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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

For lovers of the performing arts who reside in the Coachella Valley, Christmas figuratively comes in April every year—because that’s when the McCallum Theatre announces what gifts it is bringing to town during the upcoming season.

To overextend this tortured metaphor … that makes Mitch Gershenfeld Santa Claus, sort of, as the McCallum president and CEO is the sleighmaster (OK, this metaphor is officially finished) who books the theater’s shows each season—a task he’s now accomplished for some 19 years.

“Every time I finish booking the season, I tell my wife, ‘I am afraid this is not going to be as good of a season as last year was,’” Gershenfeld said. “But, honestly, this is going to be a very good season.”

Tickets for the 2018-2019 will go on sale Monday, April 16, at 8 a.m. The 2018-2019 roster includes names both new and familiar to the McCallum: Singers from Jackie Evancho to Bernadette Peters to Willie Nelson, plus six performances by the Ten Tenors; traveling Broadway shows including Rent, Jersey Boys, Spamalot, Evita, The Wizard of Oz and Something Rotten; comedy greats like Lily Tomlin and Bob Newhart; and the tried-and-true McCallum series, including Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel, Fitz’s Jazz Cafe, and Gershenfeld’s own “Mitch’s Picks.”

When I asked Gershenfeld which shows excited him the most, he mentioned Savion Glover’s All FuNKD’ Up, scheduled to come to the McCallum on March 30, 2019.

“Savion is not only the greatest living tap dancer; he’s such an incredible artist,” Gershenfeld said. “He’s taken tap beyond what anyone else has done before.” All FuNKD’ Up will feature a six-piece band and a full company of dancers.

Gershenfeld said he’s also looking forward to a series coming to the McCallum for the first time: National Geographic Live will bring scientists, photographers and other great minds to the theater for Exploring Mars (Jan. 21); Coral Kingdoms and Empires of Ice (Feb. 18); and Capturing the Impossible (March 18). The Exploring Mars lecture, in particular, should be exciting, as it’ll feature Kobie Boykins, the NASA mechanical engineer who’s had a hand in numerous discoveries about the red planet—including the revelation that there was once water on Mars.

“This is a program that’s been around for many years, as a series in a lot of cities,” Gershenfeld said. “It works very well in a theater.”

For the fifth year in a row, Gershenfeld has highlighted five shows as “Mitch’s Picks”—concerts Gershenfeld personally recommends, even if the performers are not household names. They include Spanish guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas’ Americano (March 4); BRAVO Amici, a “popera” group featuring three tenors and two divas (March 11); Piaf! Le Spectacle, a show telling the singing great’s life story via music and heretofore unseen photos—entirely in French (March 26); and Asere!, a celebration of Cuban dance and music featuring the Havana Cuba All-Stars (April 3).

And then there’s Blokelahoma! (March 29) starring Toby Francis, a former member of the Ten Tenors who also starred in the Australian production of Kinky Boots. He became a friend of Gershenfeld during Francis’ time in the Ten Tenors—the most popular act ever to grace the McCallum stage. Gershenfeld said Francis told him about Blokelahoma!—Francis’ story about being a “good Austrian bloke” who grew up with a love of Broadway musicals—when they enjoyed dinner in Sydney last June.

“I basically said, you have to do this show at the McCallum,” Gershenfeld recalled.

Per usual, McCallum’s schedule is packed with an unimaginably wide variety of singers, humorists and performers, ranging from comedian and Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria returning to her jazz roots (Nov. 8) to LeAnn Rimes doing a Christmas show (Dec. 15) to concerts by prolific songwriter Paul Anka (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1).

Traveling Broadway shows are a McCallum staple, and the 2018-2019 slate includes a lot of classics and old favorites. The one exception: Something Rotten! (April 5-7), which ended its initial Broadway run on Jan. 1, 2017.

“It’s such a fun story,” Gershenfeld said. “It takes place in Shakespeare’s time; he’s literally a rock star.”

The story centers on two brothers who are playwrights struggling to compete with the great Shakespeare. They visit a soothsayer named Nostradamus—the nephew of the famous one—and wind up inventing this new thing called a “musical.”

Gershenfeld said booking shows at the McCallum presents unique challenges in terms of timing—with rare exceptions, the theater goes dark out of necessity from May through September—and size; at 1,100 seats, the medium-sized venue is simply too small to meet the budgetary requirements of some grand productions, like Wicked.

“There will be no Hamilton here in my lifetime,” he said with a laugh.

Despite these challenges, the McCallum consistently makes Pollstar’s annual list of the Top 100 theaters in terms of ticket sales, because dark nights are rare in the spring—and because Gershenfeld books shows that he knows will sell well.

