Creating AUTHENTIC Entertainment EXPERIENCES with a Cool VIBE
By Tracy Dietlin
Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs opened in October of 2013. Many locals were hoping that it would become a local live music hub, however it took a while before that happened; about 2 ½ years in fact. A little over a year ago things started to change when Hard Rock International took over. In May of 2016, Esjay Jones, along with former HR Vibe Manager Richard Beas, had an idea to host live acoustic music in the lobby on Friday nights. It was such a success that in January of this year it expanded to Saturday nights as well. All of these changes are due mostly as a result of Hard Rock International Director of Marketing, Vince Koehle, bringing in Juan Rivera as the new General Manager about 7 months ago to whip things into shape.
There is a completely different feel at Hard Rock now; a different VIBE. As a frequent patron of the hotel and restaurant since they opened I have watched first-hand the changes that Koehle and Rivera have made and I am beyond impressed. If you haven’t been to Hard Rock recently, you must go there, as I know you will be impressed with your EXPERIENCE too.
I sat down with GM, Juan Rivera, and new Marketing Manager, Adam Levy, who just came on board about a month ago, to discuss all the excitement surrounding what I like to call THIS IS HARD ROCK NOW. I also spoke with some of the talent that is making Hard Rock the new music hub and entertainment destination in the valley: Esjay Jones, David Macias and Arial Trampway.
CVW: You have made such a positive impact since you came on board at Hard Rock Palm Springs what do you feel were your biggest challenges when you first got here?
Juan Rivera: “Being a Hard Rock we are a music centric brand and what I noticed when I first got here was that everyone in the valley was trying to be Hard Rock better than we did. I pulled all resources that I could and started rebuilding our reputation and brand and again it’s based on music because music brings everyone together. The misconception that some people have is that because we’re Hard Rock we’re just rock but that’s not true, we try to cross over to all genres of music to have a little bit of something for everyone.”
CVW: What do you feel has been your biggest obstacle?
JR: “The biggest obstacle is the competition. You come to PS and it’s a music driven destination with all the festivals. You go to places like Pappy & Hariett’s which is a staple and a pillar and downtown PS like Las Casuelas and everyone has great music, but what I found was we didn’t have to compete with anyone; Hard Rock just wants to be part of the community and contribute to this destination.”
CVW: What do you think sets Hard Rock apart from the other music venues and destination resorts at this point?
JR: “We’re lucky enough to hire great new people like Adam who came in with a lot of fresh new ideas with being from the community. What sets us apart is we’re always trying to go a step further and amplify everything we do.”
CVW: What accomplishment are you the most proud of over the last 7 months?
JR: “What I’m most proud of is now I do see us as becoming part of the community and it embracing us, which is due in large part to the amazing team we’ve put together. Hard Rock isn’t a building or just a name, it’s the people that work here; the front desk agents, the servers, the bartenders, the guests that come in and create such an incredible VIBE.”
CVW: I’ve heard that you are known at HRI as the go to guy to come in and fix a location and then move on to fix the next situation. So my big question is- you’re going to be sticking around right?
JR: (laughing) “I’m sticking around. My goal is to build a great team and position this property as a destination not only for PS, but in CA and until my goal is met then I will be here.”
CVW: So Adam you just came on about a month ago and Juan said you have a lot of great ideas. Can you share some of those with us?
Adam Levy: “So one of my missions as the Marketing Manager is to create authenticity in the music scene here for the locals and one thing I feel as a local involved in the music scene here; you can spot when someone is trying to replicate or do something fake. If it’s not authentic it doesn’t have street cred. What I want to do is create AUTHENTIC music programming the community can support and get behind. I want to create experiences that people are going to want to talk about when they leave and that’s what drives me and my vision and new ideas. So I think ‘how are people going to walk away from this event and what are they going to talk about and take with them. What kind of EXPERIENCE are they going to take with them.’
“The programming we have now is already stellar with Esjay Jones running our Friday night Acoustic Lounge Sessions and David Macias running our Saturday Global Lounge Sessions. They both have their hand in the scene like no other entity, bringing in the best local talent and supporting them and paying them. They both serve as the best role models for musicians. They know how to make money as a musician and they can teach other musicians this and in my experience as a musician there is so much pay to play or just not getting paid at all going on. Here, they’re not only getting to play at the Hard Rock, but they’re being paid and walking away with more knowledge from working with Esjay and David who make an extra effort to work with all the musicians and take them under their wing, which is really special and that’s something no one else has. So right off the bat we’re coming in as the front runner for a great local music EXPERIENCE.
