Culture

Yaamava Casino Bets on Music and Makeover 

New year, new nightlife series! We’ve been covering clubs, concerts and parties for LA Weekly for decades and especially after the pandemic, we feel passionate about their survival. Many of our favorite venues have struggled and some have shuttered (The Lash and Market Tavern, which hosted dance clubs and all-star jams respectively, are just the latest to close this month). But in the past couple of years, new locales have defiantly emerged during the uncertainty of the pandemic, determined to bring people together and succeed. The industry is bouncing back and after two years of hermitting at home, we’re all ready for something new, aren’t we? This year, we’ll be celebrating club culture like we used to, with focused reports spotlighting newer event spaces you can and should visit. For January, we begin with a real jackpot spot… 

(Courtesy Yaamava Theater)

Historically, Indian Casinos haven’t always prioritized entertainment, but Yaamava Resort & Casino in Highland, California, is changing that in a major way. The locale formerly known as San Manuel, was re-named  in 2020, and after a $760- million expansion, it’s got the makings of a real Vegas alternative, especially for Angelenos. Only about an hour from Downtown L.A., the resort now boasts over 7,100 slot machines (the most on the West Coast), five unique and differentiated high-limit rooms, over 150 table games with limits of $100,000, a luxury hotel experience, a world-class spa, and most notably for music fans, a 3,000-capacity theater for concerts (inaugurated by L.A.’s own Red Hot Chili Peppers when it opened in April 2021).

From ticket purchasing to parking, seeing a show at the Yaamava theater feels effortless and exclusive. After catching The Black Keys back in October, we’re ranking it right next to L.A.’s best music venues, competitive with bigger spaces such as the YouTube theater and more intimate ones like The Fonda. Nice sightlines from every seat and sound via L-Acoustics (a French manufacturer of loudspeakers and amplifiers) provide a setting that lets performers shine.

Yaamava Casino (Lina Lecaro)

“It’s an opportunity to experience large-scale national touring acts in an intimate setting,” says Drew Dixon, ’ vice president of entertainment and events. “Our venue has a general admission capacity of 3,000 and can scale down to 2,570 for shows with reserved seating. Our retractable seating platforms accommodate tiered seating areas with the adaptability of a flat floor to allow for a variety of events.”

It’s worth the drive to see your favorite acts here. Part of the Inland Empire nestled next to the San Bernardino mountains, Highland might seem a world away, but getting there doesn’t require the time, headache or gas that most desert destinations do. It’s even closer than Morongo, the Palm Springs-adjacent Indian casino once known for its music bookings, now mostly for killer Coachella parties and frequent TV commercials touting it as a hotspot.

Owned and operated by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, of the indigenous Serrano tribe, Yaamava (which means “Spring,” in tribal language) might not be as zealous about advertising as Morongo, but its bookings are attracting bigger and younger crowds. Thanks to the musical elements, this ain’t your grandma’s getaway.

The rebrand, which took place during the height of COVID-19, included over 5,000 new employee hires. Everyone seems really happy to be there. Part of the enthusiasm comes from the hospitality sector’s excitement to be back and serving the public again, and hopefully this energy will last. Pre-gaming options are plentiful, with restaurants including Pine Steakhouse, Hung Bao chinese kitchen, and an obligatory casino buffet. There’s also poolside cocktail lounging and, of course, gambling galore to do before and after shows, which makes it feel more like a getaway than an average concert night.

The Black Keys at Yaamava Theater (Lina Lecaro)

“The tribe’s goal was to have a best-in-class casino and resort experience. To be the best, you must offer guests unparalleled products and services,” adds Peter Arceo, ’ Resort & Casino’s general manager. “The expansion challenged our team to go beyond our competitive set and casino category to offer an experience that would expand our guest reach beyond California and become an international destination.”

Backdropped by vibrant video walls, the theater’s 3,800-square-foot stage has seen popular touring acts courtesy of Live Nation. The night we saw the Keys, these giant screens backlit the band in a groovy way we haven’t seen at local venues. Rather than illuminating imagery from above, the screens were placed behind the band creating a video-style visual that gave their set a psychedelic feel, with geometric patterns and colors contrasting behind each musician. Complemented by acoustics that sounded crisp and clear even when things got a bit clamorous, the visual elements elevated the experience.

(Courtesy The 909)

After shows, guests are often invited to continue the night at the resort’s pool area for an after-party. There’s atmospherically lit decor, DJs and themed drinks. Our favorite on the menu, and the favorite of the Black Keys singer’s Dan Auerbach, as he shouted about it from the stage, is called the “Purple Rain” (made with vodka, lemonade, blue curaçao and grenadine). The pool bar closes based on weather conditions, so call ahead to see if it’s open during Winter season shows.

In addition to the theater, the resort also houses a Rock & Brews restaurant with its own banner bookings. The chain founded by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, has locations in Buena Park and Redondo Beach, and brings to mind the Hard Rock cafe with memorabilia-heavy surroundings. As we saw with the Hard Rock in Vegas, this works in a casino environment. In 2022, the restaurant launched its “Rock & Brews Concert Series” featuring familiar nostalgia acts including Everclear, Alien Ant Farm, LA Guns and Steel Panther. Dixon says for 2023, they’ve confirmed “the best rock music spanning multiple generations,” like late ‘90s hit-makers Lit, Filter, Crazytown and Adema. The musical Rock of Ages also starts there on Jan. 27.

(Courtesy Yaamava Theater)

Our favorite spot in the casino is just outside of Brews, where music from the eatery bleeds into the computerized bleeps and bells of the slots, and black-and-white rock photography contrasts with the flashing lights and spinning wheels on the floor. It’s the perfect place to play – and hopefully score a payout – before a music or comedy show. Adding to the social scene, the just-opened 909 Sports Bar provides another lively gathering place. Named after the local area code, the resort designed it with the local community in mind. The LA Kings official drumline performed at the opening.

Patrons from Los Angeles make up a large portion of the crowds here, most driving to shows and back home afterward, but we recommend turning the trip into a staycation. From the Peppers to P!nk, Tim McGraw to Kevin Hart, Alanis Morissette to Duran Duran, the digital marquee inside the casino has seen an array of pop, rock, Latin and comedy talents, and more are on the way. ”We select iconic artists that appeal to a broad range of people, from young adults to experienced concertgoers with the common desire of having a great time and enjoying great music in an intimate setting,” touts Dixon. “It’s a one-stop entertainment destination unlike anything you can experience in California.”

Look for Yaamava to live up to its name and bloom big as Spring approaches. After January dates with REO Speedwagon and Leslie Jones, February brings Santana, Tower of Power and The Offspring. March offers Jim Gaffigan, George Thorogood and Dane Cook, followed by Joan Jett, Nikki Glaser and The Goo Goo Dolls in later months. The Bacon Brothers just announced a special Sunset Sessions set poolside in May.

Yaamava Resort and Yaamava Theater, 777 San Manuel Blvd, Highland. More info on hotel rooms, spa appointments and show tickets at https://.com

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