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UltraStar Multi-tainment Center

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Kids learn about reptiles during a Wildman Phil presentation at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. Photo by Michelle Chance

Wildman Phil Rakoci returned to Maricopa for the second time this summer, teaching kids all about his scaly, reptilian pets on June 23. Rip Lee Walker the Raptor Actor, a costumed dinosaur, also greeted families prior to the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center’s first showing of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Tejano music fans danced for hours Saturday night during a Latin music showcase at UltraStar Multi-tainment amphitheater. Grupo El Regreso, from Phoenix, opened the show for Texas-based bands Da Krazy Pimpz and Las Fenix.

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From left: Robert Livingston, regional vice president and general manager, Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino; Ann Marie Antone, Ak-Chin Indian Community Tribal Council, Vice-Chairman Gabriel Lopez, Ak-Chin Indian Community Tribal Council; Alvin Antone, Ak-Chin Indian Community Tribal Council and Adam Saks, president & chief operating officer, UltraStar Multi-Tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle.

 

When the Ak-Chin Indian Community completed construction on the UltraStar Multi-Tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle in 2012, the best options to get from there to Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino was to walk through the adjoining parking lot or hop on a shuttle bus between the two locations.

With today’s opening of the Ak-Chin Circle Pedestrian Bridge, guests can easily walk between the two properties, getting a bird’s eye view of the Ak-Chin Community along the way.  The 180-foot-long air conditioned walkway connects the two properties.

Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar expansion that includes more than 200 guest rooms bringing the total to more than 500, a spa, a conference center with increased ballroom space, additional restaurants and a multi-level parking structure.  Nelson Partners served as the architect, Sundt/Yates Joint Venture as the general contractor for the pedestrian walkway.

“Many of our guests enjoy the entertainment and dining options at both Harrah’s Ak-Chin and Ultra-Star. This pedestrian walkway will now make it even easier to get from one place to the other and in air-conditioned comfort,” said Robert Livingston, regional president and general manager.

Juelz Morales, 9, (center) in the bunny hop race. Photo by Craig Cummins

By Craig Cummins

Games, eggs and animals took over the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center’s field, as the 12th annual Maricopa Easter Egg Hunt kicked off.

Hosted by the Community Hope Church, the event is a way for the church to give back to the community and let the people know that they are there.

“There are no profits, this isn’t a revenue making event. We spend money to provide this event. We have a couple of major sponsors, but this is something the Community of Hope provides for the city and community because we love the community,” said Pastor Rusty Akers.

What started as a small community event in Jane Askew Park and Ranch 12 years ago, has now bolstered into a festival driving in an estimated 3,000 attendees per event in recent years.

“It started out really small and it’s grown big, but we love this day,” Akers added.

This year’s festival included six inflatable bounce areas, Easter egg hunts, over a dozen side-games, a reptile exhibit, petting zoo, and the quintessential photo stand for photos with the Easter Bunny.

Kids raced from stand to stand playing the games and interacting with the attractions, gathering as many prizes as they could while parents attempted to keep up.

“We’ve lived in Maricopa for five years and we come every year,” said Samantha Morales, who attended with her three children. “I take them every year so they can play the games and the bounce houses.”

With the abundance of game stations and activities, each child had a favorite.

“I liked the face paint. I got a snake,” said Samantha’s son Juelz Morales, 9, a fourth grader at Leading Edge Elementary.

Makai Wood, 8, a third grader at Santa Rosa Elementary said, “I want to see the Easter Bunny because she gives me candy.”

Makai’s mom Tiffany Alexander said, “It’s a nice local event and it’s nice to have something like this in town.”

Maricopa Music Circle will add its own brand of musical grace to the catered Lobby Oscars® Viewing Party at Ultrastar Multi-tainment Center on Feb. 28, 4-6 p.m.

Ultrastar invited MMC to be the music feature at its black-tie Oscars Viewing Party based upon their earlier collaboration in December 2015 for the opening of the new Star Wars film, a hugely successful 13-hour Friday-Saturday musical marathon of John Williams themes from the entire Star Wars series, preceded by an appearance by MMC on Fox 10 News Live.

For the Academy Awards, the orchestra will perform many memorable movie themes. These include great melodies such as “Schindler’s List” theme, Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” David Raksin’s piercing melody from “Laura,” Williams’ stirring music from “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” plus the soaring majesty of “Jurassic Park” and theme from “E.T.,” along with jazz greats, and even one or two classic staples that have shown up in films over the years (like Debussy’s Clair de Lune, Chopin’s famous Eb Nocturne, and Edvard Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King”).

Following the Viewing Party, the Oscar Awards Ceremony will be screened in Theater 1. For pricing and other details consult the box office and website of Ultrastar Ak-Chin Theaters.

MMC is the city’s original 15-piece chamber orchestra, unique because it performs standard orchestral music and popular favorites entirely without a conductor. The orchestra’s dedicated musicians play every type of standard orchestral instrument, ranging from piccolo to harp to tuba. Every instrumentalist in this large ensemble serves as coach and supervisor several times each season, and the orchestra produces a rich, colorful and true symphonic sound.

