This Desert Music Venue Is the Best New Place to Catch an LA Show

The trip to Joshua Tree just got a whole lot more interesting

September 13, 2022 6:06 am
Interior of Yaamava Theatre
Interior of Yaamava Theatre
Yaamava' Theater

About halfway to Joshua Tree, you might notice a glittering, brand new high-rise towering just a few blocks off the 210 freeway. It stands out because there isn’t much else like it in the city of Highland, California, a small suburb of San Bernardino, and because it isn’t technically located in Highland, either. This new resort and theater, dubbed Yaamava, is an expansion of the former San Manuel Casino. The update has taken the idea of what casino hospitality and entertainment in California can be and turned it on its head. 

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians own the land the casino is on; “yaamava” means spring, or a time of growth and rebirth, in their Serrano language. A 17-floor luxury hotel with over 400 rooms and suites definitely counts as a sort of growth, but what might be even more special is the state-of-the-art theater the tribe built as well. While the hotel comes with all the expected bells and whistles — a pool deck with multiple pools, a spa and a salon, a sit-down steakhouse with wine and cocktails galore, and even a plush club level reserved exclusively for VIP guests — this music venue, which rivals most live music rooms in LA, is the real feat. 

Outfitted with an L-Acoustics sound system — the same high-end French speaker system used by Coachella, the Hollywood Bowl and Vegas’ brand-new Resort World Theatre — Yaamava’s Theater is now among the best places in California to see live music. With a maximum of 3000 seats — which can toggle down to 2,500 for an even more intimate setup — the venue is already attracting top-tier talent like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who opened the theater last December. (For context, RHCP is currently on tour playing stadium shows with upwards of 40,000 seats.) Other recent artists include Miguel, The Black Crowes, Erykah Badu and Tim McGraw; in October, expect sets by Alanis Morrissette, The Black Keys, and Los Angeles hip-hop royalty Ice Cube, who will perform two nights in a row. It’s a vibe-change from the Inland Empire’s typical bill of less nameworthy performers. 

“We hear this often: first-time guests to Yaamava may have expectations about what they will find, yet they are blown away by the luxury amenities and elevated guest experience,” says Drew Dixon, the brand’s VP of entertainment and events. “Our primary goal for Yaamava’s Theater is to create an upscale, intimate concert experience. We’re exceeding guest expectations with a premier entertainment experience they can’t find anywhere else in our market.” 

Dixon notes that his team’s goal is to “earn its place” as the premier entertainment destination in Southern California — a lofty goal considering some of the other contenders. While Yaamava may not have Santa Barbara Bowl’s ocean views — or the prestige of The Forum or Hollywood Bowl — what it offers in technology can’t be denied. David Kuhner, a regional sales manager at L-Acoustics, explains exactly what makes the company’s audio-visual setup so special.

“As with all L-Acoustics installations, the system at Yaamava was designed for the specific room space to ensure that audiences get the same quality sound everywhere in the room,” Kuhner says. “As to the ability to draw the top artists, there’s definitely a correlation with the fact that the sound system is L-Acoustics. The audio system that’s installed is based entirely on what our expert Application Engineers and our state-of-the-art 3D L-Acoustics design software predicts to achieve a world-class result in a space of this size and configuration.”

So what does that mean in layman’s terms? Basically, the speakers at Yaamava were designed precisely to fit that specific room and fill it with sound based on where the audience will be sitting. Their speakers operate on a binaural processing model that’s completely different from traditional stereo panning. The L-Acoustics setup allows everyone in the audience to get a sound that’s more similar to a recording engineer’s studio mix than a blast of all the instruments and vocals at once. While how exactly they do that gets much more molecular and scientific, the result is that many artists who already bring this system on the road with them can just show up to Yaamava, plug in, and play.

The venue also offers other, even more high-touch amenities on the audience side, like suites that have their very own speaker systems, and a video setup that’s more akin to a stadium than a 2,500-ticket room. “Our main wall is 50-inches wide with two 13-inch x 21-inch walls and images provided by 4k cameras stationed throughout the venue,” Dixon said. “Our suites provide a VIP experience for a concert setting with a dedicated host, food and beverage servers, and a private restroom in each suite.” For those who are willing to pay more not to miss a minute? That VIP suite even cuts out bathroom breaks.

Whether driving an hour out and back is worth it — or splurging a bit to stay over before and after the show is a fit — the new hotel makes both options available. But if you do stay, checking out the other, much smaller live music venues in and around the casino is worth it as well — you might just catch the next Red Hot Chili Peppers in the making. If not, there’s always the slots, the pool and the spa to keep your attention, whether you end up staying the night or not.

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