, “Pride Is the Word.”
Like any good DJ, Bettis’ sound has evolved over the years. “My night tells a story,” Bettis explains of his core philosophy. “I still think of it in respect to having a dialogue with the audience. It’s really about the vocals telling a story.” But lately he’s been transitioning into newer ground, experimenting with a more progressive sound, a “House party DJ with a big room sound. I think music got a little thin or a little dark for a while,” he notes. “I was having trouble trying to figure out which direction I wanted to go in. But I think now I find myself going much more for a bigger room sound, a more tribal sound, with more of a world feel.”
Along with further developing his remix skills and working more on the engineering side of things, Bettis is looking to play more international gigs. He’d particularly like to check out hot spots like Barcelona, Brazil and London, all nightlife Meccas. “I just want to go and see how people react to dance music, and just learn from difference cultures,” he says. “For me, that’s the next step.”
Typhoon Lagoon @ Disney (Orlando)
Black & Blue (Montreal)
The Week (São Paulo)
Circuit Festival (Barcelona)
Mardi Gras (Sydney)
Where Nightlife Surprised Me
Shanghai (D2 Nightclub)
Indianapolis (Talbott Street)
Saugatuck (The Dunes)
Charlotte (The Eagle)
Ogunquit (Mainestreet Nightclub)
Favorite Club Reworks
Band of Gold by Kimberley Locke (Almighty Club Mix)
Relight My Fire by Ricky Martin ft. Loleatta Holloway (Hex Hector Club Mix)
Don’t Stop Believing by Brian Kent (Keith Haarmeyer Remix)
Saturday Night Sunday Morning by T-Empo Feat. Juliet Roberts (T-Empo Club Mix)
If You Could Read My Mind by Stars on 54 (Amber, Ultra Nate & Jocelyn Enriquez) (Hex Hector Club Mix)
Favorite Summer Classics
Life, Love & Happiness by Brian Kennedy (Jimmy Gomez Club Mix)
Breathe by Vick Moore (Club Mix)
High by Lighthouse Family (Original Vocal Mix)
Looking At You by Sunscreem (Jimmy Gomez Club Mix)
Let The Sunshine In by Milk & Sugar (all mixes)
I met Randy before he exploded onto the scene at Blu in NYC. That was an incredible club that unfortunately did not last for very long. It has been incredible watching him evolve. I loved your article because it taught me many things about Randy that I had not yet discovered during our shared on- and off-the-dance-floor experiences. All I can add to what you have already said, is that his level of fame has not gone to his head. He, along with his partner, Shaun, are still the most down-to-earth, accessible, loveable people that anyone could meet. As a graduate of the NYU school of Journalism, I think your article, Mr. Kalkhoff, was a very good example of very good journalism. Excellent. Thank-you.
By Bobby Brady on 07-26-2011
I am happy to say that through the years of knowing Randy on a personal and professional level, he continues to strive to bring love, joy and happiness to his audience. I have worked with him on two major events for two charities in the Pines. He always gives with so much enthusiasm that it makes you want to do your best. I am honored to know him and count him as a friend. Thank you so much for such a wonderful article.
By Patty Rosado on 07-27-2011
Watching Randy from early on, I’ve always been amazed at how he managed to soar to the top without a lot of fanfare. It’s a reflection of his quiet, unassuming and very warm personality. A beautiful human being.
By Dennis Serrisane on 11-09-2011
randy is one of the sweetest and most incredible gymnasts i’ve ever met.
By jim ruttman on 04-02-2013