The Feb. 28 performance is a prelude to Maricopa Music Circle’s April 2 Saturday evening “Dancing into Springtime” concert at Ultrastar.

Opening for Blue Oyster Cult in free concert

Roger Earl is Foghat's long-time drummer. Photo by Kenny Janosik

Foghat will open for Blue Oyster Cult at the UltraStar Amphitheater as part of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino’s free concert series. Gates open at 6 p.m., Foghat will be on stage at 6:30 p.m., and Blue Oyster Cult will follow at 8 p.m. Lawn seating available on a first come first serve basis.

When Foghat formed in London in 1971, Richard Nixon was president and the No. 1 song in the country was “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night. Over the next nine years, Foghat would produce hits such as “Stone Blue” and “Slow Ride” that would immortalize them for a generation.

“Life is good,” Foghat drummer Roger Earl said. “I’m one of the lucky few who get to make a living doing something I truly love.”

Starting with their debut album “Foghat” in 1972, the band would release 18 albums over the next 40 years. Their most recent album, “Last Train Home,” was released in 2010, but a new album is expected to hit stores this June.

The music industry and the band have gone through many changes, but through it all Foghat has simply kept playing.

“The industry has changed enormously,” Earl said. “Everything from buying CDs to the way you record has changed. But change is good. If nothing ever changed, it would be boring.”

Over the years, Foghat has seen 17 people participate in the band. Original member Dave Peverett (Lonesome Dave) and Rod Price have passed away. Bass player Craig MacGregor is currently on hiatus while he battles lung cancer. Throughout all the ups and downs, people filled the void to keep Foghat going.

Foghat-2015-Press-Photo-(2)“As long as you keep the drummer, I think you’re all right,” Earl quipped. “We’ve always had friends available to step in. It was hard when we lost Dave. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue on. But Charlie (Huhn) really impressed us when we went to see Humble Pie play, and he’s been our singer since.”

The rock star lifestyle has slowed for the band members in recent years. The days of touring all year and never sleeping are over, but the show still goes on.

According to Earl, Foghat now plays 50 to 65 shows a year, and they stop at Harrah’s casinos around the country.

“We’ve played a number of Harrah’s casinos throughout the years,” Earl said. “We play the casinos and they treat you well. We don’t have to try to sleep on planes between shows anymore. It’s nice.”

Earl isn’t sure how many more years he will play or how long the Foghat legacy will live on. For now, he is happy having the ability to do what he loves.

“My time simply hasn’t come yet,” Earl joked. “Life is good.”

https://www.youtube.com/user/FOGHATMUSIC/featured

Maricopa Music Circle performs the music from Star Wars during the debut weekend of The Force Awakens at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The UltraStar Multi-tainment Center ushered in the new era of “Star Wars” with showing every half hour and musical celebration performed by the Maricopa Music Circle Orchestra.

The orchestra received special permission to adjust the “Star Wars” score originally written by John Williams to suit their unique array of instruments. The orchestra performed in the middle of the UltraStar complex, and crowds waiting for their show time were able to enjoy the classic sounds of the franchise.

“We were pretty busy [during Thursday’s premier] but we had our lines set up and we had enough shows that everyone was able to get a good seat,” UltraStar senior manager of theater operations said. “Tonight, we expect a really good turn out as well. We have movies playing every 15 to 30 minutes, so we’ll see what happens.”

The orchestra is slated to play 25 minute sets throughout the night, and crowds are expected to nearly fill each “Force Awakens” showing.

The UltraStar Multi-tainment Center will host a Star Wars themed celebration from Thursday to Saturday for the opening of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Thursday night.

star-warsMusic, games and specialty items will be available for fans of the fantasy saga to enjoy starting Thursday night. Movie screenings will begin Thursday night at 7 p.m. and new showings are set to begin each half-hour until midnight. The celebration will continue on Friday and Saturday as well with the Maricopa Music Circle Orchestra performing John Williams’ score from the original Star Wars movies.

“The Music Circle will be there starting at 4 p.m. on Friday and they will have 25-minute sets,” UltraStar senior manager of theater operations Wilson Middleton said. “They’re going to be playing pretty much all of the Star Wars’ theme songs.”

The Maricopa Music Circle Orchestra performing John Williams’ score is a unique feature for the event. The orchestra had to receive special permission to create the new arrangement. Fans of the Star Wars series will be able to enjoy the songs without controversy throughout Friday and Saturday’s festivities.

The 501st Legion Star Wars costumers will also be at the event to take pictures with fans, and UltraStar dining will introduce two new cocktails for adult attendees called “The Darkside” and “The Force.”

“The Darkside” will consist of Three Olives cherry vodka, raspberry liquor, Sprite and grenadine while “The Force” is made up of Malibu Rum, triple sec, blue curacao and lemonade.

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Costumed fans are fully expected during the Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening weekend.

The Force Awakens is one of the most anticipated movies of the decade. Residents planning to attend are encouraged to purchase their tickets ahead of time.

