Agua Caliente’s live entertainment venue, The Show, celebrated its 10th anniversary in March. (Courtesy Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage)

Agua Caliente maintains strategy of  featuring big stars

Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage
City: Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Venue: The Show at Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage
Capacity: 2,700

Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its live music venue, The Show, this year by acknowledging that some traditions are worth keeping, like booking the biggest names.

“We’ve ramped it up by going after the A-listers,” said Dan Pferschy, director of entertainment at the venue for six years. “We’ve had Van Morrison, Duran Duran, Steven Tyler, Dolly Parton and Styx.”

The Show, which seats 2,100 and has a standing-room capacity of 2,700, started big when it opened in 2009 with Billy Joel, Matchbox Twenty and Martina McBride. Ten years later, Jerry Seinfeld kicked off anniversary festivities March 2. (Another comedian, Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, holds the mark for most shows played at the venue, 17, and will return in May for two more.)

Billy Brill, talent buyer for Agua Caliente for 13 years, has been booking talent for 30 years. He also books for Pala Casino in San Diego; Thunder Valley Casino in Sacramento, Calif.; Eagle Mountain in Porterville, Calif.; and Pearl River Casino in Mississippi.

“We are open to all demographics, but in this business what we really are looking for is gamblers and to give our customers a new experience,” Brill said. “I buy what’s right for the casino and don’t let the promoters jack up the prices because we are a casino. The modern casino booker job is all about making money for the casino. It’s no longer a loss leader. It’s totally different than it was 15 years ago.”

The facility, which also changed its name coinciding with the anniversary to Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage, sits next to Palm Springs, which helps it maintain a robust business hosting bands who are rehearsing for their tours. 

“They come to us because we are close to Los Angles and the weather here is perfect most of the year,” Brill said. “The Moody Blues, Duran Duran, Alice in Chains and Barry Manilow have all rehearsed here before their national tours. Every time Barry Manilow has a national tour, he rehearses here.”

The venue also hosts international acts for fans of Armenian, Chinese, Korean and Latin music.

“While I’m grateful to buy the talent, it’s a team effort and there is a tremendous team at Agua Caliente,” Brill said. “We treat the artists well and try to take care of them.”

Pferschy said he’s always thinking of the bigger picture and the players. “We want to drive people to the property with this amenity,” he said.

Classic rock, country and comedy are calls easy to make for the casino crowd. Choosing hipper acts is hit and miss. “We want to include younger stuff to get the next generation of players through the doors,” said Pferschy. “But often they don’t attract the players. We booked Janelle Monae and while she did great with hard sales, she was light in the casino. We’re looking at Greta Van Fleet now.”

“Our goal is to try to get our money back, and it’s scaled that way,” he said. “But as long I get the guarantee back it’s been a successful show. This helps me in getting some of the artists. They can be costly and a challenge to a venue this size. Lack of seats is a problem. We don’t want to gouge. It’s a delicate balancing act.”

Ticket prices run $25-$125.

Pferschy and Brill agree that making meet and greets a deal point is the latest evolution in the casino venue industry.

“Meet and greets are big business,” Pferschy said. “They want to come in earlier and earlier and get our staff to help them out. There should be a cost to that. The meet and greets go for several hundred dollars each, (so) sure, the casino should get something.”

Brill said, “It’s not all one way anymore. It’s coming up as a deal point more and more. It’s all about doing good business for the casino.”

There is no food in the showroom. Concessions consists of beverages, which are provided in-house.

Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage’s senior vice president and general manager, Kato Moy, has been with the property for nine years.

“The Show is a very intricate part of the property,” Moy said. “Entertainment is a very attractive amenity for gamers and non-gamers. Different genres attract a large audience and within that we book entertainment that appeals to both.”

Moy said there is a mathematical formula he uses to ascertain how many theatergoers wind up spending money in the casino or at the restaurants. 

“In general, there’s a certain percentage that we know come onto the gaming floor,” he said. “We want to bring first-timers to the property. We know what genres help with that. We have databases that help us select the type of talent we book.”

Moy wishes he could add more seats and have a larger capacity. “On the flip side, because of the intimate seating it’s easy to get the best seats in the house,” he said.

Moy’s favorite event was The Judds in December 2010. “They put on a great show,” he recalled. Brill’s best memory is Billy Joel opening the casino.

His biggest challenge is cancellations. “Sting got sick,” Brill recalled. “We felt bad for the customers.” 

Another cancellation by Brian Setzer on New Year’s Eve tested Brill and the Agua Caliente team. “We were scrambling,” Brill recalled. “I suddenly remembered that Kool & The Gang always do a New Year’s Eve Vegas show. So, we put on a dance party for New Year’s Eve and had Kool & The Gang playing The Show within 48 hours.”

Brill has seen a lot of changes in the casino venue industry during his 30-year career, but none has been as pleasing as seeing “casino venues get out of the dark and get respect. The modern casino is very professional. It’s the new frontier for entertainment.” 

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