Dante Deiana had just arrived at a tiki bar in Tampa, Florida, on an April day in 2013 when his phone rang.
It was a 617 number.
It was Rob Gronkowski.
The New England Patriots’ All-Pro tight end wanted Deiana, a professional DJ raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, to preside over a party he was throwing nearby that night.
“It was like he was asking a girl out to prom, he was all nervous,’’ Deiana said. “He was like, ‘Hey Dante, this is Rob Gronkowski. You’re friends with my brothers, and I was wondering if you wanted to come to my house and DJ tonight?’ I was like, ‘Done, I’m in. Let’s do it.’ I couldn’t say yes fast enough.’’
Deiana had partied alongside Gronkowski’s brothers a few months prior, but hadn’t yet been out with the NFL star himself.
A little confused after Gronkowski abruptly ended the phone call, Deiana called back to get the details for the party. This time Gronkowski’s oldest brother, Gordie, answered and took over the planning for what Deiana described as one of the craziest parties he has ever worked.
As requested, Deiana pulled into a gated community pulling a trailer loaded with a sound system and black lights.
When he walked into Gronkowski’s offseason home for the first time, he said it like walking into a scene from the movie Boiler Room.
“It’s like the part where he goes to Ben Affleck’s huge, beautiful house and there is no furniture inside. And he asks, ‘Oh did you just move in?’ and he says, ‘No, I’ve been here 10 months.’’’
The mansion, as described by Deiana, was filled with champagne-colored marble and was sparingly furnished apart from a single, cracked flat-screen TV hanging on the wall. There was also a saltwater fish tank.
“He had a bus pull up with two sororities’ worth of girls,’’ Deiana said.
With the house full of people, Deiana began playing music. Deiana played EDM for Gordie. There was hip hop for Gronkowski’s childhood friends from Buffalo. For Rob, Deiana spun some Top 40.
“Dante’s a man that can turn a library into a zoo, a man that can bring a cemetery to life,’’ said WWE professional wrestler Mojo Rawley, a friend of the Gronkowski brothers who was at the party.
The following day, Gronkowski and his brothers resumed partying at Deiana’s show at a Tampa bar. Gronkowski brought a surprise with him after Deiana refused to be paid for playing the party the night before.
“He shows up and he is, like, giddy, nervous with something behind his back. If I was a girl, I would say it was pretty cute,’’ Deiana said. “And he comes up to me like ‘Hey man, I got something for you.’ And he pulls out this jersey that he signed to me.’’
The inscription on the jersey: “To my DJ.’’
“Whenever Dante is rocking the DJ set, it’s always a good time with all the music he knows,’’ Gronkowski told Boston.com in an email. “Dante has been a good friend.’’
After sneaking a radio into his childhood home, Deiana would save up to buy cassettes and CDs to add to his collection. Now he has opened for and shared the stage with artists like Miley Cyrus, Jamie Foxx, 50 Cent, and Kid Cudi.
Growing up, Deiana didn’t try his hand at mixing music until getting to St. John’s High School. Even when he was playing at school dances and friends’ parties, he never saw DJing as a career path. He moved to Chicago to study pre-law at Loyola University. After graduating in 2005, Deiana continued working 60 hours a week as a clerk at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, a corporate firm in Chicago where he worked full time his senior year.
“I wasn’t making good money at all and with student loans, I was getting my ass kicked,’’ Deiana said. “I thought, ‘Man, I need to start DJing again.’’
Tony and Nick Dimassi, owners of Reserve nightclub in Chicago, took a liking to Deiana, giving him a couple of nights a week, including a spot opening on Thursday nights when they would rotate in higher profile DJs, like DJ AM.
“It was basically like taking batting lessons from Mickey Mantle,’’ Deiana said. “To work with these guys, to watch them, to learn every night, to network with them, and to build relationships and trade music, it was just incredible. I would be nowhere if it wasn’t for those days. I got fast-tracked in the DJ circuit that way.’’
After gaining experience and building industry relationships in Chicago, Deiana began finding opportunities to bring his act to the Boston area, working shows at places like Hurricane O’Reilly’s and Julep.
“I remember at that time, we had turn tables for scratching—or whatever you call it—for all the DJs we had come through, but he was really working them,’’ Sheldon Cohen, operations manager for the Glynn Hospitality Group and general manager of Hurricane O’Reilly’s until 2013, said. “I remember going up to the DJ booth and he had a sweat going. He was really into it, and the crowd loved him. And the crowd back then was a lot busier than it is now. It could hold up to 600 people and the place was packed.’’
In 2010, Deiana got a call from David Portnoy, the founder of Boston-based Barstool Sports. The popular website was launching its first “Blackout Tour.’’ Up-and-coming Boston rapper Sammy Adams was the headliner for that inaugural run, and Deiana was invited along for the ride.
Over the three years that Deiana participated in the concert series, he travelled to college campuses across the country for more than 150 shows, and he’s working with Adams on the artist’s current tour.
“Dante’s knowledge of music databases and knowing what the crowd wants makes him a stand-out DJ,’’ said Devlin D’Zmura, then the tour’s social media and stage manager. “It’s a weird thing, but I have never seen anybody control a room like he does. He just always has the perfect track that gets people going and a lot of time it isn’t necessarily the newest Taylor Swift song, it’s like a DMX song from 1999.’’
In 2012, the youngest Gronkowski brother, Glenn, reached out to D’Zmura on Twitter for details about Barstool’s infamously raucous tour. After hitting it off, the 20-somethings exchanged video game screennames. D’Zmura said Glenn had a memorable one: “IgetChicks69.’’
