Tribute bands inject new energy at former Dania Beach Jai Alai fronton

Check out the schedule of tribute band concerts coming to the Casino at Dania Beach.

Carpool tribute band performs The Cars' greatest hits at the Casino at Dania Beach. (Fran Davis,
Carpool tribute band performs The Cars' greatest hits at the Casino at Dania Beach. (Fran Davis,

By Craig Davis,

A night out in Dania Beach used to mean jai alai.

Now it is a trip back in time. Musically.

The once popular parimutuel game of jai alai is all but dead in the United States. The former Dania Jai Alai Fronton, now the Casino at Dania Beach, has found a new audience as a venue for rock and roll tribute bands and nostalgia acts on weekends.

Much to my surprise, Friday night concerts at the former fronton is becoming an enjoyable habit.

Peter Noone, the frontman for the ’60s British pop group Herman’s Hermits made it a running gag during his recent show that he could never have foreseen during the height of the British Invasion that one day he’d be playing at a small casino in Dania Beach, Florida.

But the room was packed and responsive. Noone’s wit and self-deprecating banter — “I’m built like my mother. My mother is Elton John” — along with a string of vintage hits by the Hermits and similar groups of the ’60s made for an entertaining evening for an audience that grew up on that music.

Tribute bands a hot ticket

The following week the crowd was younger for the Atlanta-based tribute band Carpool, which performed a two-hour rendition of the distinctive sounds of The Cars.

I’d been skeptical of tribute bands until at another venue we saw a group called Dirty Work, which describes itself as “a comprehensive and exhaustively-researched group project dedicated to the faithful reproduction of Steely Dan’s classic albums.”

Therein lies the different between cover bands that play their own renditions of popular songs and tribute bands that strive to recreate the sound and structure of the original recordings note for note.

It is difficult to do, but Carpool is one that pulls it off. The Cars are particularly challenging with their large body of work — the Boston-based quintet had six platinum albums and 16 Top 40 singles — and a hard-to-copy style that is described as “synth heavy with a driving guitar sound all inspired by proto-punk, garage rock, and power pop.”

Fun drive with Carpool

Indeed. And those memorable tunes from the late ’70s and ‘80s are so familiar their fans know them by heart.

Carpool won over the crowd at Dania Beach and had much of the audience dancing throughout the performance.

Matthew plays the part of Cars lead singer Ric Ocasek in the Carpool tribute band. (Craig Davis,
Matthew plays the part of Cars lead singer Ric Ocasek in the Carpool tribute band. (Craig Davis,

Matthew, who plays the part of Rik Ocasek, does a commendable job emulating the look and mannerisms of the pale, gawky Cars lead singer, who died in 2019 at age 75. He is spot-on with Ocasek’s intonation and understated vocal style.

Afterward, we had a chance to meet and compliment him on the show and mention that Carpool delivered every riff we expected to hear. He said that is what the group is working to attain, essentially a (rear view) mirror of a Cars show.

Casino at Dania Beach a trip back in time

Purists may scoff at the tribute band trend, but it has gained widespread appeal and is a way to revisit artists whose prime was decades ago — and in many cases, like Ocasek and Cars vocalist and bassist Benjamin Orr, are no longer with us.

There are a number of venues in South Florida that feature tribute bands. There is something oddly appealing about the Casino at Dania Beach has revived a failing facility by offering a full schedule of nostalgia shows in addition to its gaming and card room. Notably it’s a smoke-free casino. There are several dining options including the Luxe buffet featuring prime rib Thursdays for $34.99. The whole place has a throwback feel like being aboard an older cruise ship.

The Stage 954 music venue is an intimate setting that has the audience in close proximity with the performers, particularly the VIP section. The concerts are reasonably priced and will leave your head full of favorite songs from the past for days.

Upcoming concerts at the Casino at Dania Beach

Here are some upcoming tribute shows in 2023 at the Casino at Dania Beach, 301 E. Dania Beach Blvd., Dania Beach, Fla. Visit the casino website for ticket information:

Completely Unchained – A Tribute to Van Halen, June 30.

The Boss Project, A Bruce Springsteen Tribute Band, July 1.

Classic Albums Live, ‘Who’s Next’, July 8.

Can’t Get Next to You, A Temptations Experience, July 15.

Reo Survivor, The Music of REO Speedwagon, Survivor and Loverboy, July 27.

Chicago Rewired, July 28.

The Beach Buoys, Aug. 5.

Portrait of Aretha, starring Cece Teneal, Aug. 26.

Let’s Groove Tonight, Earth, Wind & Fire tribute band, Sept. 9.

Simply Tina, a tribute to Tina Turner, Sept. 30.

Some current incarnations of vintage groups are also coming to Dania:
Jefferson Starship, Aug. 3.

The Grass Roots, Sept. 8.

What’s up with jai alai?

When I came to work for the Fort Lauderdale News in 1978, one of my first stories was about a high school student who worked at Dania Jai Alai sewing the hardened goatskin covers around the rubber core of the pelotas. Billed as the fastest sport in the world, with those pelotas clocked at speeds up to 188 mph, jai alai struck me as exotic and fascinating.

There were a number of frontons throughout Florida and Dania was one of the premier venues with top players such as Joey Cornblit, the sport’s first American-born star.

Now the Magic City Casino in Miami is the only location that has regular jai alai operations offering parimutuel wagering. Dania ended its nearly 70-year run in late 2021.

The jai alai court visible through glass doors to the right side of the lobby upon entering the Casino at Dania Beach seems like a museum to the past.

But there is a glimmer of hope for the centuries-old sport founded in the Basque regions of Spain and France and introduced to the United States in 1904. A two-month tournament was held in late 2020 and early 2023 at Dania. According to the casino website the second Dania Beach Invitational is scheduled to begin Dec. 1, 2023.

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Fiction by Craig Davis

About craigslegz 108 Articles
Travel is about discovery, and I learn most about a place when I explore it on foot. Craigslegz Travels is about favorite places and people, and advice to aid fellow travelers. My emphasis is on venturing off well-worn paths. - Craig Davis

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