“Now we are looking to take that further as we are having our first ‘rooftop rock show’ on the 4th of July, which we hope to be the first of many more; especially in season as it gets a bit cooler. The view from our rooftop terrace is phenomenal. We recently got a sponsorship from Bose Speakers, so we now have a sound system that can carry to all outdoor spaces and the club. Ultimately my goal with live music here is to be the destination between LA and Arizona for bands to route through between those shows. Now that we have the resources and the local backing we can be that destination.
“We also have some other incredible things coming up with our DRG BRNCH, which has outgrown its space in The Kitchen Restaurant. We sell out every week and so we are going to move it upstairs in the ballroom where we can create a much bigger production space with a theatre where we can do all sorts of other events. One of those events that we are flirting with is doing a Burlesque show; there isn’t one anywhere in the Inland Empire and the closest one is in Long Beach. The group that we’re meeting with is from Long Beach and they’ve been doing this for 10 years, so we’re looking forward to forming a partnership with them. We’re also looking to expand the DRG BRNCH brand to include more shows and possibly a cocktail hour show.
“Another thing I’m really excited about is bringing in our version of a Dive In movie, but every hotel does that so we want to go further and bring something more niche and cool and bring back that old fashioned horror host like an Elvira-like personality and have a curated horror act that’s kind of kitchy. We want to have a host and make it like the old drive in movies where you have the screen with trailers and trivia games during intermission and make it a real interactive experience so when people walk away they feel like ‘Wow!’ that was a really different EXPERIENCE.
“Right now we also have DJ Paparazzi in our club and he cherry picks these awesome DJs that have niches, something that they do different. He recently had this all girl group that only spin on vinyl and they have a whole act where they switch off and it’s really entertaining. He’s running our programming in The Club and doing a great job.
“Basically we want people to come to Hard Rock and walk away feeling like they had the best EXPERIENCE, whether it was on a Friday or Saturday night hearing live music in the lounge, or the DJs in The Club, or cocktails and a Burlesque show on a Thursday night, or Arial Trampway’s DRG BRNCH on Sunday.”
JR: “The model of our brand is creating AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES THAT ROCK and that’s what we try to do on a daily basis is to make your next experience here better than your last.”
AL: “We invite everyone to come and grow with us and expand with us and have fun with us.”
(This article was being written while the ‘Rooftop Rock Show’ was taking place as we print on Tuesday so unfortunately we at CV Weekly were in production and had to miss out. The bands scheduled to perform were The Yip Yops, The Brosquitos and D Tension. What a great way to kick off their ‘Rooftop Rock Show’)
You can also pamper your body and soothe your soul at The Rock Spa or enjoy a delicious meal at The Kitchen. Hard Rock PS is also the perfect destination for group events, weddings and bachelorette parties.
For more info go to: www.hrhpalmsprings.com. For reservations call 800-280-2971. Direct front desk 760-325-9676.
FRIDAY NIGHT – “THE ACOUSTIC LOUNGE SESSIONS” with ESJAY JONES:
CVW: What was the first date that you started dong the Acoustic Sessions event?
Esjay Jones: “The acoustic sessions started in May of 2016 as an experimental show for my birthday. It was received so well, that we continued the Friday night Acoustic Sessions and grew into the Saturday night ‘Global Lounge’ starting in Jan of 2017.”
CVW: This was your idea correct?
EJ: “These sessions were the brainchild of Richard Beas, who was the Hard Rock Vibe Manager at the time, and myself. We are both huge lovers and supporters of music and wanted to bring a new experience to the Hard Rock Palm Springs.”
CVW: Can you share how it took off after Juan Rivera (GM) and Vince Koehle (HR International Director of Marketing) came in and the difference in working with Hard Rock now?
EJ: “Having a team that supports and pushes the activations is obviously a huge plus. Juan and Vince are a dream to work with – they understand the demographic and our vision for the Acoustic Sessions and have allowed me to steer the ship with their knowledge and guidance.
“This is a fantastic dynamic of people and I’m looking forward to even more success with Juan and Vince in the near future.”
CVW: How did it come about bringing David Macias on for Saturdays? Was he your pick?
EJ: “After the success of the Friday night Acoustic Sessions, Juan suggested that he would like the Acoustic Sessions to run on a Saturday night too.
“I did not want to lose the unique set up of the Friday night Acoustic Sessions, so I suggested that we have a ‘Latin Night’ but call it something that doesn’t limit us to only inviting Latino artists. The Hard Rock team put their heads together and came up with “GLOBAL LOUNGE SESSIONS” which enables us to showcase talent and music from all over the world. David was the obvious choice for my co-host; his work ethic is flawless and his unique style brings the brand to life!”
CVW: So can you share the difference between the 2 nights of music selections?
EJ: “Friday night caters more to the mass market with up-tempo pop, rock and singer/songwriter vibes where Saturday night embraces the sounds of the world including Latin Rock, Salsa, Flamenco and any other style of world music.”
