Mohegan Sun's Tom Cantone chronicles a career in smart bookings
Over the past three decades, Tom Cantone has spent more time pondering stars than Copernicus ever thought about. In Cantone's case, though, the focus was not on astronomy but rather "stars" in the context of Famous People.
As senior vice president of sports and entertainment at Mohegan Sun Casino (with previous gigs at Foxwoods and the Sands in Atlantic City), Cantone has booked thousands of performers and celebrities into a variety of venues. More important, he revolutionized the idea of casino entertainment by presenting shows that featured contemporary A-list entities from music, film, television and popular culture - as opposed to the standard idea of trotting out holdovers from the Rat Pack era.
Three years ago, it occurred to Cantone that he'd been fortunate enough to meet and work with an incredible array of artists, and, before he started forgetting the minutiae and anecdotes, he figured he should probably write it all down. Not only would it serve to remind him of his life's work, it was also something he could pass on to his children.
"I didn't have any great dreams of being a bestselling author," Cantone says. "I started out just wanting a chronology of my career for my kids so they could see what dad was up to all those years. Also, I've always been interested in the idea of 'time' and how what we each do with our 'time' defines us. And I hoped that by writing it all down I could assure myself that, yes, it was time well spent."
It took two-and-a-half years and, he says, a lot of help, but Cantone's "Book 'Em - From the Man Who Revolutionized Casino Entertainment" will be published tomorrow in hardcover and eBook editions. The author celebrates with a media event at the Friar's Club in Manhattan on Tuesday, where his pal, Regis Philbin, who wrote the book's foreword, will emcee.
"Regis and I became friends back in the Atlantic City days," Cantone remembers. "I'd even forgotten I was the first to book his original stage show - the one with Kathie Lee Gifford. It took off; the casino audiences loved them. When I first started writing the book, I asked Regis what he thought about it, and he immediately just said it was a great idea. Then he volunteered to write the foreword."
The structure of "Book 'Em" is a series of short chapters that mainly focus on specific artists Cantone has worked with. In diary-entry style, he describes how he targeted the act for a casino appearance and includes the show-biz context of the time period and how the gig came together. Some of these spotlights contain more personal details about the stars than others, but the overall narrative features plenty of anecdotes and, along the way, details Cantone's career through the chronology of the celebrity portraits.
In 1985, Cantone brought arguably the biggest star in the world, Eddie Murphy, into the Sands; it was the first casino booking that reflected what was going on in contemporary entertainment. It was a huge success, and Cantone followed up with an ongoing processional of current attractions ranging from Jennifer Lopez, Billy Joel, the Dixie Chicks, Prince, Britney Spears, Macy Gray, Mystikal, Kanye West and Jay Z, Lady Gaga and Lady Antebellum to Bruce Springsteen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Katy Perry, Jethro Tull, Brad Paisley, Anthrax, Tool and Motorhead.
Also paramount: Cantone's early realization that audiences would embrace stage appearances that went beyond music and standup comedy. He sought out actors such as Al Pacino and Don Johnson, the cast of "The Sopranos," "Dancing With the Stars" and several seasons' worth of "American Idol" finalists.
Cantone also includes a "You Can't Make This Up" section with various backstage stories, and he humbly discusses his booking wish-list of artists he still wants to sign for Mohegan Sun shows (are you listening, Paul McCartney?). There's also a revealing chapter on folks inside the casino and entertainment industry: the managers, agents and assorted business movers and shakers.
Acknowledging he had no real experience at writing a narrative and wanting the tone of the book to be conversational, Cantone decided to read his chapters into a tape recorder. A friend of his wife's transcribed the tapes, and, following his ever-evolving outline, Cantone ended up with a manuscript. He hired a New York freelance editor, Barry Doughterty, to help polish the 80,000-word work - and then had to make a decision - whether to seek an established publisher or self-publish.
"The first thought anyone with a book has is to land it with a New York publishing house," Cantone says. "I did try briefly to find some interest, but the response seemed to be unless you're a major star or an established writer that a book of this type might be a hard sell.
"I also think the world has changed. With technology and social media, you can create and take advantage of your own publishing opportunity. I started thinking of many of the successful bands I book regularly - and they're not on major labels but are working from a new blueprint. So that's the way I decided to go."
Always lavish in praise of others, Cantone credits a group of friends and professionals in getting the book done and professionally packaged, and through his website, tomcantonebookem.com, the campaign is underway to get the word out. Cantone says there are no immediate plans for local signings, but he certainly anticipates some type of publicity events will happen in the near future.
One cool aspect of "Book 'Em" is that Avion Tequila, a company that sponsors events and activities at Mohegan Sun, came onboard as an official sponsor. The inside back panel of the book jacket is a Cantone testimonial by Avion.
"That's part of trying to take advantage of new marketing possibilities," Cantone says. "I've worked with Avion in the past; they showed some interest and like the exposure of working in the entertainment industry, and it seemed an ideal partnership."
Cantone says he's nervous and excited now that the book is done and will be "out there" - but adds he has a great job and a wonderful family and looks forward to life going on as usual.
"If some of these sell and I have to re-order, that's not a bad thing," he says. "But it was never about that. I've been incredibly lucky. I've had - and still have - a ringside seat to the evolution of American pop culture and have met some wonderful and talented people. I hope 'Book 'Em' reflects that."
Who: Tom Cantone
What: The senior vice president of sports and entertainment at Mohegan Sun Casino has written a memoir, “Book ’Em — From the Man Who Revolutionized Casino Entertainment,” that describes his three decades in the talent-booking business and the artists he’s met and dealt with. “Book ’Em” is officially published Tuesday and will be available in hardcover and eBook editions for $25.
To purchase or for more information:
MOST VIEWED MEDIA