Arizona's RV Resorts Presents Big-Name Acts At Bargain Prices
The Arizona Republic
by Randy Cordova
January 6, 2012
They lack the glamour of a Las Vegas casino, and there are no neon signs or all-you-can-eat buffets, either. But when it comes to the kinds of celebrities associated with Sin City, the Valley's RV resorts could be the best-kept secret in Arizona.
This season, for example, Cal-Am resorts will be presenting a heavy-duty concert calendar that features the likes of Marie Osmond, Charo, Rich Little and Lynda Carter. In previous years, headliners have included Wayne Newton, Crystal Gayle, B.J. Thomas, Tanya Tucker, Ricky Skaggs, the Smothers Brothers and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Granted, they may not be topping the charts, but these are performers who still carry a certain amount of cachet with the right age group.
"Think about what you see in Las Vegas or in Branson, Missouri, and that's what we're aiming for," says Starr Davis, Cal-Am regional activity director. "You kind of get the Branson flavor here, but with terrific weather."
Cal-Am has nine RV resorts in the Valley. They cater to winter visitors, though there are also residents who live there year-round. For the past nine years, the company has been offering patrons and the public these star-heavy concerts from January to March that are specifically geared to their clientele. Resort residents have to be at least 55 years old; in other words, do not expect to hear Cee Lo Green playing at a Cal-Am resort in the next 20 years.
"We deal with a big range," says Davis, who's in charge of booking acts. "We look all the way back to the music of the '40s to what the Baby Boomers were listening to in the '70s, so you're talking about a 30-year span."
Davis sees what acts are selling in other markets, particularly Florida, which also is heavy with Boomers. She keeps an eye on Branson to see which acts earn standing ovations. And she listens to patrons suggestions, although she's also realistic.
"People want Tony Bennett," she says with a sigh. "Well, it's a quarter of a million to bring Tony Bennett and he won't do two shows in one day. It's just not going to work."
That's another thing about Cal-Am concerts. Performers do two shows daily, so fans who like to hit the sack early can catch the matinee. Prices also are startlingly cheap: Tickets for Osmond's show are $30 to $50. At the Flamingo in Las Vegas, where she has a regular gig with brother Donny, tickets go for $104 to $268. A solo Marie show held in September in Tulsa, Okla., was priced from $75 to $100.
"I'm sure that Marie is charging us what she charges any other venue in the United States," Davis says, without divulging the singer's fee. "But instead of us putting a huge markup on the tickets, we're just happy to break even."
Another variety of venue
With a ballroom that seats 1,150, Valle del Oro in Mesa features the biggest concert venue of the Cal-Am resorts. It boasts excellent acoustics and an intimate feel, although there's also a homespun charm to the whole affair.
Patrons are seated in folding chairs. Residents volunteer as ushers and ticket takers. And before each show, a voice cheerfully asks concertgoers to use the restrooms located outside the building, because "the north-side bathrooms are reserved for the talent."
"The property is 30 years old," says Valle del Oro activity director Glenda Farr, who introduces each concert. "They didn't think to build restrooms near the stage."
Because there's no green room in which the headlining talent can relax and greet VIPs, a special RV is placed near the ballroom for celebrities. Otherwise, there's very little difference to playing Valle del Oro compared with a regular venue.
"If an act has a 22-page rider, we will meet every request they have on that rider," Davis says. "I've even had a 54-page rider, and we followed every request down to the last letter."
No stigma for stars
For acts who play at an RV resort, there doesn't seem to any kind of stigma attached to such a non-traditional venue. Variety-show mainstay Charo asked for an explanation to playing Valle Del Oro, then said, "Winter visitors? I can handle winter visitors."
Comic impressionist Rich Little was unfamiliar with the RV-resort concept but seemed eager to perform.
"It doesn't really matter," he says. "You don't want fireworks going off in the middle of your act, but if the audience is attentive and the P.A. system is good, I'm happy."
Davis could think of only one instance when an artist seemed unsure about the venue.
"Vicki Lawrence was like, 'I'm going to an RV park?' " Davis says, laughing. "And then when she got here and saw the ballroom and saw the audience and saw how we worked, she was very impressed.
"After the show, she and her husband wanted to know if we had resorts in other states she could work at."
The "Mama's Family" star must have been disappointed by the response, because Cal-Am has resorts only in Arizona. There are plenty of non-Cal-Am resorts in the Valley, but others don't seem to emphasize big-name celebrities.
"We actually stopped (bringing in Vegas-style names) about three years ago," says Karla Reekie, activity director for ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort in Mesa, adding that concert attendance had taken a hit about the same time.
To fight back, the resort moved from booking acts like the Lettermen and Pam Tillis to this season's ABBA tribute show (which is nearly sold out), a Frank Sinatra homage and Bill Haley's Original Comets, the only "name" act in the lineup.
"Our audiences love the tribute shows and the impersonators," Reekie says. "You kind of respond to what they want to see, and that's what has worked for us."
But Davis sees no change coming in the Cal-Am philosophy. She promises some big names when she announces the 2013 season at Osmond's concerts in March.
The shows initially go on sale to residents before being made available to the public. Once they do go on sale, it's not that different from when a big mainstream concert is announced.
"You will see a line at the box office the day the tickets go on sale," Farr says. "These winter visitors come out here wanting to play, and these shows are part of the way they play. It's important to them."
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8849.
Here are some highlights from the Valley's RV scene. Contact each venue for tickets. Shows are open to all ages.
Christina and Ali ( "America's Got Talent" finalists): 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10. Sunflower Resort, 16501 N. El Mirage Road, Surprise. 623-583-9374. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11. Val Vista Village, 233 N. Val Vista Drive, Mesa. 480-832-2550. $15-$30. Cal-am.com.
Guy Pennacchio (Frank Sinatra tribute): 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12. ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort, 650 N. Hawes Road, Mesa. $15. 480-373-8700, viewpointrv.com.
Charo: 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24. Valle Del Oro, 1452 S. Ellsworth Road, Mesa. $30-$55. 480-984-5076, cal-am.com.
Bill Haley's Original Comets: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26. ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort. $15.
"Red: A Tribute by Tom Mullica" (Red Skelton homage): 4 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30. Good Life Resort, 3403 E. Main St., Mesa. 480-641-9925. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, Sunflower Resort. $15-$30. Cal-am.com.
The ABBA Experience: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2. ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort. $15.
Rich Little: 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. Valle Del Oro. $30-$55.
"Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show": 4 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. Good Life Resort. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22. Sunflower Resort. $18-$30.
Lynda Carter: 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28. Towerpoint Resort, 4860 E. Main St., Mesa. $30-$55. 480-854-8180, cal-am.com.
Rick Lenzi (Elvis Presley/Buddy Holly tribute): 7 p.m. Thursday, March 1. ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort. $15.
Marie Osmond: 4 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11. Mesa Regal, 4700 E. Main St. 480-981-5118. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 12. Valle Del Oro. $30-$55.
Williams & Ree: 4 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 5. Sunflower Resort. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 6. Sun Life Resort, 5055 E. University Drive, Mesa. 480-981-9500. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Canyon Vistas, 6601 E. U.S. 60, Gold Canyon. 480-648-1001. $15-$30. Cal-am.com.
Three International Tenors: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 15. ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort. $15.