When Jonathan Verdejo was a child, he would accompany his dad to band rehearsals and fall asleep in his father's guitar case.
Verdejo grew up in Los Angeles with a family passionate about music. His father and grandfather were both guitarists and passed their love and talent for music down to him.
Now, Verdejo and his wife, Lisa Wampler, are co-owners of Blue Diamond Events in Columbia.
Blue Diamond Events offers DJ, emcee, lighting, photo booth and decor rentals, planning services and event design for weddings.
The company’s extension, XSIV Entertainment, provides the same services for corporate events, private parties, school dances and more. Verdejo and Wampler both work as DJs and emcees for the company in addition to being its owners and operators.
The couple started Blue Diamond Events in 2011 when they were living in Las Vegas. Verdejo had already been working as a DJ, and the two decided to team up and use their talents to create a "real" business.
By the time the pair left Las Vegas for Columbia in 2015, Blue Diamond was holding its own in the competitive Vegas market.
"When we came out here, we just blew up," Verdejo said of the move to Missouri. "We got really busy really fast. Every year that we've been back here to Columbia, the number of events that we do has gone up."
Although Verdejo and Wampler were having a lot of success booking weddings, they realized they weren’t getting as many corporate events, school dances or Greek life parties. So they decided to expand and target a new demographic.
"I actually got the idea from Coca Cola," he said.
Sprite is a Coca Cola product, noted on the back of the can. Sprite has its own branding and colors, so Verdejo decided to adopt the idea.
And thus, XSIV (pronounced "excessive") Entertainment was born. Verdejo said all of the behind-the-scenes work and staff are the same. The only difference is the type of event serviced.
For both companies, Verdejo is billed as a bilingual DJ and emcee. He’s traveled as far as Des Moines to DJ a wedding in Spanish and English. In whatever language he’s using, Verdejo said his favorite part of the job is the crowd.
"It's not easy to build the energy on the dance floor and to be able to make that connection with people to the point where they're having so much fun," he said.
The reaction he gets mixing one song with another shows him the crowd is enjoying it.
"That makes me get even more into it," he said. "It's like a circle, a symbiotic relationship."
At some weddings, couples will warn him that their guests aren’t likely to be very "dancy." Verdejo prides himself on turning that notion upside down.
"I end up rocking the dance floor, and people are dancing all night,” he said. "They want to keep going, but we have to shut it down because the venue's closing."
Verdejo learned the ability to work a crowd at a young age while watching his father perform at family events with his band. He began to learn music himself when he was about 7.
Although guitar runs in the family, he wanted to do something different. He picked up a keyboard because he wanted to learn how to play "I Need Love" by LL Cool J.
At 8, Verdejo’s father bought him a drum set. At 12, Verdejo picked up the trumpet and played at a church where his father led the music ministry. At 14, he learned bass and finally the guitar. He was a natural.
"I had been around it so long and just heard my dad doing things like tuning the guitar for so long and so many times, I had developed an ear for it," he said.
He knew how the guitar was supposed to sound in tune, so he could tune the guitar by ear at 14.
"I remember my dad being so amazed at that, saying, ‘Wow, a lot of people spend years playing, and they never pick this up.’"
DJing was actually the last thing Verdejo learned. His father needed help running the soundboard at church, so he mastered speakers, amplifiers and sound effects. It was a precursor to the work he'd later do as a DJ.
By the time he was 22, he was applying his knowledge of every corner of music as a DJ. He had a CD turntable and began work at friends’ parties and family gatherings and eventually turned DJing into a side job.
Slowly but surely, the events business grew, and Verdejo and Wampler decided it was time to turn it into a proper business. They had moved to Las Vegas to be close to Verdejo's mother, and the couple founded Blue Diamond there.
COVID-19 hit the business hard this spring, and Verdejo estimates it lost about 85% of bookings.
Adapting quickly, the business pivoted to Zoom.
"I've done school events through Zoom," Verdejo said. "People log in to a Zoom while I'm DJing and we have rooms where people can go hang out, or they can be in the main room where I'm DJing and enjoy the music."
Adonica Coleman, owner of A2D Events, said she's worked with XSIV Entertainment multiple times for the corporate, fundraising events and community events her business organizes. She said Wampler and Verdejo's professionalism is what keeps her coming back.
Recently, Coleman has called on Verdejo and XSIV for lighting at outdoor, socially distant events and DJ services for virtual gatherings. In August, Coleman organized a virtual lounge for the Inclusive Impact Institute. She sent out cocktail kits to participants and had a bartender on the video call to show everyone how to make their drink. Then, Verdejo DJed to the virtual room.
"Bringing Jonathan in as the DJ is really great because he has such a wide variety of things that he can play that would appeal to any customer's tastes," Coleman said. "He also has all the equipment necessary in order to be able to set up his DJ booth and the camera equipment that's necessary in order (to) livestream into the event."
XSIV Entertainment has also launched "quarantine parties." Verdejo described it as a drive-up DJ service, where their van can park at a safe distance from a party. He sets up speakers outside the van, uses all his own electricity and never come into close contact with any party-goers. Guests can text song requests while he's in the van.
When businesses began to reopen and XSIV started booking events again, Verdejo stopped advertising the quarantine parties. With bookings nearly every weekend until mid-November, he figured there wouldn’t be time to do drive-up parties. Then he changed his mind and decided to resume marketing the service to make it available when he can.
"We have to adapt to what's going on to try to stay afloat," he said. "Our whole industry depends on being in a room with a ton of people. So that in itself, that's killed the model."