CVW: It has become so successful. Did you know it would be such a hit?
EJ: “I believe that when you have a great product with an exceptional team alongside you, it’s bound to be a success!”
CVW: We hear that Hard Rock has quite a few new exciting things they are going to be implementing as well. Can you talk about how exciting it is to be part of all that is coming?
EJ: “Esjay Jones Productions in partnership with The Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs was recently welcomed into the Bose Professional family, so we are soon going to be branding these music nights as the “Bose Lounge Experience.” This sound system is going to elevate the experience we are already presenting, so I am ecstatic to be a part of this! We will also be holding Roof Top Rock shows and have brought Modelo USA in as a partner for our Global Lounge Sessions.”
CVW: Anything else you want to add about Hard Rock?
EJ: “The Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs is a playground for those who want to eat, sleep and play. The live music activations are growing and you can expect to have the highest quality experience from every aspect of the hotel.”
SATURDAY NIGHT – “GLOBAL LOUNGE SESSIONS” with DAVID MACIAS:
CVW: When did you start doing the Saturday night Global Lounge Sessions?
David Macias: “The Global Lounge Sessions is a concept that started at the beginning of this year. Esjay contacted me in December, after performing at the Acoustic Sessions that happens on Friday Nights, and presented me with the opportunity to Co-host Saturday nights with her. The first GLS took place on Jan 07, 2017.”
CVW: What does this residency gig mean to you?
DM: “To me, this residency is proof that hard work pays off when you stay true to your passion as an artist and, or, Musician. I am grateful and humbled to be in a position and part of a team that procures an environment where new and upcoming artist can experience performing an intimate concert. I feel that it’s important to use the experiences we learn on the road and create something new based on what we have seen work, as well as what doesn’t work. I am fortunate to work alongside some amazing professionals and that means an opportunity to learn more about the elements of being a working musician. This residency means to me that we have the opportunity to collaborate as artists and create a scene that extends worldly through the power of Music.”
CVW: What is your process for selecting the bands to perform?
DM: “The process for selecting the bands at the GLS is simple. We look for positive attitudes and charismatic personalities, mix that in with music that makes you dance and we have a good formula for fun! One of the visions of the GLS is to have music without borders, to be open to all the different styles and colors of music that exist. This allows us have acts from all genres and styles adding to the diversity that is Southern California. The GLS is an all ages event therefore, we do make sure that the acts are appropriate for everyone. We encourage everyone who’s ready to showcase their talent to contact Esjay Jones Productions and submit a press kit for the opportunity to perform at the GLS.”
CVW: Do you try to be there every Saturday night yourself?
DM: “Yes, I am there every Saturday! I love what I do and the people that I work with so I look forward to every weekend. It’s exciting to network with traveling artist and be a part of a unique vibe that comes alive at night for a few hours. You never know what is going to happen at any given Saturday night and I don’t want to be the one to miss it.”
CVW: Can you share your experience working with Esjay? (We just happen to love and adore her)
DM: “Esjay Jones is an extraordinary person with the hardest work ethic of anyone I know in this industry; she puts the Rock in ‘Hard Rock’. I don’t think anyone can hype a room the way she does! It has been a magnificent experience working with Esjay, from day one I knew it was going to be a great ride working with someone who lives up to the term ‘team player’ and who believes in extending a hand as a friend and mentor in this labyrinth that is the music industry. I have learned a lot and I have seen many others learn from the knowledge that Esjay brings to this community of artists.”
CVW: What do you see for the future of Hard Rock and yourself?
DM: “I see fun, friendships, laughter, great music, amazing people, YOU, and more amazing music!!”
CVW: Anything else you want to add?
DM: “I would like to extend the invitation for everyone to experience the Global Lounge Sessions at least once and to be a part of the unique environment reminiscent of the MTV Unplugged concerts we all love. Thank you.”
SUNDAY – ARIAL TRAMPWAY Presents DRG BRNCH Sundays
CVW: Whose idea was it to start DRG BRNCH there? And how did it come about?
Arial Trampway (aka Alfie Pettit): “I was approached by the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs with their Director of F&B, Kristian Zambrana’s idea of doing a drag brunch in their restaurant The Kitchen. They asked me to put together a proposal, and then we kicked it around with their GM Juan Rivera and Vice President of hotel operations development for Hard Rock International Dale Hipsh, until we had a working start of what is now Arial Trampway Presents DRG BRNCH Sundays @ Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs. As far as the name goes, I of course came with my Arial Trampway Presents brand, and they had the idea of the DRG BRNCH abbreviation for the show. DRG actually stands for Divas of Rock and Glam, but of course works perfectly with the idea of DRaG as well.”
