“We’ve had nights where you have a view of the dancing lights of the hotel, a view of the stage, and there have been nights where a full moon rises over the show,” Sean Harrison, Downstream Casino Resort’s public relations manager said.
Master-class artists with unearthly singing talents are the headliners at Downstream Casino Resort at the unique outdoor venue, and more intimate indoor venue. It doesn’t get any better than the talent of musical artists and living legends such as Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, Steve Miller, or Boston who have taken the stage at Downstream.
“We wanted to make a real statement here, a statement of real class,” Harrison said.
So how does a casino in the middle of the heartland, with no substantially large city nearby draw these high-end performers?
Downstream’s fifth anniversary year of operations will be celebrated July 5, and the casino staff has perfected the entertainment aspect of the business. According to Harrison it does take financial enticement to draw bigger artists, but it’s also about the property and the venue offered at Downstream.
“It’s important, because, you know, it’s their reputation too,” Harrison said. “We’ve learned by trial and fire and by listening to our guests and getting to know what they like. We’ve had a lot of feedback and a lot of success on classic rock acts from the 70s and 80s. The duo Heart was one of our most successful shows. The late George Jones, Foreigner and the Beach Boys were a huge success, too.”
The decisions on what artists to pursue for the venue is carefully thought out and takes months of planning by the event staff. Big hits at Downstream have been bands such as Chicago, Foreigner, Kansas, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Heart, Boston, bands usually only seen in bigger cities such as Kansas City or Tulsa. Harrison pointed this out in a hall lined with glass-encased electric guitars signed by these big-name artists and bands that Downstream has brought in to cater to the wishes of its guests.
He said, “Last year when we had Boston, they have so many hits, everyone was singing along. They’ll launch into a song, and it’s a happy surprise, you say, ‘Oh, yeah I remember that, this is so great!’ We get Baby Boomers and their kids who can sing along with the songs, that really blows my mind.”
Southern Rock, classic and new Country are staples here in this part of the country. Bands such as 38 Special, Charlie Daniels Band, and Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the late George Jones have all graced Downstream’s stage.
“You hire a great act and you’re able to take care of their needs in terms of sound quality and lights, and trailers. We’re proud of the job we do to produce high-class, smoothly run productions. The venue up on the hill, there’s really not a bad seat out there,” Harrison said. “We want it to look really good, and to sound really good. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into these shows.”
The casino resort’s staff starts looking at summer shows and artist’s routing months in advance for booking. “It’s like putting together a big puzzle. What band would be attractive for our guests, are they going to be routing through our area? Are they at a price we can afford? All these things have to come together.”
He said at the same time the artist’s promoters are looking at the credibility of the venues they book.
“We’ve earned some street cred,” he said with a laugh. “It’s always an adventure though. The promoters and agents get information and ratings on us from industry publications and sources.”
Acts that can sell out 20,000 seat arenas tend not to seek smaller venues such as Downstream that have a 6,000 seat capacity. According to Harrison,“There’s a happy medium that works for our venue and works for our guests.”
At Downstream Casino Resort, a Vegas-type atmosphere is the goal, and it has been achieved. The closest cities of size are Springfield (Mo.) and Joplin (Mo.) and Tulsa.
“You might say this place is in the middle of nowhere. It’s a rural area; it’s not a cosmopolitan city. Downstream was built as if it could be in a city. It’s a complete destination resort and it’s a great getaway,” Harrison said. “When you come in here and you enter at valet, and you can go to the spa for serenity, or to the gaming floor for stimulation and excitement you feel like you could be in Vegas. Like you’re somewhere else, far way.”
The restaurant choices, luxurious hotel accommodations, and guest services add to a total package; the entertainment offered at Downstream is the icing on the cake.
This summer's lineup is an example of the caliber and variety of performers Downstream offers: Willie Nelson — for the venue’s anniversary — will perform July 5, Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus July 19, Jake Owen Aug. 2, Charlie Daniels Band and 38 Special Aug. 23 and The Band Perry Sept. 1.
The Huey Lewis concert is special anniversary tour, Frampton is pulling in other guest guitarists on his tour, and Owen is one of the hottest new stars of Country.
“Willie Nelson established Outlaw Country, and his song-writing skills are unmatched,” Harrison said.
“There’s sort of a legacy with Southern Rock fans here because of the connection to Steve and Cassie Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special was sort of a spinoff of the band,” Harrison said, “and Charlie Daniels ... what can you say?”
“It will be a total end-of-the-summer blowout with The Band Perry,” he said. “They’re just so huge, high energy.”
“We try to provide a little something for everybody,” Harrison said. “They’re so much out there. I’m a longtime music fan...there are whole new categories of music to explore. I think it’s important to provide some variety.”
The Pavilion outback and the casino floor are also is great small venues for intimate concerts. One of the more popular bands is ‘Members Only’ from Springfield, an 80s-tribute band.
Harrison said his personal favorite performance at Downstream was Gregg Allman.
“There’s nothing like a live concert. If a performer is into it and feeling it, the music ... it translates to the audience and feeds back to the artist,” he said. “It all translates to really good news for the music lovers.”
Tickets are on sale for the summer concerts at Downstream’s website — wwwdownstreamcasino.com