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B.J. Thomas Rocks R.V. Retirement Resort

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MESA, Az.--Timeless 1960s rockers Gary Puckett and B.J. Thomas headlined two sold out shows earlier this month at Valle del Oro (Valley of the Gold) off of Highway 60 in the Mesa desert. The over-55 vacation resort is designed for people with R.V.'s (Recreational Vehicles).
Not Rock n' Viagra.
Some stories need no introduction.

There are 1,800 parking spaces at Valle del Oro.
If you count at least two people per R.V., that means at least 3,600 people live here. The concert hall has an occupancy of 1,345. There is money to be made. Apparently there is an emerging motor home music circuit. The Oak Ridge Boys sold out two Feb. 23 shows at Valle del Oro. Shania Twin (Donna Tremblay) is a Shania Twain impersonator appearing here on March 9. Twin is at the Val Vista Village R.V. Park on March 10 and on March 11 she motors over to the Sunflower R.V. resort.
The shows are open to the public. I saw a small Valle del Oro concert notice in the Arizona Republic...........

I'm a B.J. (Billy Joe) Thomas fan, most notably with that narcotic electric sitar introduction to his 1968 smash "Hooked on a Feeling." His vocal range remains in remarkable shape. My interest was piqued by the show times of 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. That smelled like Branson. I paid $18 for an open seating ticket at the matinee.
I was the youngest person in the room. I am 54 years old. A staff member told me that about 80 per cent of tickets sold were for Valle de Oro residents.

The Gary Puckett Band was the opening act and he seemed bewildered by this booking.
"This is quite a place," he told the gathering. "Is this really home right here?"
Puckett, 57, inquired how many audience members were over 60. There was rousing applause.
I stayed seated.
Puckett then sang his hit songs of clumsy teenage lust: "Woman, Woman," "Lady Willpower," "Don't Give In to Him," and maybe most bizarre of all: "Young Girl."

The Valle del Oro ballroom has a western motif and gold clef notes adorning the walls. The ballroom features a floating maple floor and concert goers sit on folding chairs. There's no pre-concert announcements about mosh pits or dancing in the aisles.

Instead, a wise voice bellowed, "Please don't sit on the cushions you brought out of respect to those in front of you." The stage is raised but theater seating is not sloped.
When I returned to Chicago Valle del Oro activities director told me Wayne Newton had just been booked for an April, 2011 appearance at the R.V. resort.
I'll be back, via Las Vegas.

There's more than golden oldies at Valle del Oro.
As I stood in line to purchase my ticket I noticed that Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio was booked to speak on "illegal immigrants and other issues" at the resort on Feb. 24. He's been called "America's Toughest Sherrif" because his inmates are forced to wear pink underwear. He also established a "Tent City" an outdoor extension of the jail that is brutal in the Arizona heat.
I later mentioned Arpaio's appearance to a Mesa restauranteur who said, "Well, that's his audience." Tickets to see Arpaio were $5.
On March 20, the resort hosts a Pinewood Derby, featuring racing of small wood box cars in an event originally created for American Cub Scouts. Weigh-ins start at 7:30 a.m. followed by a pancake breakfast ($3.50).
The Valle del Oro entertainment is coordinated by Cal-Am (California-America) Properties based in Costa Mesa, Calif. They own and operate seven resorts in Arizona as well as Florida, California and Minnesota. "We have our own catering and restaurants and we have top entertainment," CEO Marc Franklin said in a 2009 press release. "We like to call it 'Branson' without leaving your rig."
What did I tell you?
Besides absorbing the distinct ambiance, it was worth the 20 minute drive from my hotel in Central Mesa to see Thomas.


"I didn't know it was an R.V. park until we got there," Thomas said later from his home (not on wheels) in Arlington, Tx. "I played another R.V. community in the Phoenix area. Those are the only two I've done. I do the same show everywhere I go so I'm not trying to do an 'R.V. Show' or anything. They had a nice building and stage."

Thomas, 67, and his band (drums, bass, guitar, keyboards) hit all gears during a splendid 65-minute set, moving from hits like "The Eyes of a New York Woman" and "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" to Thomas's underappreciated gospel era which delivered the hit "Mighty Clouds of Joy."
He did not include anything from his latest CD, a collection of Brazilian classics called "Once I Loved." His 1971 hit "Rock And Roll Lullaby" is re-sambaed on the CD because it has been the theme song for Brazil's longest-running soap opera. He also dueted on "Girl From Ipanema" with Ivete Sangalo whom Thomas called "The Madonna of Brazil."
"I made my first trip to Brazil in 1974," Thomas said--presumably not in an R.V. "I do some dates every three or four years. Even obscure songs of mine that didn't crack radio here were big hits down there. I had the hit on 'Suspicious Minds' in Brazil. That Portuguese language is so beautiful when it is sung and even spoken. [We have some copies we move on line] (I bought one at the gig) and we're talking to a big retail chain right now about getting it out nationwide."


STAY POSTED for more on B.J. Thomas, his cool reissue series and recording his hits with Chips Moman in beautiful Memphis, Tn.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.


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