If you've been paying any attention to the development of our city and surrounding areas over the past couple of years, you can't go without noticing the development of the local Indian casinos. No longer low-tech bingo parlors with slot machines, casinos like River Spirit, Million Dollar Elms and Cherokee Nation (now Hard Rock) have all developed into full-on Casinos that can rival at least the mid-level, if not top-end, resorts in Las Vegas.
Beyond architectural developments and gaming, however, music lovers can't help but notice that the casinos have also dived into the entertainment market, not only providing gigs for local band in their nightclubs and lounges, but also bringing some pretty significant and big names touring acts to town. While the casinos themselves may come first and foremost, each of our major casino locations now also has an event center developed and the level and caliber of entertainment that is being drawn is becoming ever more impressive, making even non-gamblers sit up to take notice and venture out to what might otherwise seem like an unconventional venue. Fortunately, we're finding each of these locales is providing a cool new venue and new opportunities for Tulsa's nightlife and concert scene.
Taking the Lead
When looking at casino event centers in the Tulsa area, you have to begin at Osage Events Center, part of the Million Dollar Elm casino in Osage County. While the venue originally opened in 2005 and brought in artists like Loverboy and The Gap Band, it really began to raise its profile over the past few years. A Snoop Dogg concert in the summer of 2008 signaled the fact that the casino was taking a different approach to booking talent and not only looking at nostalgia acts or country artists that had become associated with the casino circuit. With a diverse lineup of talent that has ranged from classic rock to country, blues and comedy, Osage Events Center has brought Tulsa some high profile shows, including B.B. King with Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Foreigner and former Hootie and the Blowfish vocalist Darius Rucker, a few nights after he won Best New Country Artist honors at the CMA's.
According to Chris Barton, public relations coordinator at Million Dollar Elm, "I think our greatest strength is our diversity of entertainment. We can go from disco era to country to rock and not get pigeon holed into any certain genre."
With allocation that's convenient to downtown, just off of the Tisdale Parkway, and within minutes of Sand Springs and Skiatook, Million Dollar Elm has also been developing its nightclubs to showcase local talent. What has really drawn attention, however, are the headline acts that have come through town as the casino set the standard in showing what kind of potential the Tulsa market has for this type of venue.
One of the venues greatest accomplishments is bringing in people that don't even realize there is a casino attached, arriving specifically for the concert, and then realizing there is more to the location. Performance wise, however, shows like Snoop Dogg, Darius Rucker and a more recent sold-out acoustic show by Jewel have been the shows that have set the standard for local events centers. In fact, Jewel's show here include the performance of an otherwise unreleased song that she performed just weeks ago at the Emmys. The Tulsa performance showed up on YouTube and got over 20,000 hits following her Emmy appearance as the best online representation of that song, giving the Osage Event Center even more unexpected exposure.
This fall's schedule continues to impress with appearance by 38 Special on Oct. 16, Loretta Lynn on Nov. 5 and Gretchen Wilson on Nov. 12. The real jewel of the fall schedule, however, is a special acoustic show by Shinedown on Dec. 6 with Will Hoge opening the show. When combined with XL Cage fights and MMA on Oct. 22, Osage Event center continues to have one of the most diverse lineups in the region.
Just last month, River Spirit Casino threw its hat in the ring with its new Events Center and a grand opening concert with classic rocker Meatloaf on Aug. 24. Shortly thereafter, Tanya Tucker appeared on Sept. 2 and River Spirit has since been one of the most aggressive in its marketing campaigns, bringing Loverboy to town just last week and filling the fall schedule with appearance by Ray Price on Oct. 15, followed by JoDee Messina's "Listening Room" tour on Oct. 29 and Travis Tritt on Nov. 11.
River Spirit's approach to booking has been to take care of its current customers first and foremost and make the experience about customer service, according to director of marketing, Bob Dimmick.
By making River Spirit a place where something is always happening, the casino hopes to keep its current clientele happy while winning over a new crowd as well.
Much like other events centers, River Spirit's major asset is its ability to reformat for a variety of different events. Capacity can reach up to 2,500 for concerts, depending on configuration, but plans for center ring boxing and mixed martial arts will allow for audiences of roughly 1500. And while Dimmick admitted that they still experimenting with seating arrangements for concerts, even in its highest capacity format, the "worst" seat in the house is still no more than 25 rows form the stage, providing an intimate show, even with a full house.
