The Rock Yard at Fantasy Springs.

Sometimes, it hosts cover bands playing the greatest hits of rock. Sometimes, it hosts tribute bands. Other times, it hosts music legends performing an intimate set. No matter the performer, The Rock Yard at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has been a go-to spot for free entertainment for a long time.

“We started it in the summer of 2006, and I started here in February 2006,” said Paul Ryan, Fantasy Springs’ general manager. “The property had this beautiful courtyard, and it had a small stage in it, and I kept thinking that we really should be taking advantage of that.

“We started with just one small stage, doing classic-rock cover bands, and we were only on Saturday nights. … I was learning about the desert, because we ran it right through the year, and I thought that living in Southern California meant it’s beautiful all year round. Coming out from New Jersey, I didn’t realize how cold it got in the winter, so we used to laugh, because we would have bands onstage wearing fur coats.”

While Ryan and his team believed in the venue, growth, at first, was slow-going.

“We started to put in the tribute bands,” he said. “That was probably around 2007-2008, and then we introduced a Friday night live-band karaoke, and we ran that for a couple of years, but the tribute bands were so successful that we wound up expanding the tribute bands to Friday and Saturday.

“At that point, we decided we needed a second stage, so every year, we would put in a portable stage. By then, we had learned to close at the end of November and reopen in March. The whole idea was we would have a classic-rock cover band on the small stage, and then the tribute band on the main stage, and there’ll be no interruption in the music. … We stood out there for a couple of years, saying, ‘We know this is going to be a success,’ and then it just really exploded and became an incredible success.”

Fantasy Springs recently replaced those two stages with one, larger stage—complete with a new lighting and sound system.

“We just felt that it’d be better to have one large stage that’s actually big enough to have a band on each side,” Ryan said. “What we do now is stage left is the classic cover band, and on stage right is the tribute band.”

In the last year, the Rock Yard has started to introduce bands that pay tribute to newer groups.

“We’ve been really very lucky with the bands. They play twice a year, early in the season and later in the season,” Ryan said. “Some acts we tried, and they just didn’t go over as well, so we just refined. Lately, we’ve been trying to do more of the younger acts. The demographics are changing, so we’re doing a lot of what would be more Seattle grunge and more recent bands, in addition to the true classic-rock bands. That formula has been working really well for us.”

One of the Rock Yard’s staple bands is Damage Inc., a Metallica tribute band. The band has been performing in Indio for nearly 15 years; you can catch them on Saturday, Nov. 12.

“My favorite thing about it is that the Rock Yard is free, so anyone 18 and over can come up and enjoy the show,” said Kevin Knight, bassist of Damage Inc., during a recent phone interview. “They have a bunch of great, awesome cover bands, and then they bring in tributes from all over the place. It’s just a great, fun concert series.”

The Rock Yard at Fantasy Springs recently got a new, larger stage.

The local favorites were elated to return to the Rock Yard stage in 2021 after the pandemic shutdowns.

“We came back to the Rock Yard last year—but this year, it seems like the crowds are back,” Knight said. “We’re getting the same amount of people that were coming out before, which is a lot. Crowd response is really good, and we have a lot of local fans that we now know. After 10 years, you get to see a lot of regulars … plus new people that arrive. The crowds are good, and everyone’s having a great time.”

The renovated stage has impressed the Rock Yard veterans.

“The new stage is great; the sound is awesome; and it’s a lot better for setup and play,” Knight said. “We do some things sometimes with one of the (cover) bands called Steel Rod. What we like to do is play a song together, so we have both drum kits going, and all the guitars, and both basses, so having that one giant cohesive stage makes that even more epic.”

Damage Inc. performs at venues all over the world, yet the Rock Yard is still one of their favorite places to be.

“Even with the heat, the people will come out and brave the heat and sweat it out onstage with you,” Knight said. “It’s got such a great vibe. We’ve done some outside festival shows before, and they’re OK, but not compared to the Rock Yard. All the fans are right there with you, no matter what’s going on.”

In recent years, some of classic rock’s actual greats have graced the Rock Yard stage for intimate evenings that Fantasy Springs dubs “Rock Yard on Steroids.”

“This year, we had Puddle of Mudd come out,” Ryan said. “They were getting ready to relaunch their careers, and I was really happy to see that they were booked recently at Morongo. They actually came to us and said, ‘The Rock Yard would be a perfect place for us to get our chops back, and we’d like to play there.’ We’ve had bands over the years come to us and say, ‘We hear about the Rock Yard, and we’d love to do it.’ For the Rock Yard on Steroids, we’ve had everything from Jefferson Starship to Savoy Brown, which was a great blues band for many years.”

In April, Coachella and Stagecoach performers came to the Rock Yard when the stage hosted the Coachella Pre-Party, featuring Girl in Red, and the Stagecoach Pre-Party, featuring Ingrid Andress.

“We’ve been doing these in association with Todd Marker, who has most of the radio stations in our market, and he’s really a great partner,” Ryan said. “I think that the Coachella audience tends to be a little bit younger than the traditional classic-rock audience. … It’s good for us, because we expose the Rock Yard to younger people. When we did the Girl in Red show, it was a really young audience, but it was a really good thing to see.”

For more information on the Rock Yard at Fantasy Springs, located at 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio, visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com/rock-yard.

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Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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