One-of-a-kind concert concept returns to AC – All-star salute to jazz-rockers Chicago at Ocean Casino Resort
Back in the mid-2000s, what was then Trump Taj Mahal Casino-Resort (now Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City) hosted a series of concerts that still stand among the coolest programs ever staged in a local gaming hall. The shows were presented under the Decades banner and each one featured a major pop/rock music act (among them Heart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elvis Costello) and an all-star roster of artists who performed songs by the headliner.
Some 16 years after the last Taj presentation, the concept has been revived by its creator, Barry Summers, and is returning to Atlantic City Nov. 17 and 18 as Ocean Casino-Resort hosts a salute to Chicago, the groundbreaking band that was among the first to infuse rock with a heaping helping of jazz. The concerts’ “hook” is the celebration of the 55th anniversary of the unit’s debut album, Chicago Transit Authority. Among those joining in the festivities are Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”), Daughtry, the rock band fronted by former American Idol contestant Chris Daughtry and hard-rock guitar high priest Steve Vai, who has shredded for the likes of Frank Zappa, Whitesnake and David Lee Roth (he’ll be recreating the late Terry Kath’s iconic solo on “25-or-6-to-4”).
Also along for the ride are pedal-steel guitar whiz Robert Randolph, singer-composer Judith Hill, who worked with Michael Jackson, guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram (Nov. 17 only) and the a capella quartet, VoicePlay, which will be part of an “unplugged” version of Chicago’s 1974 smash, “Wishing You Were Here.”
The concept’s star-heavy format and its broadcast/streaming/home video aspect (there’ll be 30 cameras capturing the performances) make it a natural for Las Vegas or Summers’ home base, Los Angeles. But, explained the veteran producer during a recent phone call, Atlantic City turned out to be the right location.
He explained that back in the day, he had been producing shows, including Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in Atlantic City, and through that, he developed a relationship with Steve Gietka, then the entertainment chief at Donald Trump’s three casinos and today, the talent booker at Ocean.
“They were looking to bring some new programming to Atlantic City,” he recalled. “I think a lot of the promoters had a handle on the major headliners already coming into the market, and some stupid money was being thrown around at the time in order to get the A-List acts.
“So, there was the need for unique programming that didn’t involve the big promoters. I talked to [Gietka] about basically acting as an in-house production company to produce this level of concert programming that you couldn’t see anywhere else but Atlantic City. And from there, we looked at some of the artists we could feature and some of the guests we could secure.”
Nonetheless, admitted Summers, success wasn’t guaranteed.
“Atlantic City's a tough market,” he said. “It's not Vegas, it's not where you would traditionally find a concert film or a concert TV series being filmed. But we kicked it off [at the Taj and the response was really overwhelming. The fans loved it, the players loved it and, most importantly, the marketing people at the casino felt like they had a brand that they could promote that didn't conflict with the existing tours and the other shows that were going on in the marketplace.”
Summers noted he had been kicking around the idea of reviving the Decades idea since the middle of the last decade, but he got involved in a different project, an online live-music network/archive called FanTracks (live.fantracks.com). And then, Covid-19 arrived, shutting down the live-entertainment industry in its wake. But eventually, Gietka reached out to him looking for booking ideas and the deal to revive Decades was sealed.
As for next week’s gigs, showcasing Chicago was pretty much a no-brainer for Summers. “I have an older brother who spoon-fed me this classic rock music; the earliest memories of my childhood were hearing Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall, and Terry Kath being the god of rock and roll guitar,” he offered. “So I understood Chicago far before the ’80s and all their ballad hits. This was when they were a ‘jam band.’”
He added the selling point for the band and its management was hanging things on the 55th anniversary of that first LP.
Summers didn’t want to divulge too much about what’s on tap next week, but he did say that the concert will be divided into four segments and both the group’s biggest hits and “deep cuts” will be included, as will some never-before-performed-live songs. And there will be some 30 cameras stationed in Ovation Hall to record the proceedings for broadcast and online distribution.
Fans also have the opportunity to purchase VIP ticket packages that feature a number of extras including Saturday and Sunday brunches with the performers.
As for the future, Summers indicated the Chicago weekend won’t just be a one-and-done. However, he didn’t rule out moving it to another location.
“The plan is to continue Decades shows,” he said. “We’ll announce more in Atlantic City down the road. But we’re also looking at an alternative location; I'm not afraid to say it: Las Vegas.”
For tickets, click here.
The Martins are headed back to AC
Next year already promises to be a little bit brighter in Atlantic City: Steve Martin and Martin Short are headed back to town for a May 18 show at Hard Rock.
The superstar duo’s previous performances at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and Hard Rock were among the most entertaining (and downright hilarious) this observer has seen in more than five decades of watching live comedy. As such, I implore you to go see these masters of mirth. I promise you won’t be sorry.
For tickets, click here.
Maniscalco’s last stand?
Last night, comedy superstar Sebastian Maniscalco began yet another 10-show run (that ends Nov. 18) at Borgata’s Event Center.
The Chicago-born funnyman has been a signature headliner at the Big B for the better part of a decade. Nonetheless, we can’t help but wonder how much longer he’ll be gigging there.
Because we have no idea of what his deal entails, this is pure speculation. But it seems that Borgata has been throttling back on headliner entertainment the past year or two (both in quantity and quality). Thus, it’s logical to think that at some point, he could wind up at another AyCee address.
Hard Rock and Ocean would be the most likely landing spots, but Caesars Entertainment might want to consider him for either Caesars Atlantic City or Tropicana Atlantic City (whose 2,000-seat theater would make more sense).