Soon, D’Zmura was introducing himself over his headset the rest of the Gronkowski brothers, including Rob.
“I told Rob don’t worry about it. Whatever happens on the battlefield, stays on the battlefield,’’ D’Zmura said. “The game lasted a couple hours and we definitely got to know each other very well.’’
A few months later, Gronkowski’s four brothers met up with Deiana in Columbus, Ohio, at a “Blackout’’’ show, dressing up in mascot costumes and dancing on stage. Months later, Deiana would get that life-changing phone call in Tampa.
Aside from DJing for the Gronkowski family, Deiana has residency at a range of Chicago clubs, including Underground, Rockit Bar and Grill, and Parliament.
“His versitility makes him different because not many DJs can play the wide range he plays,’’ Arturo Gomez, President and Partner of Rockit Ranch Productions, said. “…Playing to such different crowds is not an easy task, and he does it at a high level.’’
Dieana has also worked with corporate clients including McDonalds, Playboy, Groupon, and Vita Coco, according to his official website. In August 2015, he opened a night club in Cleveland, FWD, a project he had been working on with his partners for over three years.
Their first event included 1,100 people dancing in the pouring rain, and ended with Deiana cannonballing into the venue’s outdoor pool.
“I mean, it’s a job, but I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s a job. I get to play music for a living. It’s a dream come true. Sometimes I have to remind myself how lucky I am,’’ Deiana said.
DJ for the athletes
Growing up, when Deiana wasn’t collecting music at his home in Worcester, he was the typical New Englander with a passion for all things sports.
“A lot of the DJs I work with will give me shit for liking sports,’’ Deiana said. “They say ‘All you tweet about is sports. I am ready to unfollow you.’’’
When Deiana crosses paths with professional athletes at clubs or restaurants, he makes it a point to go out of his way to make them happy, even inviting them up into the booth. That’s how Deiana came to DJ for Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s charity events.
It’s also how he met Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and ultimately found out about an opening to run audio at Wrigley Field.
Deiana got the job and worked as the DJ for the Chicago Cubs for the 2015 season. Part of his responsibilities included taking requests and playing walk up music for athletes, like Rizzo.
“Rizzo and I were joking around about if we played Taylor Swift for him as a walk up. He texted me one day and said, ‘I want to do it. Let’s play Bad Blood.’’’ Deiana said. “So we did it. And, of course, the Internet went nuts. Obviously, I don’t want or deserve all the credit for that, but being involved in that is pretty freaking cool.’’
While Deiana lives in Chicago and has been cheering on Rizzo and the Cubs as they’ve advanced in the 2015 MLB playoffs, his football allegiance remains firmly with the Pats.
Deiana even made a playlist for the Patriots’ locker room before Super Bowl XLIX in February.
“Being able to cheer on your friend every Sunday is one thing. It’s another when he’s one of the best players of all time on your favorite team,’’ he said.
After the Patriots’ victory over the Seahawks, the DJ also celebrated with them at their party post-Super Bowl in Arizona.
“Watching Rob have a dance-off basically with Robert Kraft while Rick Ross was performing a few feet away was priceless and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’’ Deiana said.
The DJ for Gronk Nation
Aside from Gronkowski’s personal parties, Deiana also DJs the NFL star’s charity events. Gronkowski has been involved with Friends of Carly , a Buffalo-based non-profit organization that raises money for children diagnosed with cancer and their families, since its inception. John Ticco, Gronkowski’s childhood friend, runs the charity’s events. He said Deiana has DJ’ed the non-profit’s two main events, the White Party and their Gift Gathering Christmas event, for over four years.
“He is the DJ of choice for our friends and for this charity,’’ Ticco said.
Dante has already played on Gronkowski’s party bus, and is scheduled to appear on his party ship during a three-day trip from Miami to the Bahamas in February. The cruise’s lineup includes Flo Rida, Waka Flocka Flame, Redfoo, Sammy Adams, and DJs 3LAU and Brooke Evers, as well as comedians, according to the event’s site.
“If we didn’t think [Dante] was a baller, we wouldn’t have him on the party ship,’’ Gordie Gronkowski said. “He was the first person we asked.’’
The Norwegian Pearl cruise, equipped with six stages, 13 bars and lounges, a massive spa, pool, hot tubs, fitness center, bowling alley, and 24-hour room service, is expected to host 2,500 partiers. Attendees will pay anywhere from $500-$3,500 for a room, a price that includes a photo with Gronkowski as well as an autographed item.
“Anytime you get that family together and throw in their friends, it’s wild,’’ Deiana said. “It’s gonna be a packed cruise ship of people that love to have fun and love to party.’’
It’s good to be Gronk
For Deiana, whether on a party ship or just going out to dinner, spending time with Gronkowski is always an experience. Gronkowski’s last visit to Chicago in June was no different.
On a Saturday night, Gronk and Deiana ended up in the kitchen at El Hefe, a Mexican restaurant and club.
“I got to talking to one the managers and when I turned around, Rob was in the back with the cooks making guacamole, and crushing a bag of tortilla chips,’’ Deiana said. “He was trying to ask the cooks how to say, ‘I need to carbo-load’ in Spanish.’’
Gronkowski then posed for pictures with the staff, before deciding to help wash dishes.
“Stories like that are par for the course with him, and everywhere he goes, he leaves everyone loving him,’’ Deiana said. “Everywhere he goes is a circus, but he’s the most humble and welcoming guy I’ve ever met, and he takes it all in stride with a smile on his face.’’