Casino as a concert venue? Oh yea!
At first, I got excited.
Then I got mad.
And then I got scared.
That’s pretty much the natural arc of emotions when faced with the prospect of meeting James Brown.
I was a student at Morningside College in Sioux City working at HyVee — oh, yeah, and obviously James Brown wasn’t yet dead — when buzz rippled through the store one night that J.B. was in the house.
I just happened to be “facing” the Pepto-Bismol — industry jargon for making stuff look nice — when word finally reached to me back in the antidiarrheal section of the pharmacy.
As a big fan of soul and funk, I found myself excitedly interrogating my coworkers.
To my dismay, though, they weren’t of any help.
They all acted like it was no biggie, as if a sighting of the Godfather of Soul at HyVee in Sioux City, Iowa, was something of a regular occurrence.
Like, “Oh, I hate it when that guy with the giant black pompadour and the purple cape comes in. I always see him eating all the Brach’s stuff.”
I took off for the parking lot, hoping to still catch a glimpse of him.
And there it was, right there in the fire lane — the “James Brown, Living in America” tour bus.
Taking off my apron, I knew what I had to do.
I had to get on the bus.
Unfortunately, my khaki pants and crisp, white shirt didn’t exactly suggest that I was down with the funk.
In fact, when I finally, nervously, tapped on the door, I think I heard the driver yell to the back of the bus, “Yo, J.B. There’s some Mormon kid out here.”
After a few seconds, the door flung open.
“What?” the driver asked.
“Is the Godfather on board?” I chirped.
“No,” he answered, closing the door swiftly, presumably before a second missionary could show up and we could take the bus by force.
I still think back to that summer night often and it makes me smile.
To think, only a bus door, a driver, three armed bodyguards, a sax player and five women in various states of undress separated me — a kid from Jefferson — from Soul Brother No. 1.
It dawned on me in recent weeks that the reason James Brown was even there in the first place was to play a show at WinnaVegas, the casino operated since 1992 by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska out in the middle of nowhere near Sloan, Iowa.
I remember the late, great George Carlin also passing through WinnaVegas during my time at Morningside.
My wife, Amy, just happens to be from Sioux City, so we visit regularly.
This past summer, I spotted billboards advertising the likes of Smokey Robinson and Merle Haggard at WinnaVegas.
When it comes to attracting national entertainment to places that are a little less-traveled, casinos are great.
This was a long way of saying it, but I’m excited at the prospect of a Wild Rose Casino coming to Greene County purely for the entertainment it’ll bring to an area that otherwise is considered prime “flyover territory.”
If I learned anything during my years on a newspaper’s entertainment beat in Ohio, it’s this — unless you live in New York or Los Angeles, a performer will only show up in your town if you can front them the appropriate amount of cash.
Often, we’re talking upwards of six figures for a single, 90-minute show.
Not a bad way to make a living, eh?
I’ll admit — I have zero interest in the actual casino part of a potential Wild Rose in Jefferson.
After all, the only card game I know is Slap Jack.
I can play a pretty wicked hand of Uno, too, if that counts.
Of course, the fate of Wild Rose Jefferson is now in the hands of the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission, which is expected to vote June 12 on the proposed casino.
Growing up, I thought The Rumbles’ annual appearance at the Bell Tower Festival beer tent was the absolute height of entertainment around here.
A Wild Rose casino would put us in a whole different league.
The Wild Rose Casino and Resort in Emmetsburg has had a regular slate of national acts since opening in 2006.
Upcoming shows include the likes of country singers Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan — both members of the Grand Ole Opry — plus Phil Vassar, Chris Cagle and Mickey Gilley.
The oldies group Jay & the Americans will play there on April 25.
Past acts in Emmetsburg have included Roy Clark — a Country Music Hall of Famer — Crystal Gayle, Sawyer Brown, ’60s sunshine-pop greats The Association and even the blues-wailing Yardbirds (albeit sans Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page).
Emmetsburg and Palo Alto County are roughly the same size as Jefferson and Greene County, although arguably a little more remote.
In what universe is there a venue in either Palo Alto or Greene counties that could lure those types of names with such regularity?
Wild Rose Jefferson indeed has plans for a connected events center that could accommodate concerts and 800 people.
Now, let’s get real.
Blue Man Group ain’t coming to Wild Rose.
Celine Dion probably isn’t going to come and do a six-year residency in Jefferson.
But what’s here now?
Greene County voters apparently agreed when they went to the polls last summer, approving a gaming referendum with 75 percent support — the highest vote margin in state history for a casino.
So, yeah, I’m excited at the prospect of it all.
But you know who should be even more excited?
The kid at Fareway who taps on the door of the tour bus out in the parking lot.