Cannery carves out a niche by booking acts baby boomers love

Kathie Spehar, director of entertainment for Cannery Casino Resorts, sometimes finds herself dealing with an unusual, and decidedly generational, workplace issue.

Spehar books musical acts for the Cannery, the Eastside Cannery and the Rampart. And, sometimes, her younger staff doesn’t quite get it when she books an act from the ’50s or ’60s.

"The younger generation that works here with me is always yelling at me because I don’t book the hard rock they like," Spehar explains with a laugh.

But, laugh-worthy or not, booking oldies acts — along with classic rock and tribute acts — has allowed Cannery venues to carve out a boomer-friendly niche in a competitive Las Vegas entertainment landscape.

There’s Jerry Presley, Elvis’ second cousin, who plays Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Eastside Cannery. Edgar Winter and April Wine, scheduled for Aug. 22 at the Cannery. The 1910 Fruitgum Company, which will play the Eastside Cannery on Aug. 21 and 22. Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals and Tommy James and the Shondells, at the Cannery on Aug. 29. And Petula Clark on Aug. 30 at Rampart.

Not to mention Chad & Jeremy, Bobby Vinton, the Spinners and Jay and the Americans, who are among the growing number of ’60s and ’70s chart-toppers who have made Cannery properties their Las Vegas home.

None of this is coincidental. Rather, Spehar says, it’s a booking strategy that stems from the fact that the Cannery’s customer base skews heavily toward the boomer demographic.

"So, I thought, ‘Well, let me try some baby boomer acts,’ and, guess what? They all worked," says Spehar. "From the Buckinghams to the Association to Freddy Cannon and the Vogues, they all worked."

"People loved it," Spehar says. "I used to get letters (saying), ‘Everybody forgot about us.’ "

Then, Spehar began adding R&B into the mix — the Spinners, the Dells, the Dramatics, the O’Jays, Little Anthony and the Imperials — and the winning streak continued.

Why? "It’s all about the memories," Spehar answers.

And it’s why, when Jerry Presley takes the stage this weekend for three shows at Eastside Cannery’s Marilyn’s Lounge, he’ll feel right at home in playing to an audience who can recall when the songs he’ll be singing were brand new. In a phone interview, Presley said he spent much of his career performing with such classic acts as the Platters, the Coasters, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs and Jackie Wilson.

Since 1969, he’s been focusing primarily on his tribute to his second cousin. By now, Elvis’ songs are so iconic that, Presley says, "if you forget the words, most of the audiences can sing it for you."

Spehar says audiences for the Cannery shows come from all over the valley. "When we do our Memorial and Labor Day events, which are strictly oldies, we have 3,000 or more people here," she says.

It doesn’t hurt that ticket prices are reasonable. For instance, tickets to the 1910 Fruitgum Company shows are $5 apiece, and all tickets typically are $20 or less.

Future shows are scheduled to include such performers as Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Association, Herman’s Hermits, The Guess Who, The Turtles and Rare Earth.

In addition, Eastside Cannery recently began hosting "Classic Rock Saturdays" events.

Some — even some baby boomers — might be surprised to discover that such acts are still even around. But Spehar says the shows can offer even longtime fans a few surprises.

"When I first brought Edgar Winter here, everybody said, ‘Whoa.’ They were shocked that he still sounds exactly the same," Spehar says.

And, in a slightly different vein, when actor Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band, which returns to the Cannery Labor Day weekend, first played there, audiences "were very surprised how good the band was," Spehar says.

Obviously, other venues around town don’t ignore this oldies-loving demographic. For example, both Primm Valley Resorts ("The Ultimate Doo Wop Show" is scheduled for Aug. 21) and Boyd Gaming’s Coast Casinos properties (Bobby Rydell is scheduled to play the Suncoast Aug. 21 through 23) also book boomer-friendly acts, albeit not as avidly as Cannery resorts.

"There is still competition with other casinos," Spehar says. "That’s why I try to go off the beaten path."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ or 702-383-0280.

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