Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN

The Final Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column

Today marks the last edition of the Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column. Although I'm going to continue doing reviews for the site and posting regularly on the Vegas4Visitors Facebook group, the commitment of doing a column every single week has just gotten to be too much for me to handle with all the other work I'm doing these days. To be frank, when someone asks me what I'm doing on an upcoming weekend I want to be able to say "nothing" as opposed to "writing my Vegas column," which has been the answer for the last 17 years.

Hard to believe it has been that long but it's true. The first edition debuted in September of 1999 and counting that one and this one there have been 746 of total. It's mind boggling to think of how much Vegas has changed.

The Bellagio had only opened the year before and The Venetian arrived just a few months earlier, in May of 1999. Paris Las Vegas said "oooh la la" on September 1, just as the Weekly Column was debuting.

Things that didn't exist yet: Wynn and Encore Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood (and even the new Aladdin that preceded it), The Cannery, THEhotel (now the Delano), The Cromwell, Aliante, Palazzo, Aria, The Cosmo, SLS Las Vegas, and resort fees.

Things that did exist that don't anymore: The Stardust, The Frontier, The Westward Ho, Barbary Coast, The Sahara, the Boardwalk Holiday Inn, Lady Luck, The Showboat, and free parking (at least it won't be around for much longer).

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority tracks things like average room rates, number of visitors to the city each year, and more but they only have the data easily available back to 2004. That year Vegas welcomed 37 million visitors while 2016 may hit 50 million. Gaming revenue on The Strip was $5.3 billion while in 2015, despite a still soft economy, it was $6.3 billion. Average room rates in 2004 was $89. In 2015 it was $119.

Back in 1999, slot machines still accepted and dispensed coins. The ticket-in/ticket-out technology that most people take for granted didn't debut until the early 2000s. And 3-D, surround sound, shaking seats, and all of the other high-tech wizardry that is part of the slot experience today was the stuff of people's dreams.

Cirque du Soleil only had two shows - Mystère and O. Today there are eight (although one, Zarkana, is closing this week). Siegfried and Roy were the kings of the Vegas entertainment scene, long before Celine Dion came along and made it safe for big name stars to play residencies here again.

There were multiple "classic" showgirl productions including Folies, Jubilee, and Enter the Night. Today there are none.

Of the ten shows that I picked as the best of 1999, only three are still around - Mystère, O, and Legends in Concert. Anybody else remember Chicago or EFX or Danny Gans?

Half of the attractions I picked for the best of the year are gone including the Pirate Battle (before they ruined it with a "sexy" revamp), Caesars Magical Empire, and the Liberace Museum.

Nightclubs were an afterthought in 2000 and today they are among the biggest revenue streams the hotels have.

So yes, a lot of stuff has changed since the Weekly Column but that's part of the appeal of Las Vegas, the most dynamic* city in the US and maybe even in the world. And even as it grows and shifts, it remains the same in many ways - silly, excessive, expressive, and fun in ways that you just can't find anywhere else.

One thing that definitely hasn't changed is my love for the city, which is why the Vegas4Visitors.com site and Facebook groups will continue.

I want to thank everyone for reading the Weekly Column for all these years. I know there are some of you out there who have been around since the very beginning but whether you have read all 746 of them or just a few, it is incredibly humbling to know that you felt like it was worth giving up some of your time to do so. I deeply appreciate it.

Viva Las Vegas!

Rick Garman
April, 2016

*Dynamic: (of a process or system) characterized by constant change, activity, or progress.

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In Honor of Prince - 1958-2016

Prince was my favorite musical artist of all time. Not one of my favorites, THE favorite. So when he announced he was going to do a Vegas residency back in 2006 I nearly passed out. It remains one of the highlights of my life to have seen him perform in such an intimate venue and I wanted to share that with you once again. Here's the review of the show I wrote in December, 2006:

There is a virtual dictionary's worth of overused words that are thrown around when discussing the musical talents of Prince: legendary, iconic, and genius are just a few. But with this man there is little risk of hyperbole. He's just that good.