He’s hoping a change to the way the McCallum sells tickets may make sales even better. In past years, the McCallum only sold “subscriptions” for the upcoming year during the late spring and summer months. This year, tickets for all currently booked shows will go on sale at 8 a.m. on Monday, April 16.

Gershenfeld said he was looking forward to the 2018-2019 season, as the 2017-2018 season comes to an end.

“This has been a great season,” he said. “It’s been better than the last two years, and the shows have been well-attended. Philanthropically, people have been very generous, too. Ticket sales make up only 60 percent of our budget, and we’ve been making a lot of capital improvements to the theater; we’ve been spending about $500,000 a year in improvements and new equipment.”

Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2018-2019 season go on sale at 8 a.m., Monday, April 16. For tickets or more information, including the complete schedule, show up at the box office at 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert; call 760-340-2787; or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

The holiday season is upon us, which means things hectic, and you may feel the need to escape—or find something to that doesn’t involve shopping. Fortunately, there are plenty of great events going on in December (especially in the first two-thirds of the month) for people looking to escape, as well as people looking to celebrate the holidays.

The McCallum Theatre has an awesome December schedule. If you missed Merle Haggard at Stagecoach back in April, you’ll be happy to know the Okie from Muskogee will be coming back at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2. Haggard, one of the creators of the Bakersfield sound, has written an astonishing number of great country songs throughout his long career. Tickets are $77 to $97. At 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 15, there will be a performance of The Nutcracker performed by the Los Angeles Ballet. Tickets are $27 to $87. At 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20, country star LeAnn Rimes perform a Christmas-themed concert. Back in the ’90s, Rimes captured the admiration and support of people everywhere as a star at the age of 13. She’s since carved out a fine career, with two Grammy Awards, a Country Music Association Award, 12 Billboard music awards and an American Music Award to her credit. Tickets are $37 to $87. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has some great holiday events on the schedule. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 5, you’ll know it’s time for Christmas when Mannheim Steamroller returns. This is the 31st year that Mannheim Steamroller has taken its rock and electric-synth style Christmas show on the road; the concert includes dazzling multimedia effects, too. The group has sold 28 million copies of Christmas albums! Tickets are $39 to $69. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19, it will be time to boogie for the holidays when The Brian Setzer Orchestra takes the stage. Setzer’s swing/rockabilly holiday shows have become a Christmas tradition; if you haven’t had the pleasure, check it out. Tickets are $39 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

The Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has a light schedule, but there are two great events you should to know about. At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 4, Mama, the star of Mama’s Family, and comedienne Vicki Lawrence will be performing her “Two Woman Show.” Tickets are $20 to $40. If you don’t have plans for New Year’s Eve, you’ll be happy to know that at 10:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 31, former Runaways member Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (right) will be rocking into 2016. Forget attending those expensive parties where you stand in line all night to buy expensive drinks, and create fond New Year’s Eve memories with a legend! Tickets are $60 to $80. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has a great list of December shows. At 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 17, Brant Bjork and the Low-Desert Punk Band will take the stage. Bjork, a founder and former drummer of desert rock gods Kyuss, performed at Coachella back in April. If you call yourself a fan of desert rock, you need to get your ass to this show—because Bjork delivers live. Tickets are $15. At 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 26, you can celebrate the day after Christmas with The Evangenitals. If you had a good Christmas, the Evangenitals will make it even better! If you had a bad Christmas, the Evangenitals will have you laughing, therefore lifting you out of your holiday blues. It’s become a tradition at Pappy’s to have the Evangenitals perform after Christmas, so go partake! Admission is free. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Date Shed has some nice things happening in December. At 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 4, things are going to get festive thanks to EeVaan Tre and the “Holiday Show.” EeVaan and the boys have quite an impressive R&B act, so you know their holiday show is going to be something you don’t want to miss. Admission is free. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 5, the vibe will be quite different, because rapper Paul Wall will be performing. The Houston-based rapper has been going since 1998 and has had songs on the charts. Tickets are $20 to $23. If you were concerned the Date Shed’s schedule was initially missing some performers who come back year after year … relax: Ghostface Killah is indeed returning to the venue, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19. Ghostface, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, performed a hop, skip and a jump from the Date Shed at Coachella back in April with fellow Wu-Tang member Raekwon. Tickets are $28 to $38. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699; www.dateshedmusic.com.

The Hood Bar and Pizza has released a list of nice events for the month. At 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 4 rock/reggae band Fayuca will be stopping by; Machin’ and DJ Alf Alpha will also perform. Admission is free. At 9 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 10, you’ll be happy to know that Chicano Batman (below) will be coming back to perform at The Hood—and, of course, their compadres Slipping Into Darkness are also on the bill. Yay! Admission is free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.

