Oscar’s Palm Springs has long been known for a variety of events, most notably its popular Sunday tea dance.
However, in recent years, Oscar’s owner Dan Gore has made a number of improvements, sprucing things up and elevating the entertainment offerings—and Independent readers have noticed, voting for Oscar’s as both the Best Outdoor Venue and the home of the Best Open Mic event in this year’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll.
“I’ve always been involved in entertainment,” Gore said during a recent interview. “I came from entertainment, I’m not another restauranter; I’m more of a show producer and stage producer. The restaurant part just fell in my lap. It all stems from the restaurant business being so hard to manage and to make enjoyable. The entertainment, the open mic, and the celebrities who we’ve had there—that came to fruition because I wanted it to be more fun for me as a business owner, because running a restaurant was not a fun aspect of it all. The entertainment was what has driven me all along. … I take great pride in the entertainment I bring to Oscar’s, and we try to bring unique things there. We try to be the first with all our types of entertainment.”
A gander at the Oscar’s events calendar illustrates this unique variety: musicals, cabaret shows, bingo, popular drag brunches, a TV show taping, and much more.
“I take it all very seriously,” said Gore. “The one thing I’ve learned as far as running a restaurant is making sure that my staff and myself understand that there’s a bit of caring that needs to happen with the customer. We have unique items; we have unique events. At Oscar’s, we try our best to make sure that customers know we care about their stay when they’re with us. … If I get to add to that great entertainment, or I can add to that a unique experience, then I’ve created something that’s a guarantee of that.”
One of the most popular regular Oscar’s events is the monthly open mic, hosted by Michael Orland, a musical director and vocal coach from American Idol.
“The open mic came about because a few mutual friends of ours were taking vocal lessons from a very prominent musical arranger,” Gore said. “… He had mentioned to a mutual friend that he wanted to get back into doing open mic nights or cabaret shows, because he kind of missed it.”
Gore said he reached out to Orland, without really knowing who he was.
“I said, ‘Hey, I think I want to do this open mic night at my restaurant in Palm Springs; is that something you’d be interested in doing?’” Gore said. “He said yes, without him knowing that I knew he wanted to. When we got into the negotiation part of it, he said, ‘I can’t really do it without being paid by my rate.’ I tell people when they come to Oscar’s that he’s an expensive person to have at Oscar’s, but he promised me he’d bring me major celebrities—and he’s brought us major celebrities. He’s definitely come through with what he promised me, and I’ve come through with what I promised him. … He’s not even from Palm Springs. He drives in once a month just to do that event.”
You never know who you’re going to see at the open mic.
“Within the first couple of months, he brought us Kristin Chenoweth, David Foster and Katharine McPhee, and also Kevin Chamberlin, a Broadway actor who actually now calls Palm Springs his home,” said Gore. “Of course, the regulars have come out, and there are other stage producers.”
Michael Orland has an impressive resume, and he could be performing or coaching anywhere in the world, yet there is no place he’d rather be than hosting his open mic at Oscar’s—even if he was a little hesitant at first.
“Dan called me, and he’s like, ‘Hey, you want to come do your own show here?’ And I was like, ‘Not really,’” Orland said during a recent phone interview.’ “I don’t really do a show, but I said I would come and do, like, a sing-along thing. I worked in the piano bars a long time ago in New York City, and I did all the famous piano bars, like the Duplex and Don’t Tell Mama and Brandy’s on the upper east side, literally in the heyday of the piano bars. I said I would come do a piano-bar thing where everyone would sing along, or we could do something fun, like an open mic, and it would be a really fun place to get everybody up and singing. He goes, ‘Let’s give it a try,’ so we did it—and it was packed, so we kept going. It’s now been going for a long time, and I just love it.”
Palm Springs has long been a getaway for the stars, and when they get away, they often come to Orland’s open mic—if they haven’t moved here already.
“There’s this whole community in Palm Springs of all these people who were in showbusiness, from New York and L.A. and San Francisco, who all now live in Palm Springs,” said Orland. “All these people who are in showbusiness, or who were in showbusiness, come in, and it’s amazing. It’s almost like this family; everybody knows everybody. There are these regulars who come in every single month, and it’s just been the most fun ever. We have the piano—a real piano out there—and a great sound system and lights. When it gets really hot, we get the misters going, and when it gets really cool, we get the heaters out there. It’s literally the most fun I ever have.”
Orland said the free, no-shame atmosphere of the open mic keeps him coming back month after month.
“I am a vocal coach. I worked on American Idol for 16 years, in its heyday, so that’s what I do,” he said. “I’ve played for countless people all over the country, in the world, and I love playing piano for people. I have a ton of students—and all my students come there. Anything goes; you don’t have to be perfect. You could sing a bad song; you can sing a song that doesn’t work; you can go, ‘I don’t think I should ever sing that song again, but it was so fun to try it.’ It’s a loving, appreciative crowd. … Most people don’t even bring music. I’ll either fake the song, or I’ll look it up on my iPad. We just wing it.”
Oscar’s has recently been adding co-hosts to share duties with Orland, giving even more of a wow factor to the talent and celebrity-filled experience that is the Oscar’s open mic.
“Dan had the idea of bringing in a co-host once in a while to just mix it up a little bit,” Orland said. “In December, we have this amazing Tony nominee, Mary Bridget Davies, who was nominated for a Tony playing Janis Joplin, and she’s a killer singer. In January, we have Jai Rodriguez, who is one of the original cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He’s in a ton of movies and TV. We just had Joely Fisher and Kevin Chamberlin. It’s really fun for the audience, and I just think it’s just a little escape for everybody. It’s very affordable, a $15 or $20 cover. It’s not like when you go to a club, and it’s a $50 or $60 show, plus dinner and drinks and all that stuff. It’s just the greatest atmosphere, and we want everyone to have fun. I’m so honored that people are loving it so much.”
Open Mic Night with Michael Orland takes place every first Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. at Oscar’s Palm Springs, 125 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way. Tickets are $20, with a food/drink minimum. For tickets or more information, visit oscarspalmsprings.com.