Say “Traxx Atlanta” and the first thing that comes to mind is a party, a good time. But there has been plenty of tragedy behind the velvet rope over the years for Traxx and its owner, Phillip Boone.
Two of Boone’s business partners have been killed, and their murders have never been solved. His cousin and business partner David Hampton was brutally slain in 1998, then the same thing happened to his close friend and business partner Durand Robinson in 2010.
But Boone, 51, and Traxx have endured the losses and the mystery to keep the party going for over 30 years now, providing quality nightlife entertainment geared toward gay African-Americans in Atlanta at their unofficial home, Club 708, and in several cities across the country.
The Detroit native spoke with the GA Voice as Black Gay Pride, Traxx and its female-centric spinoff Traxx Girls approached their biggest weekend of the year.
Phillip, what was it like growing up in Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s? I had a pretty good middle class upbringing, a good family. I was raised by a single mom, but overall I think it was a good childhood. Detroit has always been in a struggle but always had a ray of light, of hope. It’s a very resilient city with a unique, strong people. I’ve seen the ‘67 riot, I remember tanks going down the street. I’ve seen the city been burned down and you go back there now and a lot of areas still look like that because of plight and the auto industry going downhill. But there’s a lot of revitalization downtown.
When did you come out? I think I told my family at maybe 17 or 18. It was okay from my mother, [she was] very supportive.
How did you end up moving from Detroit to Atlanta? I went to ITT Tech in Detroit for two or three years but after that, the city was not a good place for someone of the age of 21 with the energy I had [laughs]. It was between Chicago and Atlanta and I chose Atlanta. I came down with my cousin who was going to Morehouse—David Hampton, God rest his soul. He was killed in 1998 and was one of the original founders of Traxx along with myself.
What were those early years like when you first moved to Atlanta in the mid-1980s? There was a very diverse but separate gay life here. There was a white gay life and a black gay life. There weren’t really many clubs of African-American ownership or that had promotions at that time. Some clubs here, and I won’t mention any names, at one time you needed three IDs to get in. Myself and my cousin saw that that wasn’t cool. So that’s when we started doing house parties at our apartment called K-11 which was at Atlanta Overlook at 180 Jackson Street. We started doing parties under the name of Ritz Boyz about 1985 and it just grew from there. I was also working at Dante’s Down the Hatch at that time.
What were the parties like? They were $5 to get in, all you could drink. That grew so much that we started renting different facilities in the city. We were doing them at dives, we were young, we did rooftop parties at the Atlantan. We eventually had a place downtown at 61 Poplar Street, that’s where it became Traxx Atlanta around 1989.
How is black gay nightlife in Atlanta different between then and now? Back then, you had only your safe havens where you could go and be comfortable and be you and that’s what we created. Now people can go to any club here now and feel comfortable being gay, especially in Atlanta. It’s different out there—out with the big clubs, in with the lounges and more intimacy.
The party scene here in Atlanta is in transition. And with the internet and other things, you’ve gotta really be creative with how you try to entertain your clients. You have people doing more monthly parties and special events than weekly parties.
Then you have the people within the community where the younger people don’t want to be with the older people, the femmes don’t want to be with the trade, the trade don’t want to be with the queens.
The issue of HIV/AIDS, especially in young African-American men, has been a major issue these last few years. How does Traxx handle that conversation? You know, I try to work with all of the nonprofits here. I started doing parties with In the Life Atlanta back in 1992. We have condoms of course in the clubs, but I think we’re still fighting an uphill battle because when I go onto various websites to promote parties, I see people on there saying they’d have sex with no condoms and I feel people really haven’t woken up. I don’t know if it’s just a young hormonal thing and you find yourself in the heat of passion but the awareness needs to be out there. The fight is not over.
Your cousin and business partner David Hampton’s murder is still unsolved, right? No, I don’t think [the police] did [solve it] but we have reason to suspect a person who did it who seemingly disappeared after that time period. Months later you hear through the grapevine that this person moved back somewhere and something happened to them. We miss [Hampton] much. It was never a closed case and we’re just still kind of empty about it.
Your friend and business partner Durand Robinson was killed four years ago this month. What do you miss most about him? He was a very caring, giving person. One of our jokes was we wanted to open a house for him just so he could shelter people because he was one of those people who, if you were ever in need of anything like shelter, food, a talk, he would be there. He’s very missed.
How has Black Gay Pride changed over the years? It’s gotten bigger. It’s getting better. We’re just looking for the next level that we’d like to take it to, which is more streamlining everyone together under one umbrella like an Essence [Music Festival] kind of feeling, making it all one package rather than separate entities.
So what’s next for you and Traxx? Just taking a break from doing parties and concentrating on a new relaunch of the Traxx brand and special event company coming in the future. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I’ve lost two partners and I just had to sit back for a minute and re-evaluate why I’m doing this and what does the community need right now and what can I offer them that would be different from a weekly party. So look forward to the relaunch of Traxx coming soon.