The reporter with his father after Frankie Moreno’s 100th show at Stratosphere on June 13, 2012. ( GABE GINSBERG/VEGAS KOOL )
By John Katsilometes, Las Vegas Sun and U.S. News Agency / Asian
I figured when Dad was visiting Las Vegas last week that one of us was going to be taking a week off.
It turned out, I was wrong.
Nobody took a week off.
Dad got to live my schedule, if you can call it “living,” from Monday through Saturday. It was Take Your Dad to Work Week for the Kats clan. Dr. George and his wife, Betty, and I hit six shows in as many nights.
Some fathers and sons go fishing. Not us. We hooked into the scene in Las Vegas. Somewhat wearily, they headed back to Pocatello, Idaho, on Saturday afternoon.
Hopefully, both of us will have recovered by the time Dad turns 70 in August.
How it shook out, in the order of chronology:
Monday: Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns at the Palms: I had told Dad this was where he could find his oldest son any Monday night, and the 90-minute set beginning at 10:30 p.m. was particularly inspired. We had an early trombone solo from Nathan Tanouye, the essential bass-drum duet between Rochon Westmoreland and Pepe Jimenez, and the guitar artistry of band leader Jerry Lopez. Tony Davich howled the band’s cover version of “Rosanna,” and the band also pulled out a couple of rarely played originals. Sitting at an adjacent table was Carlos Santana bassist Benny Rietveld, as the Santana band members make it to the shows most Monday nights. Afterward, I introduced Dad to Lopez, “Vegas! The Show” principal dancer Tara Palsha and composer/vocalist Bill Fayne. Palsha told Dad, “I’m in ‘Vegas! The Show.’ You should see that while you’re here.”
Which naturally meant we would see “Vegas! The Show” while Dad was here.
As we left the hotel, Dad turned to me and said, “Tara is going to be singing with Bill in August.” This is true — Palsha and Fayne are working on a late-summer performance, in which Palsha plans to sing for the first time. She’s been taking singing lessons to prep for the performance. She is nervous about this. Dad told me all of this. Dad had himself quite a little scooplet there.
Tuesday, “Million Dollar Quartet” at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts: I’d been eager to show Dad the Smith Center, as Pocatello is quite proud of its own PAC on the campus of Idaho State University. The L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center was funded in part by a $10 million endowment from Thelma Stephens, widow of the late potato-marketing pioneer L.E. Stephens (for those who know the region, the center is on Bartz Hill, where the ISU baseball team played ages ago). The performing arts complex cost $34 million to construct and opened in October 2004. It is a beautiful venue, seating 1,200, and when I saw a performance by guitarist/singer/songwriter Marcus Eaton (yo, a plug for the cousin) in December 2005, I felt sad that Las Vegas offered no comparable performance hall. (An aside, the 227-seat theater at the ISU complex is named the James E. and Beverly Rogers Black Box Theater. That’s Jim and Bev Rogers, who have donated several million dollars to the university over the years.)
With that backdrop, Dad walked into Reynolds Hall, and the first words out of his mouth were, “It’s a lot bigger than ours.” By a few hundred seats, yes, but similar in its design. The whole Smith Center complex cost $400 million more than the one Dad frequents, as a member of the Idaho State-Civic Symphony Board of Directors.
The show caught, “Million Dollar Quartet,” is the musical centering on the night Sun Records founder Sam Phillips invited Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins to his Memphis music enclave to jam and chat and pose for a famous photo. But it is not a large-scale show (a single, small set and no more than five musicians playing at a time) and seemed a better fit for a venue of maybe 500 seats. I mentioned to Dad that the show might well wind up at Harrah’s, and if it’s there, we’ll catch it again. He liked hearing that, as Baby Boomers really dig Elvis and those original Sun Records stars. “Million Dollar Quartet” earned a standing O from the family. The show hit the spot.
