Michelle Baldwin, 37, of Northfield, regards the 1990s as the last era of good, honest pop music.
Baldwin attended Holy Spirit High School in Absecon in 1994 and remembers seeing the female singing group En Vogue perform live in 1992 at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and turning on the contemporary hits radio station WAYV-FM 95.1 in West Atlantic City and hearing Alanis Morissette's singles. Baldwin didn't see Morissette during her 1990s heyday, but she was there when the House of Blues Atlantic City in the Showboat Casino-Hotel booked Morissette last August.
"She was amazing, and her voice was amazing. I was really shocked that she sounded so great," Baldwin said. "I think 1990s music, a lot of the artists were just real talents. It almost felt like the end of great music to me."
Throw on the flannel and break out the Beanie Babies. Enough time has passed that some people are nostalgic for the 1990s.
Atlantic City casinos have been booking acts that had their biggest hits in the 1990s. Music from the that decade is increasingly heard on some southern New Jersey radio stations. Boogie Nights, a club brand known for just playing the music of the 1970s and 1980s, added an all '90s night on Thursdays.
One thing that '90s night at Boogie Nights at the Tropicana Casino and Resort has in its favor is the wide variety of music played from 10 p.m. to
Acts that have managed to last, such as Backstreet Boys and Jay Z are heard along with one-hit wonders of all stripes, from the alternative rock of Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" to R&B singer Sisqo's "Thong Song."
There was no way during the 1970s that a club would play both the Bee Gees' disco hits and music from the rock band Boston during the same night, for instance.
Even if some of the acts were a one-hit wonders, it doesn't mean their best known songs were not greeted by the Boogie Nights crowd as if they were the biggest songs on the radio today. The crowd spilled outside of the lighted dance floor onto the surrounding carpet for R&B singer Montell Jordan's No. 1 pop hit from 1995 "This Is How We Do It." When the hip-hop group House of Pain told the crowd to "Jump Around," they dutifully obeyed.
Gina Gibboni, 27, of Somers Point, has attended '90s night at Boogie Nights a couple of times.
"I like everything about Boogie Nights, the atmosphere, the performers, the crowd and the music," said Gibboni, who thought '90s night was awesome. "I guess it was a little bit more nostalgic because I actually grew up in the '90s. Sometimes, they play music videos during the songs. I can remember when they first came out. It brought me back a little bit."
Dave Pena, the Boogie Nights brand owner, said other clubs may play '90s music, but what makes Boogie Nights different is its all '90s on Thursdays with accompanying music videos and photos and clips from movies and TV shows of that time. The club also features employees dressed up as some favorite 1990s performers, such as Gwen Stefani and Tejano singer Selena.
Pena, 41, of Galloway Township started '90s night in July 2012. He stopped it in September. He started it again in June, but this time, the run is open ended.
"It's a very niche thing. If you love the '90s, and we are saying to you specifically that it's all '90s all night, that's your night to go," said Pena, who added '90s night draws a very strong 21-to-35-year-old crowd. "If you go on our Facebook (page), the customers were saying, 'When are you bringing the '90s night back?,' so it was really supply and demand. People wanted it back."
Tropicana recently had comedian Sinbad in its Showroom and has hosted a variety of 1990s acts, including Sugar Ray in previous years, said Eric Fiocco, vice president of marketing for Tropicana Entertainment Inc.
"The demand to book '90s acts has always been popular within Atlantic City for both private and public events and is absolutely becoming more of a draw as time goes on. There are some acts that are more popular than others, but overall. we find '90s acts to be successful in both the Showroom and nightlife appearances in Boogie Nights. They create a unique excitement and nostalgia for our guests," Fiocco said.
Other casinos also have been bringing in acts that experienced their biggest success during the '90s.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa booked the grunge rock band Soundgarden. Harrah's Atlantic City presented R&B singer Brian McKnight. The Taj offered the R&B vocal group Boyz II Men and adult contemporary boy band 98 Degrees opening for boy band New Kids on the Block, who also had hits during the 1990s, on July 26 in its Mark G. Etess Arena. The Taj also brings into town R&B singer-songwriter Toni Braxton on Aug. 24.
Braxton had five top-10 pop singles during the 1990s. She is touring for the first time in five years.
"This is my 20th-year anniversary," said Braxton, 45, about the release of her self-titled debut CD. "I'm kind of excited about that. It also tells my age. I'm an old lady now, but I've been in the business for 20 years.
Braxton has recorded a new CD that reunites her with another '90s R&B music icon, Babyface, that will be released this fall.
Steve Gietka, who lives in Hammonton, worked for the Trump Organization from 1985 until the end of 2011. During the last three years of his tenure, he was the vice president of entertainment overseeing entertainment at the three properties. During the last decade, Gietka booked the 1980s pop stars into the Trump casinos, including Billy Idol, Pat Benatar and Cyndi Laupter. Gietka was there long enough to start booking the 1990s acts, including the pop vocal group Backstreet Boys in June 2010 into the Taj.
Gietka, who now runs his own company SMG Entertainment, has said that nostalgia for the music of one's youth usually kicks in 20 to 25 years after first hearing it.
"A lot of people that I know... they only listen to the music that was popular when they started riding around in cars and listening to music between 16- and 20-years-old," Gietka said. "When they hit about 40-years-old, they are not looking forward much more. They are self absorbed in the present and kind of looking back and missing the old days."
Besides the headline acts that perform in the Music Hall at the House of Blues Atlantic City, most of the acts that play for free in the Party Pit at the Showboat were performers, who are big in the 1990s, including Gin Blossoms, Fastball, Candlebox and Sponge.
Since most of them have been rock acts, the shows have been promoted on mainstream rock station WMGM-FM in Linwood.
The sweet spot of WMGM listeners for its advertisers are those people ranging from the late 20s to mid 40s, which would cover many of the listeners who see the 1990s as their music, said Paul Kelly, vice president of broadcast operations for Longport Media, which owns WMGM.
"What we are seeing as far as the rock music from that era is that it also has a wide appeal, and it is not strictly for folks who were around at the time listening to those songs, Kelly said. "Especially in the rock genre, there is a lot of quality rock music that came out of that time, grunge and all that. All of that stuff, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, is still relevant to today's youth."
Gary Fisher, the president of Equity Communications, which owns WAYV and the urban/adult contemporary station WTTH-96.1, commonly known as the Touch, said he started thinking more about the music of the 1990s when he saw the casinos starting to book the acts.
The WAYV afternoon DJ on WAYV, Nicky G, hosts a dance party with Bob Pantano starting at 8 p.m. Friday in the Toga Bar at Caesars Atlantic City when dance classics and oldies from the 1980s and 1990s are played, Fisher said. A 1990s hip-hop song is played once a hour in what's called a flashback moment on contemporary hits radio WZBZ-FM, commonly known as the Buzz.
Most of the 1990s hip-hop and R&B music can be heard during the Back in the Day weekend on WTTH, Fisher said. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots can be heard on rock station WZXL-FM 100.7, Fisher said.
"The music that was out there when they were teens kind of becomes their oldies, so people who grew up in the '90s, when active rock was what they were listening to, 20 years later, they look at that stuff as classic rock," said Fisher, who added the person who grew up in the '90s is who he wants as ZXL listeners for its advertisers. "Those people are now 35, 40, 45-years-old, and we want them on ZXL, so it's an easy sound for them to come back to... Luckily, due to the passage of time, it's old enough to fit with Get the Led Out, and the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd."
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