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Headliner entertainment remains draw for casinos

Five years ago, when trumpet player Lee Loughnane of Chicago learned the band’s June 15 show at Beau Rivage had been sold out weeks in advance, he was giddy.

“Really?! That’s fantastic,” he said in 2000. “This is our 34th touring season. Some years, especially early on, we toured 360 out of 365 days. It was sometimes rough on our personal lives. Witness three marriages — just for me.”

Ian Anderson, who formed Jethro Tull in 1967, said before a 2002 show at Grand Casino Biloxi: “Back in 1968, we were so bad that we had to pretend to be some new band in order to get re-booked. Our agent, who had studied history at college, came up with the name Jethro Tull, an 18th Century English agricultural pioneer who invented the seed drill. And it stuck.”

Initially, entertainers who sold out stadiums in the 1970s were elated to find a new venue to reach Baby Boomer fans. Over the past few years, these same entertainers have driven up the cost of booking shows.

“Has the cost-to-value ratio diminished? Absolutely,” said Tom Dashiell, general manager of Lighthouse Point Casino in Greenville. “When I booked entertainment for Fitzgerald’s in Tunica, it cost less. Now it’s a heckuva lot more. You’ve still got Sam’s Town and others in Tunica with feature entertainment, but if you look around at all the casino communities, you’ll notice fewer top-name bookings.”

On MississippiCasinos.com, squirreled among the diverse entertainment offerings in Tunica featuring Trisha Yearwood, The Robert Cray Band, The Doobie Brothers, Jeff Foxworthy and Confederate Railroad are increasingly popular and less costly shows, such as those scheduled this fall at the Tunica Arena and Exposition Center: Brother-in-Law Team Roping, Tennessee Palomino Horse Show, National Indoor Kart Races, Antique Tractor Pull and Athletic Cheer and Dance Championship.

“Entertainment enhances our tourism product because it gives tourists something else to do here at a less expensive venue than The Pyramid and FedEx Forum in Memphis,” said Anne Coggins, sales manager for meetings and conventions at the Tunica CVB and president of the Mississippi Tourism Association. “We’re not going to get the Rolling Stones, but we can bring in George Jones for two nights and he still sells out down here.”

When joking about the band’s longevity, Chicago trombonist Jimmy Pankow quipped, “Let’s face it. We’ve outlasted some of the buildings we’ve played in.”

Unfortunately, they’ve done it again. Even though MGM Mirage has pledged to rebuild Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Chicago will not be performing as scheduled in the Magnolia Room October 28-29. And Anderson won’t be running his long fingers over a silvery flute on “Locomotive Breath” at the Grand Casino Biloxi October 21.

“Most of our contracts were multi-stop contracts, so we’re rerouting them to a different facility,” said Valerie Morris, spokesperson for Grand Casino Tunica. The Temptations and Jethro Tull were among several acts scheduled this month in Tunica and Gulf Coast markets.

With a dozen coastal casinos out of commission for a while, will it make a difference in the casino entertainment booking world? Not likely.

“We know that our guests enjoy seeing their favorite acts perform, and we feel it really enhances the gaming experience,” said Chuck Miller, president of Pearl River Resort in Choctaw. “Over the past couple of months, Mississippi native LeAnn Rimes and rhythm and blues star Brian McKnight have both performed here. As for the resort bringing in an exciting mix of big name acts like Hank Williams Jr., who will be performing at 9 p.m. on October 14, it shows our guests that we are committed to their entertainment and always brings in new guests that may not have come otherwise.”

Country music star Travis Tritt has pledged to donate $10,000 to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts during his concert at Pearl River Resort November 10.

“And the resort will match Tritt’s efforts to increase the amount to $20,000, with the proceeds going to the Key Chapter of the American Red Cross,” said Miller.

Hosting top-notch entertainers at Tunica area casinos “absolutely elevates our image everywhere,” said Coggins.
“It shows we’re not just a cotton-producing county any more,” she said. “It puts our name on the map, and that enhances the image of the entire state.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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