Jesse Valenzuela was one of the earliest members of Gin Blossoms. Photo by Jeff Harris

If Jesse Valenzuela refers to Gin Blossoms in both present tense and past tense, it is understandable. The band, forged in Tempe in the late 1980s, is on its second incarnation.

Gin Blossoms will perform in the amphitheater at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Dec. 19 at 1:30 p.m. as part of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino’s concert series.

“It’s close to home. It’ll be fun,” Valenzuela said. “We’ll play all the hits.”

Guitarist, singer and songwriter, Valenzuela is one of the group’s founders. The band still tends to be labeled alternative rock, though Valenzuela just calls it pop-rock.

“I don’t care what they call us really, but I never felt like we were in line with alternative rockers,” he said. “I thought we sounded more like the Eagles than the Screaming Trees.”

He attributes the misplaced genre to their record label trying to hitch the band’s wagon to the shooting star of the alt rock industry of the early ‘90s.

The band broke through in 1992 with the album New Miserable Experience. It sold 4 million copies. In 1996, their follow-up album, Congratulations I’m Sorry, also went platinum and was their highest charting album at No. 10.

Jesse Valenzuela. Submitted photo
Jesse Valenzuela. Submitted photo

Gin Blossoms broke up in 1997. Band members went on to other projects. Valenzuela released a solo album, Tunes Young People Will Enjoy. As the industry has changed, he found success in getting music into movies and television.

Though he moved to Los Angeles 25 years ago because he couldn’t find an avenue in Phoenix to play music full time, he said, “It’s a different world and you don’t necessarily have to live in LA to pursue that sort of career.”

Gin Blossoms regrouped in 2002. Their album Major Lodge Victory came 10 years after their previous release. In 2010, the band released No Chocolate Cake.

Nearly six years later, the band will begin working on music for a new album in 2016, allowing Valenzuela to shift into future tense. “I don’t know what it will be like,” he said. “It’s not as if we have to sell records anymore. We can just have some fun and explore.”

Dealing with so many personalities, experiences and backgrounds can make that process challenging.

“It’s just a matter of being around together for almost 30 years,” he said. “There’s been a lot of change, you know, and tragedies big and small. And the music kind of stays in the same realm. We’re going to make a new record here and hopefully there will be a few left turns.”

Valenzuela said his musical influences were too many to mention but pointed out Johnson was a young jazz enthusiast and has a serious LP collection of jazz. Lead singer Robin Wilson, meanwhile, does not want any drastic changes.

“If you try to throw a jazz chord into a pop song, it can rub some people the wrong way,” Valenzuela said. “It can be conflicting if you’re trying to push 115 beats on eighth notes into a pop song. But in the conflict, there can be magic.”

Mostly, Gin Blossoms is trying to ride the line between sticking with what has always worked and progressing as a band.

“The guys are very cautious,” Valenzuela said. “Robin likes to remain true to what he perceives as the Gin Blossom sound. He doesn’t want to play anything necessarily too left field. But I don’t know. I think it might be fun to do that.”

The industry no longer survives on album sales. For Gin Blossoms it’s a matter of adapting.

“I’ve spent plenty of my career pursuing the song that would go viral,” Valenzuela said. “Back in the day it was going on the radio, now it’s going viral. Whatever you’re going to do it’s not really an economic pursuit.”

If You Go …
Who: Gin Blossoms
Where: UltraStar Multi-tainment Center Amphitheatre
When: Dec. 19, 1:30 p.m. (gates open at 12:30 p.m.)
How much: Free
Info: Caesars.com/Harrahs-Ak-Chin/Shows

 Gin Blossoms’ (from left) Scott Johnson, Bill Leen, Robin Wilson and Jesse Valenzuela will play a free show at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Dec. 19 as part of the Harrah’s Ak-Chin concert series. Saki Photography

Gin Blossoms’ (from left) Scott Johnson, Bill Leen, Robin Wilson and Jesse Valenzuela will play a free show at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Dec. 19 as part of the Harrah’s Ak-Chin concert series. Saki Photography

This story appeared in the December issue of InMaricopa News.

Adam Saks, general manager of UltraStar Multi-taiment Center, chats with InMaricopa's Adam Wolfe about upcoming events at UltraStar.

UltraStar Multi-tainment Center General Manager Adam Saks stopped by our InMaricopa studio to discuss the upcoming celebration for UltraStar’s third anniversary, as well as how the company is to progressing with the growing area around it.

“You need to innovate,” Saks said. “We’re going to always be looking at the physical plan. On the social media front and the interactive front, (we need) to create environments where people can really take advantage of their social media.”

The anniversary celebration will begin as soon as doors open on Saturday. Activities for the event will include $3 movies, $1 laser tag and bowling, dollar for dollar matching on game cards, “Wildman Phil” shows and food.

The event is expected to last through UltraStar’s showing of Ronda Rousey defending her title in the Ultimate Fighting Championship Saturday night.

“It’s our opportunity to say thank to the Maricopa and Ak-Chin communities,” Saks said. “The Ak-Chin Indian Community certainly loves the opportunity to give something back and say thank you to everyone who supports us all year long.”