Bob Conner was a teenager during the early years of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the British Invasion, Motown and the California music scene.
"If there was ever a Renaissance of music ... I was privileged to live right in its prime," said Conner, of Vineland.
Conner is now 60, but that early love of music still burns strong. When a favorite band plays in the area, Conner tries to be there to catch the live performance. In recent years, he's attended Atlantic City shows by Neil Young, Bob Dylan and The Eagles.
And while many of the heads bobbing along with the music at these shows were gray and balding, a good portion of the audience was comprised of young fans, most born decades after these performers scored some of their biggest hits.
Musicians who first made their marks in the 1960s and 1970s are among the hottest acts touring these days. And for casinos, which have always drawn an older crowd, booking these musicians serves to not only bring in the baby boomers who grew up listening to their tunes, but also young fans who will pay to see a rock legend perform.
Older acts, including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and The Who, which will perform Friday at Boardwalk Hall, are well-known for putting on high-energy shows crammed with familiar hits.
"In my opinion, these acts have lasted so long in the touring business because people of all ages really enjoy the music. From the baby boomer to Generation X, they attend these shows. Also, many of these acts have longevity on their side. When you have a catalogue of countless No. 1 singles, platinum albums and can perform a two-and-a-half hour set, you are going to be able to continue to perform live and sell out concerts," said Jason Spencer, 33, vice president of entertainment, nightlife and lifestyle marketing for the Caesars Entertainment Eastern Division.
Rock acts from the 1960s and 1970s comprise 40 percent of the schedule at the Circus Maximus Theater at Caesars Atlantic City and the House of Blues Atlantic City in the Showboat Casino Hotel as well as 30 percent of the schedule in The Concert Venue at Harrah's Resort, said Spencer.
Heart, featuring sisters Ann Wilson, 62, and Nancy Wilson, 58, performed last month in the Circus Maximus Theater. Pat Benatar, 60, comes April 27 to the House of Blues Atlantic City.
Even if an act is from the 1960s or 1970s, a key distinction between an older act that still rocks and an oldies act is whether the performer can develop new fans, said Boardwalk Hall general manager Greg Tesone, 52, of Egg Harbor Township.
Boomer acts that have performed inside the 14,000-seat arena at the hall include 67-year-old Bob Seger in 2011, and 65-year-old Elton John in 2008.
"When you do a show like The Who, the Stones, Eric Clapton, or McCartney and you look around at the number of younger people coming to see those shows that have a great appreciation for the music and become fans, I don't necessarily think you can call them an oldies act," Tesone said.
The baby boomers, who still pay the bills at a casino, are 74 million strong and grew up during the 1960s and 1970s as the first rock 'n' roll generation, said Thomas L. Cantone, 62, who oversees the entertainment bookings at Resorts through his position as vice president of sports and entertainment at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
That music and those artists dominated the charts, and nothing has come close since then, Cantone said.
"It was a time that will never come again, and those artists still draw the biggest crowds at arenas and casino venues all over the country," Cantone said. "Boomers rocked the culture, the biggest generation in history turned pop music and TV into art forms. That era invented pop culture as we know it today."
All of the rock acts from the 1960s and 1970s aren't as high profile as a Mick Jagger or McCartney. Even bands who weren't as popular can come to the casino showrooms and play before a devoted audience of old fans - and new ones who have a love of classic rock.
Grand Funk Railroad, a rock band from Michigan, which was highly popular during the 1970s, played two shows in late December in the 1,500-capacity Superstar Theater at Resorts Casino Hotel. The group scored five million-selling albums between 1969 and 1972. Some of the people who brought tickets to the shows no doubt spent their money to hear drummer and co-lead vocalist Don Brewer, 64, sing the group's first No. 1 pop hit from 1973, "We're An American Band."
Brewer said when his band broke up in 1976, members never anticipated their music would be played on classic rock radio three decades later and their record company would reissue all their vinyl albums on CDs, which introduced their music to a younger generation.
"Some of the places we play you see a lot more people who were part of our generation," said Brewer. "Certainly, the casinos are an older crowd. Those are the people who go to casinos. When we do fairs and festivals, we see a lot of younger people because they are out there at a fair or festival because they are music lovers."
While many of the performers who hit the road in the late 1960s and 1970s were known for their hell-raising ways, the older acts touring now are marked by a high degree of professionalism and a commitment to giving fans their money's worth.
Don Henley was 24 when he co-founded the Eagles with Glenn Frey in 1971. Now, 41 years later, Henley, 65, is still singing the Eagles song "Desperado," as he did when he performed a solo concert earlier this month at Revel. The tune was originally recorded in 1973.
Henley said as long as he takes care of himself, the physical demands of performing every night are not much higher than they were 30 years ago.
"In fact, I have fewer back problems now than I did then. These days, I work out in a gym for an hour and a half, three times a week, plus I ride a stationary bike for 30 minutes before every performance. If I'm not diligent about that, then performing becomes difficult. The hardest part is traveling. The dryness of the air in airplanes and hotel rooms can take a toll on the voice. The same goes for alcohol. Can't drink on tour anymore. Very different from the old days," Henley said.
Conner, the music fan, appreciates this professional approach. In fact, he reads reviews of his long-time favorites, as well as up-and-coming new bands before deciding whether a rock show is worth seeing.
"Everybody pretty much that I've seen has been focused, committed, talented, and they are all in," Conner said. "That's what I expect."
(At The Shore Editor Scott Cronick contributed to this report)
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