Bayou City

Infiltrating Houston's Ritzy Super Bowl Party Scene

Houston rapper Travis Scott had the headlining honors.
Houston rapper Travis Scott had the headlining honors. Photo by Mai Pham
The orange MAXIM wristband is still around my wrist.

I’ve done music festivals and left that small reminder of my attendance on my body for a couple of days. Those were mostly about grabbing artists, plopping them down in some random venue and begging people to randomly display vulgar abilities of power. A Super Bowl party is a different breed. It’s where the famous Hunter S. Thompson quote about nobody offering him cocaine in Houston at Super Bowl VIII sounds benign. Because you think everybody is on something.

click to enlarge Models like these gave the party an over-the-top Vegas flavor. - PHOTO BY TASOS KATOPODIS/GETTY IMAGES FOR MAXIM
Models like these gave the party an over-the-top Vegas flavor.
Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Maxim
It is a magical realm of high theatrics, VIP guests, high-powered exotic cars and big money. Where someone like Flo-Rida can endure to one slice of America for a $200,000 one-night-only performance fee. Where philanthropists can book DNCE, DJ Khaled and Travis Scott to perform in front of scantily clad models, patrons with free drinks on their mind and celebrities. Be damned if there’s a BMX jump ramp positioned outside a few feet away from the red carpet. Or a banal cache of sports memorabilia to line up your bar or personal sports-themed oasis. Super Bowl parties exist solely for debauchery, to be noticed. To have housewives blindly ignore their husbands while NFLers hit on them for the good of the gander.

If Sugar Land’s brand-new Smart Financial Center offered a winding spree of traffic cones and security officials that were easily swayed by the word “MEDIA,” the Playboy Party downtown at Spire offered none of it. There were photographs with a motorcycle, plenty of tightly dressed women whose playbook for the evening involved “breast-tape optional” and “save my battery for Snapchat and Instagram purposes." The chocolate fountain of Playboy Party lore was, sadly, absent. But there was Flo Rida, and there were people championing to hear “Low” like it was 2009.

click to enlarge L-R: JinJoo Lee of DNCE, Fergie and Ludacris - PHOTO BY TASOS KATOPODIS/GETTY IMAGES FOR MAXIM
L-R: JinJoo Lee of DNCE, Fergie and Ludacris
Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Maxim
Inside of Smart Financial, some 20 minutes away, people swayed while DJ Khaled tried his damnedest to get people moving. Play “Poison”? Nothing. Play the Drake song from your album? Nothing. Venture back to “This Is How We Do It” but stay away from “Return of the Mack?” Khaled tried. He wanted to turn Smart Financial into New Year’s Eve. Everyone was too self-absorbed and wondering when actual excitement would occur. As he played “Controlla,” I overheard someone closely tied to the event tell us the cost of a bottle for the evening. Her answer? $12,000.

To put it bluntly, the MAXIM Super Bowl party is part booze-filled gala where there’s an off chance you may be drunkenly standing next to your boss, and part side-eyeing people who think you’re special because you know all the words to a certain rap song. Even the celebrities, such as Terrell Owens, can feel ostracized and, in his case, be taken as a piece of a living museum when onlookers see him and plead their cases for how he should have made the Hall of Fame.

The event's producers, Thomas J. Henry and Karma International, made it certain that the venue would rival the extravagance of Vegas. There were sculptures and dancers on platforms in barely-there lingerie. Many women wore ball gowns and matching dresses unsuspectingly. It was glorious for the over-the-top extravagance of it all. To the point that regulars, who didn’t deck themselves out in suits and wheel exotic cars, tried to jump over into VIP. Few succeeded but after a while, a police officer shut it down. VIP is never that mandatory, even when you accidentally sit in DJ Khaled’s section hours before the headliner is set to perform. Even if the price to gain access into this Houston-style take on Las Vegas was $750. There’s so much going on inside that it’s an adult, man-centric sensory overload of strobe lights, women who would double as dream dates any other day of the year, high-priced cars and bronzer. Oh, the bronzer.

Say for example you wanted to get a decent shot of women suspended mid-air as in Cirque du Soleil. Joe Jonas and company want to give you the idea that you’re about to enter the tantric sex dance party from the second Matrix movie. You budge, but then slide your head over to notice a girl in a barely-there dress standing next to a dude bro in white sneakers and a T-shirt. You look down at your press suit and open shirt and wonder, “There really are two dress codes for these things.”