Perhaps the highest profile of the bunch, however, is the last one to join the party. By capitalizing on the Hard Rock brand and building upon its reputation to build The Joint, the Hard Rock Casino in Catoosa is a short drive east on I-44 and is already building off of its brand name. With an opening show this Thursday night, Sept. 30, with The Doobie Brothers, The Joint already has a full schedule for the fall. According to Danny Finnerty, director of entertainment, the casino isn't looking at it as a grand opening show, so much as a grand opening month with acts ranging from Bad Company to Kenny Rogers, Michael Bolton and Hall and Oates as well as a Halloween weekend of Rocky Horror, all within the first month.
Perhaps the biggest coup of the schedule to date is the arrival of Bad Company next Thursday night, Oct. 7. Originally booked as part of the band's extended tour dates with the original lineup (less bassist Boz Burrell, who died of a heart attack in 2006), singer Paul Rodger's recent announced that this would be the band's last North American performance as they put the band to rest and he returns to a solo career, making this a can't miss show for classic rock fans.
Once again, The Joint is set up to be able to reconfigure for different types of shows and events with a maximum capacity of roughly 2,700 including suites and a VIP level. Many more shows are on the horizon, including a potential concert which will be set up to remain intimate, using only the lower level for a more club like vibe and others by even bigger names than have yet been revealed. With the Hard Rock name behind it, however, The Joint is the venue that currently has the potential to make the most impact drawing major names to Tulsa for smaller shows.
While Finnerty admits that part of booking the entertainment at the Joint includes taking the taste of its clientele into account, he also acknowledges the fact that the casino is trying to draw outside customers as well, who might stick around to check out the clubs or gamble a bit. Even if they don't stay, however, just drawing new faces in the door is considered a good thing. Regular clientele are definitely favored, however, as players card holders get first chance at tickets for any show with a one week presale for all events. It a move that is common to all of the casinos, so you it's in our best interest to check in with your favorite venue and get registered in order to get favored status in ticketing before these smaller scale shows with major name artists sell out.
Although Osage Events Center has definitely set the stage and expectations, the opening of two new casino events centers only expands the entertainment possibilities we'll see continue to flow into Tulsa. As music fans, it's worth keeping an eye on each as they not only bring some great music to won, but also provide an opportunity to make a full night of it with restaurants, bars and gaming at each location, all of which are hoping to become your preferred destination for weekend entertainment.
While the summer wraps up and the temperatures finally start to cool down, Tulsa is finally settling down. Unfortunately, the closing of a couple of our staple venues, even if for a short time, have limited our venues for local bands, but we've still got plenty to choose from for our music and entertainment this week. Most of the biggest names are appearing at the Tulsa State Fair, so be sure to check out our overview on Page 41. Outside of that, however, read on for your tips on some of the best picks for the week.
Thursday nights are always busy and this week is no exception as Citizen Cope returns to Cain's Ballroom for a headline show. If you're looking for something a little more laid back. However, you'll want to settle in at The Colony with Chris Becker.
Friday Night, Oct. 1 sees Delbert McClinton return to Cain's for a night of blues to kick off a busy month at the Ballroom. Just down the sidewalk, DJ Robbo's High 5 Dance Party keeps Crystal Pistol hopping and Eric and the Adams play the patio at Hunt Club. Just across the tracks, you can also catch Wink Burcham at Arnie's or Brandon Clark Band at Woody's.
Saturday, Oct. 2, sees Steve Pryor lays down the law with his guitar histrionics at The Colony while metal fans will want to head to The Marquee for the Tyrants of Tulsa show featuring Two Minutes Hate, Submerged in Dirt and more. Meanwhile RadioRadio satisfies the pop crowd at Hunt Club with a semi-acoustic set on the patio.
The rest of the week is fairly quiet except for a pair of killer shows at the Brady and Cain's, respectively. Monday night, Oct. 4, sees Vampire Weekend headlines The Brady with Beach House and The Very Best opening, while the weekend wraps up with a double header featuring Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals on Wednesday, Oct. 6 at the Ballroom.
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