CVW: When exactly did it start?
AT: “Our very first show was on February 19th, 2017. The Hard Rock gave us a two week time frame to get things up and running. When you have two weeks to pull a show of this caliber together you really understand the idea of ‘it takes a village’. Between my team and the team at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs we really made it happen.”
CVW: How has it grown? (I know it’s sold out every week)
AT: “By leaps and bounds, with blood sweat and tears. It’s been a lot of work, these things don’t just happen. Tons of credit goes to my executive producer David Reese, who really helped me conceptualize the whole thing and get it up and running. It’s in a constant state of evolution; it just depends on what new and great idea comes up to be folded into the pre-existing show. As far as building an audience, it’s been a lot of beating the hell out of the internet, reaching into my pre-existing fan base at the same time as building an entirely new one, as well as TV spots, wrapping the Hummer in the Arial Trampway Presents DRG BRNCH Sundays @ Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs and turning it into the TrampMobile (our moving billboard), our Actual billboard of Arial Trampway greeting you as you come into town on HWY 111/Palm Canyon, and of course periodicals like yours!”
CVW: Are you in charge of selecting the talent each week and do the performers change?
AT: “Both myself and my producer Ezra Zane do all of the scouting and bookings for the show. We find people by reputation, word of mouth, the internet, visiting other Southern California shows, you name it. We are always on the lookout for new and exciting talent. We keep a constantly rotating roster of performers, so no show will ever look like the one before. But of course when you have great people you always want to work with them again, so we also maintain performer retention. You can bet if there’s someone amazing you’ve seen at our show, we’re making sure they will be back sometime in the near future as well. We pride ourselves in really giving our performers the rock star treatment, which drag performers don’t always receive at all venues.”
CVW: How do you feel about your partnership/relationship with Hard Rock?
AT: “I love being in bed with Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs, it’s a match made in heaven. I had premonitions of being at the Hard Rock years before. I’ve had a wonderful original art piece hanging on my wall for years with the Hard Rock logo splashed across the front. Having a show at the Hard Rock almost seemed inevitable.”
CVW: “I hear that Hard Rock is going to expand Arial Trampway Presents DRG BRNCH Sundays to a new bigger venue upstairs in that amazing room. How excited are you about that?
AT: “Very! Vektor Vodka came to me with the idea of sponsoring Arial Trampway Presents DRG BRNCH Sundays in a potential upstairs move, so we are thinking very expansive. We are hoping to be able to bring our guests the fully realized version of the experience that we had conceptualized from the beginning. A very elaborate stage show and production, with plenty of audience participation and interaction, and a pre and post cocktail and meet and greet set up in the adjoining foyer to really round out the whole experience.”
CVW: Do you bring ‘straight men’ up on stage every week and dress them up in drag to help raise money for charity, like you did this past Sunday with my husband Phil Lacombe and HRH Marketing Manager Adam Levy? That was SO much fun!
AT: “You mean our charity portion midway through the show, #PassThePurse, where we bring 2 unsuspecting guests up on stage, do them up quickly in fun drag, and have them parade around with me to a special number where we open our purses to help collect money for our chosen charity for that Sunday. It’s not always straight men, we just try and choose people that we think would be fun, and the audience would get a kick out of seeing done up in frills.
“Since the beginning of the show we’ve done a local charity every week, Desert Aids Project (DAP) being one of them along with ACS, Animal Samaritans, HRC, etc., but we are moving to a 1 charity per month format where we will present a big check at the end of the month for that charity. This month (July) our charity is AAP – Food Samaritans.”
CVW: You also recently competed for ‘Queen of the Desert’. Can you tell me about that experience?
AT: “Oh my god what an experience that was! My first pageant and it really is all the work it’s said to be. I won best gown, thank you to my drag momma and stylist Kevin Wiley, who made that amazing pink creation! The real winner of that event was DAP. I was able to raise $3,500 individually, and combined, all of us were able to raise $40,000 that evening. Not to mention the great awareness and exposure we were able to bring to DAP through the Queen of the Desert billboard, TV interviews, print and online adds we were able to share. It was a smashing success.”
CVW: Is there anything else you want to add?
AT: “Well for the month of August our local charity for #PassThePurse will be Angel View, so come share in our support for that. You can always visit my Alfie Pettit or Arial Trampway pages on FaceBook for upcoming event info, dates and times, and performer and charity line up on a weekly basis. I of course love when anyone gives me a shout out with the hashtag #DRGBRNCH, or @Arial Trampway. And that big crazy TrampMobile is around town available for Lyft (type in RALKE56085 to request), so be sure to take a ride in the big mean pink machine and post a picture with it and hashtag #TrampMobile! We love getting to connect with people in those ways.”