Playing two nights a week in the small-ish former Club Rio space at the Rio in Las Vegas may seem like a step down from his arena packing "Purple Rain" days but see the show and you'll realize that this is the kind of venue that allows the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince to settle comfortably into his musical brilliance, play the kind of music he wants (needs?) to play, and perhaps most importantly just have fun.

Back in the day Prince used to play those massive arenas and then show up, often unannounced, at small nightclubs and theaters to jam until the wee hours of the morning, eschewing his mega-hits for lesser known titles and funky, jazz-inspired musical workouts with his band and guests. This show at the Rio is much like those post-concert concerts with a start time that is, at best, fluid and a musical spirit that evokes a more relaxed, less structured event. The Rat Pack used to do it in Vegas; why not Prince?

The doors to the theater open at 8pm and a fierce DJ is on hand to keep things lively until the concert starts. Oh yeah... that starting time thing. Door staff will tell you that Prince "usually takes the stage between 11:30 and 1am." That's right: there is no formal starting time. It happens when it happens so your choice is to get there early to stake out prime stage-hugging territory and wait several hours or show up later and still stand around only with slightly less optimum viewing space.

On the night I visited, I staked my claim at around 10:45pm. 3121 is the name of the former Club Rio now, a round theater with a dance floor in the middle and booths and tables lining the edges. General admission tickets allow you to stand on the peripheries or get right up close to the stage on the floor, which by the way is the best non-seat in the house. VIP packages get you the booths and tables, some with bottle service but no worries - there are several bars along the back wall. As concert venues go, it's a fine one since you're pretty close no matter where you land; no binoculars needed here.

The curtain finally went up at around 12:30am, revealing a largely undressed stage (some fluorescent paint on the exposed electrical conduits and a circular staircase to a "lounge" for the horn section of the band were about it). Backed by a small combo (bass, drums, one or two keyboardists varying, and three horn players plus two dancers/back-up singers), Prince launched into the funky title track from his latest album, "3121" followed quickly by more cuts from that disc including "Lolita" and "Black Sweat."

For the next two hours plus, he worked his way through a non-stop barrage of some of his best music, although for casual fans the monster-sized hits were mostly absent. True, he did do "Kiss" and for an encore "Purple Rain" and "Let's Go Crazy," but those were abbreviated and revamped versions. So no "Controversy," "1999," "Little Red Corvette," "When Doves Cry," "Raspberry Beret," or "Diamonds and Pearls." Instead, the Prince faithful got rarely performed gems like "Anotherloverholenyohead," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "Joy in Repetition," "7," and "Pink Cashmere," mixed in with a cover of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" and several, extended instrumental jams featuring guest saxophonist Maceo Parker.

For some in the audience, this was an obvious disappointment - the club was definitely less crowded when the show ended at around 2:45am than when it started. If you are one of those casual fans, that shouldn't preclude you from going to see the show. As I understand it, the concert is different almost every single night and what gets played depends heavily on Prince's moods and whims so you might get two hours of non-stop hits or two hours of even more obscure tracks than the ones I heard.

But dedicated Prince fans and anyone with an appreciation for genius-level musicianship couldn't have been pried away with a crowbar. Watching the man sing, dance, and play almost every instrument on stage with virtuoso level accomplishment is stunning and at times breathtaking.

I am one of those dedicated Prince fans and have seen him in concert many times, but something is different now. I've never seen him so relaxed, so jovial and comfortable. Whether he was joking with the audience or wading into it to pull people on stage to dance with him, his energy came off as distinctly more playful, approachable, and human than the cipher of days past.

Perhaps that spirit is best summed up from the lyrics of one of my all-time favorite Prince tracks (one he performed to my delight during the show) "Forever in My Life" from the 1987 "Sign O' The Times" album: "There comes a time, in every man's life/when he gets tired of foolin' around... I never imagined that love would rain on me/and make me want to settle down."

Whatever the reason for settling down in Vegas, we are thankful. I've always said that in 200 years people will look back at Prince's music the way we look at Beethoven's today, and while some will say that crosses over into the hyperbole I was having trouble finding earlier, go see this show and you'll understand why it isn't.

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