Tryst Bar and Lounge continues to diversify downtown Palm Springs’ music offerings, with free shows at 10 p.m. virtually every Tuesday and Saturday. The month’s highlights include Derek Jordan Gregg on Tuesday, Dec. 1; and local metal-punk favorites Gutter Candy on Tuesday, Dec. 22. Tryst Bar and Lounge, 188 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-832-6046; www.facebook.com/trystpalmsprings.

Published in Previews

Season is here! Let’s celebrate with some great events.

Greater Palm Springs Pride takes place Friday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 9. There are a ton of related musical performances—many of those taking place at the new festival location in downtown Palm Springs. Get all the details at www.pspride.org.

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club will be celebrating Greater Palm Springs Pride with special events on Friday, Nov. 7, and Saturday, Nov. 8. Offerings include performances and sets by JD Samson, W. Jeremy, Sparber, Amber Valentine, Nark, Chelsea Starr and Victor Rodriguez; Murray Hill is the host. There will also be pop-ups from Wacky Wacko and Peggy Noland. Admission is free. Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-325-9900; www.acehotel.com/palmsprings.

The Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club will be having Pride pool parties Friday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov 9. DJs scheduled to perform include Aaron C, All Night Shoes, COLOUR VISION and others. Admission is free. Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club, 1555 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-778-8954; www.haciendacantina.com.

The McCallum Theatre is back in full swing for the season. At 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2, a group of all-star high school musicians throughout the Coachella Valley will join up for the All Coachella Valley High School Honor Band. Tickets are $10. Patti Austin will be coming through at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 22. The jazz vocalist has had an extensive career and was even a guest artist on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. Tickets are $35 to $75. If you want to enjoy some laughs, the Last Comic Standing Live Tour will be at the McCallum at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 23. Tickets are $25 to $65. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has several excellent events taking place. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1, Def Leppard will be performing. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past four decades, or you’re just too young to know, Def Leppard is one of the big names of the British wave of heavy metal. The group’s drummer, Rick Allen, only has one arm, which makes Def Leppard the best nine-armed band ever. Tickets are $95 to $185. The reunited Culture Club (bottom) will be opening its reunion tour at Agua Caliente at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15. The group, fronted by the infamous Boy George, was a big hit in the ’80s, and the reunion includes all original members. Tickets are $90 to $160. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a great November schedule. Country-music sensation Reba will be performing at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1. Reba has been in the business for almost 40 years and is a powerhouse in country music. She’s also an actress who is probably best known for her television sitcom on the WB Network. Tickets are $59 to $149. Howie Mandel will be bringing the funny at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 8. While Mandel is a hugely successful comedian and actor, he’s almost as famous for being a germophobe. Tickets are $29 to $59. Finally, the great Sheryl Crow will be returning to Fantasy Springs at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15. Tickets are $49 to $99. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 800-827-2946; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a couple of events worth noting. LeAnn Rimes will be appearing at 8 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2.Her record-breaking single 1997 “How Do I Live” was recently the answer to a trivia question at Bella da Ball’s Ace Hotel trivia night. Tickets are $29 and are only available at the Morongo Casino Box Office. Los Lobos (above right) will be stopping by with Los Lonely Boys at 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 7. I had the opportunity to see Los Lobos perform in Riverside back in July, and band put on an amazing show. The members joked with fans who were cheering for them to play “La Bamba”; they said the song was actually performed by Los Lonely Boys. Tickets are $39 to $49. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has great things going on in November—as always. At 9 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2, J.D. McPherson will be performing. McPherson performed locally at Stagecoach back in the spring. Tickets are $15. If you’re a fan of both lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) and rock ’n’ roll, stop by for Los Straitjackets at 9 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 13. I’ve seen the band twice before—and the shows are crazy fun. Tickets are $15. Now here’s something rather… odd: Macaulay Culkin and his band The Pizza Underground will be performing with Lizzo and Har Mar Superstar at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 18. The Independent tried to interview someone from The Pizza Underground, but it didn’t work out, in part because the band only wanted to talk about pizza. So it’s a little odd that the band is performing in a barbecue restaurant that doesn’t serve pizza. Tickets are $15. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

Speaking of pizza, The Hood Bar and Pizza has a fine November schedule. At 10 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 8, Independent resident DJ All Night Shoes will be hosting his next installment of FRESH Sessions Live. His guests will be Aimlo and COLOUR VISION. Admission is free. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15, the Hellions will be throwing a Turbojugend party that will include Monolith and Whiskey and Knives. Turbojugend, the legendary fan club of the Norwegian band Turbonegro, has a chapter in Palm Desert—made up of the Hellions. The Hellions will most likely be bringing in their brothers in denim jackets from Los Angeles, so you don’t want to miss this one. Admission is free. At 9 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 26, Machin’ will offer a special free Thanksgiving Eve performance. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.

