Even in the heat of the summer, it seems that most concert promoters treat Atlantic City and other beachfront Jersey locales like a three-night town. And this year, more than in the recent past, talent bookers are targeting their mostly weekend attractions to a really grown-up (say, 30-plus) entertainment-seeker who wants an easy, safe bet.
So, you're not gonna find many hot new buzz bands here - not even at the most-contemporary-minded Borgata or the House of Blues at Showboat. What you will find are dozens of musical artists and groups (and the occasional comedian) who've been at this thing for several decades, and have scored hits galore.
Some are even honest-to-goodness legends who'll make you say: "Yeah, that show was worth the gas and tolls - and the money I blew at the slots."
So which Friday, Saturday and Sunday night attractions are gonna twist your ignition key and get you rolling east toward Jersey? Here come our picks for the most likely "gotta getaway" weekend motivators.
THIS WEEKEND: The hipsters' comic choice, Chris Rock, is telling it like it is at the Borgata tonight and tomorrow. (Can't wiggle in? He'll be back Aug. 15.) Deborah Gibson, the grown-up, Broadway-trained reincarnation of former teen idol Debbie Gibson, is doing her song and dance at Harrah's through next Thursday, and the following weekend, too.
MAY 23-25: Old-school crooners rule Friday with Paul Anka at the Borgata and Kenny Rogers at the Trump Plaza. Soul shakers take charge the next night, with homegirl Patti LaBelle at House of Blues and Natalie Cole opening her two-nighter at Resorts.
Sunday, rock-'n'-blues rules with Eric Clapton and Robert Randolph at the Borgata Event Center, and Eddie Money at House of Blues. Meanwhile, mellow folk-rock man Kenny Loggins celebrates you home, same night, at Bally's.
MAY 30-JUNE 1: King of the Casinos Wayne Newton is in for a Friday/Saturday stand at Harrah's. Lock the doors! Nobody goes home!
Sheryl Crow just wants to have fun Friday at the Borgata. Neo-soul singer/pianist Alicia Keys headlines at the Taj's Mark Etess Arena on Saturday, with "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks in the warm-up slot, we hope. (She missed their Philly date due to vocal problems.)
JUNE 6-8: Another lure for the seniors, Engelbert Humperdinck, visits Trump Plaza Friday and Saturday. "That Ain't My Truck" honky-tonker Rhett Akins is at HOB Friday, while mellow country man Clint Black is at the Tropicana on Saturday.
Jazzy/nostalgic harmony quartet Manhattan Transfer HOB-nobs on Saturday. And the unexpectedly effective roots duet of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss brings a bit of hootenanny spirit to Borgata on Sunday.
JUNE 13-15: Wave your rainbow flag at the "True Colors" show with Cyndi Lauper, Rosie O'Donnell, the B52's and more, coming out at the Borgata on Friday. Miley's country-rocking dad Billy Ray Cyrus sings at the Hilton on Saturday. Same night, James Taylor showers the people with love at the Borgata, while Chuck Mangione toots his horn at House of Blues on a jazz-pop fusion co-bill with Spyro Gyra.
JUNE 20-22: Come on down for the country antics of John Rich (of Big & Rich fame) and Cowboy Troy at Bally's on Friday and Saturday. Girls rule Friday night at the Borgata, with Stevie Nicks in the big room, and a youthful triple bill of Kate Voegele, Natasha Bedingfield and the Veronicas in the Music Box.
A masculine Stevie - Stevie Wonder - delivers hits galore on Saturday at the Trump Taj's Etess Arena. And worth a story unto himself, seven-decade trouper Mickey Rooney opens his "One Man One Wife" show with Jan Rooney on Sunday at the Hilton, continuing through June 26.
JUNE 27-28: Steely Dan (and fans) are reeling in the years at Borgata on Friday. Chicago and the Doobie Brothers do likewise at the Borgata on Saturday. Ringo Starr gets by with a little help from his Allstars (Billy Squier, Colin Hay, Edgar Winter, Gary Wright, Hamish Stuart) Saturday at the Taj Mahal.
Put your cowboy boots on for the triple bill of Pat Green, Tracy Byrd and Tracy Lawrence at House of Blues on Saturday. Jam band stars Blues Traveler hit the Tropicana on Saturday. The same night, Ashlee Simpson pours her bubbly pop at the Wildwoods Convention Center.
JULY 4-6: Get the holiday off to a nostalgic bang on Friday with the Beach Boys at the Hilton, with Canada's gift to prog rock Rush at the the Taj's Etess Arena, or at the Borgata with Boz Scaggs in the Music Box and Melissa Etheridge in the Event Center.
Come Saturday, the pickings range from rowdy country girl Gretchen Wilson at House of Blues to veteran pop balladeer Michael Bolton at Trump Marina and the remains of Three Dog Night at the Hilton. On Sunday - shocker - there's actually a show for the twentysomethings, punky rockers Plain White T's at House of Blues.
JULY 11-13: Superstar Tony Bennett brings his heart to Caesars Circus Maximus Friday and Saturday. Go jamming with reggae men Steel Pulse, or relive the British Invasion with the Zombies at Trump Marina on Saturday.
JULY 18-20: Master mixologists Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow make the room spin at HOB on Friday. Sir Elton John pounds the keys and sings at Boardwalk Hall on Saturday. Al Green offers love and happiness at HOB on Sunday.
JULY 25-27: Donna Summer works hard for the money at Caesars Friday and Saturday. Say yes to Yes, Friday at the Borgata Event Center. War and Starship (starring Mickey Thomas) land Saturday at the Hilton, while note-perfect Beatles emulators the Fab Faux do their amazing recreation that night at HOB.
AUG. 2-4: Looking for that rare Shore show for the whole family? The top 10 finalists from this year's "American Idol" are gathered at Boardwalk Hall on Saturday. Also that night, Peter Frampton rocks the Tropicana, Grand Funk Railroad stops at the AC Hilton, and Earth Wind & Fire heat the Borgata.
AUG. 8-10: Soul divas rule this weekend. Friday and Saturday, there's Gladys Knight at the Tropicana. Saturday, it's Chaka Khan (plus Musiq Soulchild) at the Borgata. Or, celebrate New Orleans' rich musical heritage with Dr. John and the Neville Brothers, Saturday at Trump Marina.
AUG. 15-17: Backstreet Boys (remember them?) are alive at HOB on Friday. Same night, visit Boston at the Trop. Chameleonlike jazz legend Herbie Hancock headlines at the Borgata on Saturday, maybe doing some tunes from his Grammy-winning Joni Mitchell tribute? For sure, Bruce Hornsby does his jazz- and country-inflected pop piano thing at HOB, same night.
AUG. 22-24: Get your weekend off to a rousing romantic start on Friday with Rod Stewart at the Borgata, or with earnest piano popster Marc Cohn at HOB. Jimmy Buffett makes the Parrotheads caw at the AC Boardwalk Hall on Sunday.
AUG. 30-31: On Saturday, they'll all come to look for America at the AC Hilton. Same night, tangle with Foreigner at the Trump Taj Mahal or pop one with Smash Mouth at HOB. Then, on Sunday, get into the mind of (Carlos) Mencia at the Borgata.
Labor Day dawns Sept. 1. It was some summer, huh? *