The Man of Many Talents: How ‘Pepe’ Dueño Changed Live Entertainment in Puerto Rico

The Promoter OF PUERTO RICO: José “Pepe” Dueño (left) — pictured with Jay Wheeler, his business partner Steve Sybesma and Wheeler’s manager Luis Suárez — has brought some of the biggest acts to Puerto Rico, including Elton John, Bon Jovi and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Photo courtesy of José Dueño

Name any major artist and it is likely José “Pepe” Dueño not only crossed paths with that person but worked with them producing a show in Puerto Rico. With his company, Jose Dueño Entertainment, he’s not just a promoter, he is the promoter.

“My presence and impact doing shows in Puerto Rico has been intense to the level – and I say this modestly – that when I say my name anywhere I go, they know I’m the promoter,” Dueño tells Pollstar.

He’s certainly earned the article in front of his profession having produced nearly 1,000 concerts in his native land, which Dueño claims is a record – and it’s not even close.

“For just an island, I can humbly say that there’s no other promoter that has done maybe 100 in their career,” he says.

Dueño, 61, and his business partner Steve Sybesma are the reason superstars such as Madonna and Elton John made the trip to Puerto Rico. He changed the live entertainment game in his homeland in 1987 with an act that was on the rise and happened to have the No. 1 song the same night they played in Puerto Rico. The band was Bon Jovi.

“Every single eye in the industry was looking at us and wondering, ‘Who are the promoters promoting Bon Jovi? And in Puerto Rico?’” says Dueño. “I will say for sure it put us on the map.”

Soon after, Dueño’s phone was ringing off the hook and Puerto Rico became a destination for global superstars practically overnight.

Well before the game-changing concert, Dueño always had a knack for selling and promoting shows having organized school dances as a teenager and DJing marquesinas, social gatherings at carports where much of Puerto Rico’s music developed. After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, Dueño flew to New York at 23 years old to give the live entertainment industry a shot despite having no experience.

“At the beginning, it was terrible because I was still learning,” Dueño says. “I lost money to production costs, I had to borrow money from the bank. I cried. I felt frustrated. I felt that maybe I had to call it off and go back to Puerto Rico to find a job.

“But something told me don’t quit yet. One more try. And that’s when I got my opportunity.”

Dueño went against the grain by seeking English-language performers. At the time, the big promoters in Puerto Rico focused on Latin music and rarely ventured outside of the genre.

“It was different with Americans because you put up guaranteed money and take all the risk,” Dueño says. “The other promoters didn’t like that very much, and I took that risk that not many wanted to do in Puerto Rico. That opened up my inventory because they were willing to work with me.”

Now, Dueño is taking another risk in promoting reggaeton artist Jay Wheeler and producing his shows from the ground up, having a say in the stage, lights and shows. He believes the tour will go into 2024 with stops all over the world, including Europe.
“It has been interesting, and I like it more,” Dueño says. “It gives me more satisfaction when you see the final product because you were part of that.”

And he’s already calling his shot on Wheeler: “Probably, [one of his new songs] will be considered for the Latin Grammys. They’re good songs.”

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