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Anticipation was the name of the game over the last few days, as the excitement surrounding Resorts World Catskills (RWC) built to a crescendo and its doors were flung open for the first time last Thursday morning. I joined The River Reporter’s news editor Fritz Mayer (see page 1) and scores of reporters representing more than 60 media outlets from around the globe in celebrating the beginning of what many are calling a “renaissance” in Sullivan County, drawing upon the rich history of the “Borscht Belt” as a vacation destination of epic proportions back in the day.
My parents were among the thousands who traveled to the region during the ‘50s and ‘60s with their kids in tow, to bask in the fresh air of the mountains and frolic at resorts like Browns, the Nevele, Grossinger’s and the Concord. I have fond memories of those family vacations, and while it’s fun to revisit the glory days, the last 40 years have not been as kind, so the fanfare heralding the new casino and all that it entails couldn’t come at a better time.
While there certainly is a lot to shout about, my focus will surely be on the entertainment opportunities that RWC will be providing to its patrons, and I was thrilled to learn that by the time all is said and done, RWC will boast 10 varied “bar experiences,” multiple restaurants and lounges and a 2,500-seat “event center” that will house five-star entertainment and sporting events, in addition to the smaller venues.
One such room, The Doubletop Bar and Grille, is already open for business, and I spoke with RWC entertainment manager Aaron LaCan about what we can expect to see in the coming months. “We are so excited to be here,” LaCan enthused, “and we truly desire to be an entertainment destination that visitors and residents will want to visit over and over, but also a hot spot for local talent to showcase what they do right here at home. In that vein, we are thrilled to be opening the Double Top with a month-long residency hosted by Sullivan County’s own international Blues legend Slam Allen.”
I called Slam, and learned that he had just returned from performing in Barcelona, Spain. “Yeah, man—I’m running on jet-lag, but so excited to begin this new adventure with Resorts World Catskills,” Slam said. “It’s gonna be great.” Slam told me that he “was thrilled” when LaCan reached out to ask if he was up to hosting the Monday-night entertainment for the next few weeks. “To have a platform with which to provide quality entertainment and share the stage with my friends in the area is fantastic,” Slam said. “And to have the resort call me, and hear that my reputation precedes me? Well, that means everything. I feel like all this hard work has paid off, and I can’t wait to see where my relationship with the folks at Resorts World takes me and all of my incredibly talented fellow musicians.”
If Monday’s opening salvo was any indication, I’ll be staying up way past bedtime more than usual. “You never know who is gonna show up,” was Slam’s response when I asked who was on the bill. “And I guarantee some surprises along the way. You’ll want to come back every Monday night.” The place was packed (on a school night!), and it was clear that word had gotten out. Slam had asked Chris Raabe and his band to open the show, and over the course of the next several hours Slam invited uber-talented (IMHO) musicians Rich Johansen, Dan Berger and vocalist Joanna Gass (among others) to share the stage. Strutting his stuff into the audience while singing the blues, Slam approached a guy at the bar and handed his guitar over. “Do it,” Slam said to Orange County phenom Dan Brother, who had just “stopped in to support Slam and hear him play.”
Following Dan’s wildly hot licks on Slam’s guitar, I chatted with him briefly. “I’ve known Slam since I was 14,” Brother said. “He is one-in-a-million.” Meanwhile, Allen was back on stage, schmoozing with the audience, who were dining and enjoying adult beverages during the show. “I’m not here for the prestige, and I’m not here for the money,” Slam intoned. “I’m here for you, ladies and gentlemen, so help me out and join right in.”
Sitting in the crowd was Slam’s uncle, Cecil Allen, who was one of the founding members of the Allen Brothers Band and still lives in Monticello. “Oh sure, we played all of the big hotels,” Cecil said. “Including the Concord, of course. Monticello was jumpin’ back then” he continued.” Scanning the crowd, Cecil posed with his nephew and grinned. “Looks like it might be jumpin’ again!”
Without space constraints, I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that I had a swell time visiting Resorts World Catskills and have already made plans to return for “Slam Allen and Friends.” I even managed to win 77 simoleons from a one-armed bandit in the casino before taking my leave with Dharma the Wonder Dog in tow. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Sullivan County and let it ride. Let the games begin!