The brand-new The Venue at Thunder Valley Casino Resort near Sacramento opened with a bang over President’s Day weekend, with sold-out shows from Eagles, Bruno Mars and Santana at the 4,500-seat, $100 million-plus theater Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Thunder Valley entertainment director Jon Bow said The Venue would take the casino’s entertainment offerings to the next level, and that appears to be the case following opening weekend as fans, industry insiders and even some celebrities flocked to see A-list performers in an intimate setting.
Funded by the United Auburn Indian Community which has operated the casino since its 2003 opening, The Venue at Thunder Valley continues the trend of investing in Vegas-style amenities and entertainment in an increasingly competitive casino landscape.
The Sacramento market is a hot one for casino properties, with last summer seeing the opening of both Hard Rock Live’s 2,500-seat theater in nearby Wheatland and the $500 million Skyview casino opening in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove.
Resort spokesman Doug Elmets of Elmets Communications said The Venue was designed as a best-in-class concert experience to set the bar in the region.
“There’s nothing like this in Northern California,” he said. The Venue replaces the outdoor amphitheater season at the casino, which last year hosted more than 30 concerts.
The Venue features eight green rooms and ample backstage space, four theater-facing bars on both levels of the seating bowl and top-notch acoustics and sight-lines. It’s a far cry from the stigma sometimes associated with casinos of yesteryear, with outdated ballrooms and performers driving guests to slot machines and table games.
And who better to showcase The Venue’s Vegas-style appeal than Bruno Mars? Since 2019, most of the 15-time Grammy winner’s concert dates have been at the Dolby Live at Park MGM on the Vegas Strip. The superstar looked (and sounded) right at home in The Venue, backed by an eight-piece band that sounded tight and looked loose, genuinely enjoying themselves while the star of the show produced a high-energy set of hits while making it look easy.
Bruno switched between Motown-style bandleader to guitar-strumming troubadour to piano ballad crooner at will. At one point he exclaimed, “I can do this shit all night, Thunder Valley!” after joking that “I’m shy” while egging on the rapturous crowd for more applause.
The audience was more than willing to oblige. Upon entering The Venue, fans’ cell phones were placed and locked in Yondr pouches, a practice gaining more prominence among live performers, especially comedians looking to keep their material from going public.
While some could consider this an inconvenience, Bruno Mars didn’t allow much chance — he took the opportunity onstage to encourage the crowd to enjoy the moment and ignore the problems of the world for a couple hours. He also wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself, at one point early in the show crooning to fans in the front row, “I took your phones away.”
During an impromptu skit on his “Calling All My Lovelies” song, Bruno took an oversized ‘90s-style cordless phone prop and whispered into it, “I’m not supposed to have my phone right now. I’m at Thunder Valley. I can’t send a pic, it’s complicated.” Ever the crowd pleaser, the show, which featured precisely-timed pyro, smoke machines and other bells and whistles, ended with an extended encore version of “Uptown Funk” after a two-hour set that felt like it could have kept going all night to no complaint — with or without phones.
A full slate of shows are booked at The Venue for 2023, with musical talent and comedians including Gabriel Iglesias (two nights), Sarah Silverman, The Black Crowes, Bryan Adams, Sammy Hagar and more into the fall.
Longtime talent buyer for the casino is DWP Talent Services’ Billy Brill alongside and Danny Wimmer Presents’ Joe Moallempour and head of talent Del Williams.