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Tribal Rivalry: Indian Casinos Set the Stage for Outdoor Concerts, Up the Ante for Nearby Competition

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Two northern California tribes kicked off their summer concert seasons with heated competition and sold-out shows on May 21.

In reponse to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation's Cache Creek booking John Fogerty, former lead signer, song writer and guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival, the United Auburn Indian Community booked the singer’s former band mates, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, at its Thunder Valley Casino.

“It is a competitive market out there,” Thunder Valley spokesman Doug Elmets told The Sacramento Bee.

While Thunder Valley played off Cache Creek for opening night in a bout of “friendly rivalry,” as Elmets refers to the casinos’ battle of the bands, Thunder Valley’s lineup for the rest of summer 2011 is aimed at attracting big acts already touring throughout the western states and drawing a mid-aged fanbase. “We want to find acts that meet a specific demographic—primarily that 30- to 70-year old,” Elmets says. “We’re looking for people who have some discretionary income; they have the ability to buy tickets to a concert, but also have the ability to stay in our hotel, to take advantage of the spa and to gamble.”

Lincoln-based Thunder Valley debuted its amphitheater, a seasonal structure in its casino parking lot, on July 1, 2010. That month, the casino booked Adam Lambert, the pop artist who finished runner-up in the eighth season of American Idol. Elmets’ goal was to generate an enormous amount of attention for Thunder Valley’s new venue, although he knew Lambert wouldn’t bring the desired demographic. “Tickets sold out in 24 hours,” Elmets said. “But it didn’t fit that demographic, so it didn’t benefit the restaurants, hotel, and the gaming wasn’t there, because he skews a lot younger. But it gave us a lot of attention, a lot of pop, a lot of earned media.”

Now Thunder Valley has scaled back its venue from 4,800 seats last year to 3,500 to hit the “sweet spot” for maximum capacity and adapted its lineup to reach an audience that will enjoy its amenities after the show, Elmets says. The casino will feature big names including Joan Jett & The Black Hearts, The Beach Boys and Doobie Brothers, amongst others, as well as a few tribute bands for classic rock groups. Check out the full lineup at

Cache Creek Casino Resort debuted its amphitheater, which seats 3,500, on May 21, 2011. Ben Slaght, Cache Creek’s entertainment manager, initially found Thunder Valley’s competitive jab “ironic,” telling The Sacramento Bee, “It is like having the Rolling Stones with Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards) on one stage and the Rolling Stones with Bill Wyman” on another. But Slaght recognizes competition is the name of the game, and not only with concert venues. “We felt the need to stay competitive—not necessarily with other casinos, but with wineries around us that do entertainment,” Slaght said, noting that Cache Creek is just an hour drive from Napa Valley, which also offers entertainment and spa treatments.

Cache Creek’s biggest draw is the San Francisco Bay Area. “About 60 percent of our ticket sales come from the San Francisco Bay Area and points between here and there,” Slaght said. “About 20 percent of tickets come from areas surrounding Sacramento.”

Slaght says Cache Creek’s target market is 45 years old and over. “We’re a melting pot because of our location. I think our main customer would be Asian,” Slaght says, referencing the renowned Vietnamese show “Paris by Night” at the amphitheater June 25. View the casino’s summer schedule at