The Maxim crowd
Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Maxim
By the time you begin exiting the party, the high still sticks with you. The double helixes that appear out of nowhere that probably doubled as perfect Travis Scott performance apparatuses are just extra. All of it, from the red carpet to the twisting maze of Ferraris, high-end BMWs and women doing their best not to puke on their shoes is a glimpse at how a high-ticket man prom can look and feel. There were very few conversations about politics, even if there was Trump-themed memorabilia casually marked up with deserved expletives. Maxim chose a mind-blowing man cave for its 2017 Super Bowl party. It succeeded, even as the smell of mixed alcohol chased the air and various side conversations about boredom littered my head.

When I ventured back downtown, all I saw was a line stretched around the building. People roaring outside, ecstatic that the Playboy party did indeed give them what they wanted. Even if they didn’t share my night in Sugar Land, the high was sort of the same.

Everybody wants to ball at a Super Bowl party. But only those with the wallets and stomachs for it can become the hedonistic gluttons our egos could only dream of. BRANDON CALDWELL

click to enlarge The revelry in full swing at Rolling Stone Live - PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
The revelry in full swing at Rolling Stone Live
Photo by Marco Torres
Life is all about taking chances. When word about Rolling Stone Live leaked, I knew it would be one of the best parties of Houston's Super Bowl week. The Museum of Fine Arts has always found a way to host events that can be described as legendary. Remember the closing of the Basquiat exhibit back in 2006 when Grandmaster Flash made us all remember why we love hip-hop in the first place? Or the time Shepard Fairey came to town and almost got arrested by HPD, and then later DJed an amazing party at this very location? I wondered what kind of awesome and unexpected surprises I could uncover at this gig, if only I could get inside.

This event was also to serve as the kickoff to the magazine's 50th anniversary, which it will celebrate later this year. To help out with the grandeur of the event, musical performers included Nas, Diplo and Big Sean.

click to enlarge Alyssa Milano walks the red carpet. - PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Alyssa Milano walks the red carpet.
Photo by Marco Torres
The red carpet was cool, but eerily quiet. Even some of the talent who walked along to be photographed commented on the lack of shouting or music or chaos. I guess we are just that much more polite here in Texas. Musicians, football players and Real Housewives of Atlanta dominated the red carpet, but it was actress Alyssa Milano who stole the show with her beautiful smile.

Thanks to my amigo DJ Playboy's connection with Diplo's record label, Mad Decent, I secured entry as his plus one and we were escorted inside. A Budweiser backstage lounge awaited us as we arrived, with two cold ones in our hands just seconds after entry. We could hear Nas behind the wall already running through his hits, such as "The World Is Yours" and "N.Y. State Of Mind." The crowd in front of the stage was certainly feeling his lyrics and attitude, sometimes menacing but always cool. Upstairs, high rollers played and drank in their expensive private sections, which included bottles and mixers, and a comfy couch to rest your feet on. The balcony was also the best view in the house.

click to enlarge Diplo - PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Photo by Marco Torres
The event ended on a high note with a fun solo DJ set by Diplo. From rock to funk, Latin beats, EDM and back to hip-hop, the Major Lazer frontman definitely provided amazing energy and a superb music selection. A surprise special guest performance by rapper Busta Rhymes elevated the night into legendary status.

A who's who of Houston could be seen at the party, from Houston rappers Willie D and Slim Thug to Houston Texans guard Duane Brown and his wife, Devi Dev, as well as Houston Rockets forward Sam Dekker. Everyone was dressed like a million bucks and having a blast. Can we please host the Super Bowl every year?! MARCO TORRES

click to enlarge Saturday's party was the first of many events celebrating Rolling Stone's 50th anniversary this year. - PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Saturday's party was the first of many events celebrating Rolling Stone's 50th anniversary this year.
Photo by Marco Torres
click to enlarge Busta Rhymes - PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Busta Rhymes
Photo by Marco Torres
click to enlarge NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. - PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
NFL star Odell Beckham Jr.
Photo by Marco Torres
click to enlarge Nas - PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Photo by Marco Torres

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell
When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Houston Press contributor Marco points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond.