An Entertainment Oasis Rises in the Desert: The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa

– The Doobie Brothers

If you’re on the way to Coachella this weekend passing through Palm Springs, Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa is hard to miss, towering above the desert off the I-10 highway. The luxury casino resort and spa, built a little over 10 years ago, is owned and operated by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, but it’s a far cry from the bingo parlors and games of chance first established with the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1989, which established the National Indian Gaming Commission to oversee the casinos built on reservation land.

Tribal gaming has become a huge business, with gross revenue from just gambling pegged at $31.2 billion in 2016, and steadily rising. The centerpiece for entertainment at Agua Caliente is its impressive 2,200-seat venue, The Show, which opened on Feb. 12, 2009 with Billy Joel, whose grand piano still sits outside the resort’s Presidential Suite on the top two floors, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the desert and mountains in the distance.
Since then, The Show has hosted a variety of different acts, from Burt Bacharach and Johnny Mathis to Brad Paisley and Sammy Hagar, with an eclectic booking policy that features classic rockers, country and Latin artists, comedians, boxing matches, and even popular TV mediums like Tyler Henry and Theresa Caputo.
“This is the best venue in the desert, with the best amenities and the best staff,” says Billy Brill, a veteran record company promotion executive who first began booking tribal casinos almost 20 years ago when he promoted the Beach Boys at Spotlight 29 in Coachella. “The artists keep coming back.” He points to recent headliners at The Show like 
The Show – located within the casino – has four separate levels, graded so that, as Director of Entertainment Dan Pferschy explains, every seat is within 125 feet of the stage, which is also flanked with two state-of-the-art 18 feet-by-10 feet Panasonic video screens, 262 regular spotlights, and 74 rotating, as well as 65 individual speakers.
“Acoustically, it sounds terrific,” says the Doobie Brothers’ Tom Johnston after a recent sound check of “Takin’ It to the Streets,” starting their spring tour at the venue where they’d previously performed.
“It’s just a really nice space, with a great, intimate seating arrangement,” offers bandmate John McFee in one of the venue’s six spacious dressing rooms and a luxurious Green Room for friends and family. 
Agua Caliente Casino Resorts Chief Operating Officer Saverio “Sal” Scheri III, a veteran of a number of both tribal and regular casinos around the country, says The Show attracts artists who wouldn’t ordinarily play a venue of that size. “They’re impressed with how great they sound here.”
Indeed, The Show offers an optimum concert experience, almost like a mini version of L.A.’s Fabulous Forum, and gives rock, country and Latin bands, as well as comedians, psychics and boxers, an opportunity to play a venue that is halfway between a club and an arena. 
With just 350 rooms at Agua Caliente and 2,000-plus seats to fill, Pferschy says the venue also attracts both locals and those who drive in from Los Angeles – a roughly two-hour trip.
With gaming the chief draw at Agua Caliente, Pferschy admits his goal is to be even more adventurous in his booking, whose schedule ranges from comic Ken, Gladiator Challenge Fighting Championship and SyFy Channel’s Michael Carbone to Chinese singer Tinh He, with upcoming shows by Kenny Loggins, Donny & Marie, Brad Paisley and Steve Martin & Martin Short.
Jonathan Wolfson, manager of Hall & Oates, recalls the duo playing The Show during its first year in 2009, a Billy Brill promotion. “The room is really nice,” he says. “It’s a purpose-built theater that is sonically very good.”
In addition, Agua Caliente’s Spa Resort, in downtown Palm Springs, boasts a 1,600-seat outdoor venue which presents a regular series of “Concerts Under the Palms,” which recently featured Gin Blossoms.  The venue is also host to an annual New Year’s Eve celebration that draws up to 16,000 revelers to watch the ball go up to the top of a giant palm tree to celebrate. 
The Show uses AXS’ Star Tickets, but in order to avoid the secondary market, makes buyers pick up their ducats in person, with ID, at the box office (no E-tickets), which strategically routes them through the casino.  Per usual, a number of tickets are held out for casino high rollers at each event. After all, that’s the name of the game for any gaming establishment.
The Agua Caliente and The Show pride themselves as a laid-back, comfortable alternative to the glitz of Las Vegas, an all-in-one ecosystem that includes The Steakhouse, a critically acclaimed eatery, along with the Waters Café, the Poker Deli and the Grand Palms Buffet. The world-class 10,000-square foot Sunstone Spa offers relaxing massages, skin treatments, a full-service salon, fitness center, eucalyptus steam, dry sauna, whirlpool and private outdoor pool.
The tribal casinos have become major players in the entertainment business, and Agua Caliente’s The Show offers an amenity for not only the resort’s guests, but the artists who perform there. It’s a level of detail that COO Scheri has made a hallmark of his career in the hospitality and gaming business.  Little touches like the welcome rug in the elevator, which switches from Good Morning to Good Afternoon and Good Evening during the course of the day. Or the stocked fridges in the Green Room.
“It’s an oasis, a place where you can let everything else melt away,” Scheri insists. “We like to exceed our guest’s expectations.  We look to remain a step ahead of the competition.”