Some might call this a practice in word association. Others would deem it a trite writing gimmick. No matter.
I’ll toss out the name of a venue and you say the name of the artist that immediately leaps to mind. Ready, Freddy?
Terrible's Star of the Desert Arena in Primm.
Glen Campbell, right? Or George Jones.
Let’s try this (and I’ve now already provided a hint): What do Snoop Dogg and Reba McEntire have in common.
No, it isn’t “reefer.” They have both performed at the Star of the Desert Arena. Different nights, though.
It was not so long ago that Star of the Desert was known as a big barn that hosted large-scale, country-fied hoedowns. The reputation was half-deserved. The venue has long been a popular haven for country artists. Alan Jackson sold the arena out, filling more than 6,100 seats, no problem. But in the past 15 months, the versatile venue has served as the stage for Gladys Knight, Joe Walsh, Olivia Newton John, Michael McDonald, Smoky Robinson and, just last weekend, Liza Minnelli. This weekend it’s Hootie & The Blowfish. The diversity program was up-ramped by the venue’s director of marketing, David Krause.
Krause is late of the Silverton and, prior to that, the Stratosphere. In a classic case of an executive competing against himself, he had to wait for Hootie & The Blowfish to be available for booking because the band was still under contract at the Silverton – a contract negotiated by Krause, in his former role. He has since made the Star of the Desert a viable competitor amid what he calls “B-Level” entertainment company in Las Vegas.
B-Level in Vegas is a not-insulting and wholly accurate description of the level below what we consider “A.” Example: Madonna and U2, A-level artists, are off the Star of the Desert's reasonable wish list. But original and (still) sometime members of the Eagles? Fair game. Sir Paul McCartney? Hah. But Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band? Absolutely. They played there a few weeks ago, with Ringo asking to great comedic effect, “Who here is actually from Primm?” Nobody, obviously. And not that many from Vegas, actually. Most of the guests in Primm are from Inland Valley in California. But the Las Vegas database is growing at all of Terrible's Primm Valley Resort properties -- Buffalo Bill's, Whiskey Pete's and Primm Valley.
“We’re in competition with the Orleans, the Hilton, to a lesser extent the House of Blues,” Krause said earlier today during a phone conversation from his office down south. “The South Point, as well as the Cannery, have taken a lot of our competition.” Krause’s home base is a blend of amenities pleasing to artists and fans, but which also presents challenges in booking acts and drawing crowds. The arena is among the more versatile in the valley, flexible enough for capacities ranging from 900 to 6,200. Seating is fine, the site lines are good, the sound system topnotch. The arena in Buffalo Bill's hotel-casino, located as it is in Primm (what we used to call in these parts as “Stateline,”), can be anywhere from a 30- to 60-minute drive from Henderson, VegasVille or North Las Vegas, depending on the starting point. It’s about a 40-minute jaunt from the Strip, and Krause’s message is that the drive southbound on I-15 is deceptively short.
“People ask me, working in Primm, if I live in Primm. I don’t, I live in Southern Highlands,” he said. “It takes me 30 minutes, door-to-door, to get from my house to my office. It’s closer to my house than the Stratosphere is.” Or, consider that if you live in Green Valley – or let’s say you live at my desk at the Greenspun Journalism Campus in Green Valley, because I do – and want to catch Peter Noone’s Herman and the Hermits at the Cannery. If you make it in under 40 minutes, consider yourself lucky (except that you’re a fan of Herman and the Hermits).
“You can get to Primm really easily, if you consider how long it takes to drive for entertainment in Las Vegas,” Kraus said. “There is that misconception, and also that for a long time we were branded as a country place.”
The Star of the Desert schedule still has a healthy helping of yee-haw. Its July 4 holiday headliner was former Hilton Theater resident McEntire, who killed, though as Krause says, “If you can’t sell Reba McEntire on July 4, you have problems.” But a more inspired midweek booking was Snoop Dogg, who performed on a Wednesday night and drew 4,000. Krause won’t say this, but I will: Anyone who thought Snoop Dogg would draw that crowd in Primm on a Wednesday night was probably smoking something.
The hotel has suffered in instances where artists would take less advance money (and draw a gate even half the size of what Star of the Desert promises) just to play in Vegas. “Many would rather stay and play in Vegas than Primm,” Krause said. “It’s an image problem that we have to overcome.”
Giving out tickets doesn’t hurt. Last week the hotel offered 500 free tickets to every concert through the end of this year. The effort has already produced results -- Minnelli was so pleased with her crowd of 3,800, she asked the house lights to be turned on so she could see the audience. On the horizon through September are Bill Cosby (Aug. 30), Brian Wilson (Sept. 9), Al Green (Sept. 13) and Foreigner (Sept. 20). Krause is close to signing Journey, too, a band that over the years has played venues from nightclubs to football stadiums.
“They just played to 8,000 at Mandalay Bay,” Krause said. “It’s a pretty darn good pickup for us.” And in the background, you an almost hear someone shout, “yee-haw!”