The Date Shed continues to make a comeback after a dormant period. Fortunate Youth will be performing at 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1. The Los Angeles reggae group has received accolades for a brilliant stage show. Tickets are $15 to $20. If that’s not enough reggae for you, San Diego reggae group Tribal Seeds is coming back for another show at The Date Shed at 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 22. The crowd at the last show was packed, so get there early. Tickets are $17 to $20. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe Street, Indio; 760-775-6699; www.dateshedmusic.com.

Published in Previews

Coachella, Stagecoach and the White Party are all now behind us in 2014, which means the summer slowdown is beginning to set in. However, there are still some great events that’ll keep both Coachella Valley visitors and locals entertained in May.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa will host funnyman Gabriel Iglesias at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 3; 6 p.m., Sunday, May 4; and 8 p.m., Monday, May 5. The comedian also known as “Fluffy” is best known for his hilarious standup act, but he found a degree of acting success as Tobias in Magic Mike. He’s even hosted his own showcase on Comedy Central called Stand-Up Revolution. Tickets are $45 to $75; get them fast, as they were close to selling out as of our press deadline. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a variety of entertainment options in May. Robin Thicke (right) will be in town at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 3. (He was originally slated to perform in March but had to reschedule.) The son of Growing Pains actor Alan Thicke has become an international superstar after the success of his hit single “Blurred Lines.” Tickets are $49 to $109. At 8 p.m., Friday, May 9, Earth, Wind and Fire will be appearing. The group has sold 90 million albums since forming in 1971, and they’re still going strong. A few years back, they toured with a reunited Van Halen as the opening act. Tickets are $49 to $79. If you missed Stagecoach and need a good dose of country music, Alan Jackson will be stopping by at 8 p.m., Friday, May 16. He sounds more traditional than some of today’s other “mainstream” Nashville country artists, and that has led him to a great deal of success. His post-Sept. 11 track, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” was a smash hit that comforted many. Tickets are $59 to $139. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Spotlight 29 Casino has a great post-Stagecoach event for country fans: Leann Rimes will be appearing at 8 p.m., Friday, May 9. At the age of 13 in 1996, she had a hit record with Blue. Since then, she has become a country music superstar—despite personal issues involving her parents, unflattering write-ups in the tabloids accusing her of being a home-wrecker, rumors about her supposed diva complex, and various lawsuits. Hey, no one said being on top was easy. In any case, she’s an amazingly talented woman who can still perform. Tickets are $45 to $65. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a couple of intriguing events in May. Ladies, if you’re not hot enough from the desert heat, you’ll be happy to know that Australia’s Thunder From Down Under will be stopping by at 9 p.m., Friday, May 2. The all-male revue that is giving the Chippendales a run for their money will be in town, so get ready. The best part: You don’t have to bring any singles with you! Tickets are $25. If you’re not into all-male revues and are looking for some more-traditional entertainment, relax, because Smokey Robinson will be at Morongo at 9 p.m., Friday, May 16. The Motown legend has been to hell and back, but he’s still performing. Tickets are $69 to $79. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

The Hood Bar and Pizza has an excellent event in May worth noting: Reggae legends Black Uhuru (below) will be stopping by at 11 p.m., Friday, May 23. The group formed in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1972, and had a magnificent string of success in the ’80s. In 1985, the group won the first Best Reggae Album Grammy Award. The show is $15 at the door and is first-come, first-serve. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.thehoodbar.com.

After an unparalleled April during which Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace hosted the Afghan Whigs, The Pixies, GOAT, Future Islands and Little Dragons, the venue has another strong slate of bookings in May. Some highlights: At 2 p.m., Saturday, May 24, Pappy’s will host Freaks for the Festival II featuring two live sets from Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson. The festival will also include Buffalo Killers, Howlin Rain, Mystic Braves and live DJs. Tickets are $40. Pappy’s, in partnership with FYF (the FYF Festival is approaching this summer, by the way), will host Panda Bear and Peaking Lights during an outdoor show at 7 p.m., Monday, May 26. Panda Bear features Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox; it’s his psychedelic pop project, and he’s been at it since about 1998. This is one show worth checking out. Tickets are $16. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The 12th Annual Spring Joshua Tree Music Festival will take place Thursday, May 15, through Sunday, May 18, at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground, 2601 Sunfair Road in Joshua Tree. The festival has a history of featuring artists who are on the brink of breaking out nationally, as well great artists who are already stars; past performers have included Chali 2na from the Jurassic 5, and Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Last year, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires played the festival just before getting signed to Sub Pop Records. This year, the festival will feature performances by Future Rock, Third Ear Experience, The Revivalists and many, many others. An all-weekend pass is $140, while individual days cost from $20 to $80. For more information, visit www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com.

Published in Previews