Wednesday, Frankie Moreno at the Stratosphere: Dad was witness to a unique performance marking Moreno’s 100th show at the Strat and the announcement of his 2-year contract extension at the hotel. The power of the strings and horns were especially impressive — as was Moreno’s own capacity to keep the rudder steady while taking several shots of Crown Royal. When I mentioned that Crown Royal was an official sponsor of the performance — meaning, free Crown is swilled each night — Dad laughed and said, “They’re getting their money’s worth.” But for a long time, the family has noticed the Moreno coverage in this column. They get it after seeing the show, and that was before meeting Carrot Top, Joey Fatone, the band members and especially Moreno and his family afterward at a rowdy post-show party in a suite at the Strat. At one point, Betty said she remembered Carrot Top appearing in a movie with Tom Hanks. I started to look up Carrot Top on IMDB, but then thought, “I can just ask Carrot Top,” who was standing 10 feet away. This sort of thing impresses family members, and we verified that Carrot Top has not appeared in a movie with Tom Hanks. After experiencing Moreno, Dad firmly understands the appeal of The Moreno Experience.
Thursday, “Vegas! The Show” at Saxe Theater, and the Lon Bronson All-Star Band at Ovation at Green Valley Ranch: Two shows emblematic of classic Las Vegas entertainment at its best. I hadn’t seen “Vegas!” in more than a year, and Thursday’s show was our second brush with Lopez onstage, as Pat Caddick and he lead the production’s 11-piece “band-estra.” Watching through the eyes of a visitor, the show’s appeal to those who don’t live here is evident. You are entertained and treated to a multidimensional Las Vegas history lesson, all at once. Repeatedly, Dad remarked, “This is a really fun show,” as he smiled through such scenes as The Rat Pack tribute performed by Eric Jordan Young, Gabriel Burrafato and Lou Gazzara. During the Louis Prima/Keely Smith “Jump Jive and Wail” segment, Dad pointed out, “Hey, that’s Phil!” He had spotted sax player Phil Wigfall, who three nights earlier performed with Santa Fe at the Palms.
Dad had started to catch on, as later when we walked into Ovation, he said, “Hey, there’s Tony,” noting Davich onstage with Bronson’s band.
“There is a lot of crossover with singers and musicians in Las Vegas,” I explained. Bronson has been a formidable trumpet player and bandleader here for more than two decades. Beyond his acumen for playing his horn and building terrific big-band productions, he’s something of a wild card in his onstage patter — especially after a couple glasses of pino. As we took our seats, the band, fittingly, uncorked the Eric Burdon and War classic “Spill the Wine.” Bronson adjusted the spoken lyrics at the start of the song, “… as I fell asleep I dreamed, I dreamed I was the headliner at Stratosphere, I was the star of the Stratosphere, and life was good …”
“He is talking about Frankie!” Dad said. Yeah, no doubt about that. Later the band performed “Comfortably Numb,” with Nina DiGregorio taking the lead on her amplified violin. She also was somewhat amplified, having knocked back a shot of Patron between sets, which only enlivened the performance. Dad also recognized David Perrico onstage. “I didn’t realize he would be here,” he said. I replied, “He has to be here because he is a trumpet ace.”
Friday, Carrot Top at the Luxor: Having met Scott Thompson earlier in the week, there was high anticipation for Carrot Top’s show at the Luxor. Betty was already a fan, but Dad only knew of C.T. from his brief appearances on talk shows and those nearly forgotten AT&T 1-800 commercials. That’s not a fair reference point at all, and they just laughed their faces off at the performance. Favorites were the redneck baby carrier (which doubles as a 12-pack of Budweiser), the iPhone with an extended cane for those who need to text and walk at the same time and the mousetrap for gay mice equipped with a spinning, mirrored ball.
“He is brilliant,” Dad said, who was about exhausted after the 90-minute sprint through Carrot Top’s dozens of props. Afterward, Topper said he is trying to track down a woman who missed a question on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” errantly guessing Carrot Top as an answer to a question for which Larry the Cable Guy was the right answer.
“We’re going to try to find her and bring her to the show,” Carrot Top told us after the show.
“That’s a great idea,” Dad said. Everyone agreed. Idea: Great.
When we said goodbye Saturday morning, I remembered that I actually bought Dad a Father’s Day gift while I was in Italy recently. It was a tie I bought from a street vendor in Florence. It’s a beautiful tie, and I even talked the vendor down a few Euros before making the purchase. But the gift was the whole week, which could only happen in Vegas.
We’ll do it again, and next time we break out the ties.