It’s three a.m. on a Thursday and the gaming floor still sounds like a million pinball machines in a vigorous orgy. Having loaded in and sound checked earlier that day, I’m anxious to explore what everybody calls “Satan’s playground.” As I turn out of the lobby I’m greeted by the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip.

From the moment your plane lands, it’s clear that you’re not in the real world. Slot machines jangle outside the terminal, stretched Hummer limos are backed up ten deep to take VIPs to their hotels and, somehow, the signature blue haze everywhere indicating that the wily bonds of the smoking ban have no toehold here. Unlike most of the hopeful faces on the plane, I’m here to work. Four shows in as many days playing in a casino showroom. As it’s my first time playing here, I’ll confess to being a bit excited.

To our delight it’s a beautiful 550 seat cabaret style venue. The stage is plenty big enough for the 12 musicians we brought with us. The stage crew is helpful and accommodating. Drinks are served by cocktail waitresses in what appear to be playboy bunny outfits. Looking out from the stage into the lights it’s easy to daydream to the tune of “My Way” or imagine the silhouette of Dean Martin against the smoky backdrop.

As any touring performer knows, the slightest hole in the proverbial boat can sink it. Excited or not, everyone is tired, road weary and the sound and lighting must be perfect with little time to prepare. Added to the pressure of knowing that you’re standing in the footprints of the greats, it’s more than a little intimidating.

During our first performance, a spotlight operator appears to be having some kind of episode during our rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Our stage manager is furious until he finds out that the man was literally balling his eyes out during the performance and physically unable to hold the spotlight steady. A more emotionally stable crew member is put on duty. A passage in the script recalls the circa 1955 snuggling of teenagers in the back seat of their parent’s cars at the drive-in movies. An 80+ year-old usher pulls me aside after the show and whispers “When I was your age, I used to get laid in the back seat of my parents’ car all the time.” I make some crack about backseats not being like they used to be and we both laugh.

Any remaining bugs are worked out. The monitors are terrific and the venue is packed, no trouble there. Later, outside an elevator I meet three women in curiously elaborate pyjamas. They light cigarettes and ask me “Are you one of us”? I admit to not knowing what I’m being asked about. They tell me they’re with the National Spanking Convention and I laugh my ass off.

A second look and I see they are sincere and my smile slowly fades. Vegas would be the obvious choice for a fetish weekend I suppose. The adage about things happening here and staying here seems more appropriate than ever.

In that shimmering patch in the middle of a desert commonly referred to as “Lost Wages,” it’s easy to see how it’s become the entertainment mecca that it has. Nearly all of the people here have come from somewhere else to enjoy a week or a weekend of dazzling shows, 24-hour bar service and a break from whatever they may have waiting at home. The turnover of clientele is guaranteed to provide a fresh audience, while the hotels stay packed with flight after unyielding flight of vacationers of all shapes and sizes. All the while the penniless, hung-over departures shuffle by the arrivals in the airport on their journey home. The design is flawless, there are professional shows and events for all tastes from the extreme sports world to the martini-swilling crooners of yesteryear, making Vegas irresistible to every possible demographic…. except anyone with an adversity to bright flashing lights, I guess.

There is an expected level of swank that comes with any venue in Vegas, but my ramblings brought me to some places that stood out from the pack. The Suncoast Hotel and Casino: A classic casino vibe complete with a massive gaming floor, 26-lane bowling alley, beautiful golf course, movie theatre and nightly entertainment to satisfy the gambler or the kid in any guest. Top of the World Restaurant: Fine dining in Las Vegas’ only revolving restaurant. If you thought it looked amazing from the plane, take it in from 844 feet above the strip in the Stratosphere Casino while enjoying their award winning wine selection and creatively decadent menu. Last but certainly not least is a standard, the Cirque du Soleil has been and continues to be an entertainment staple in Las Vegas. There are currently eight separate Cirque shows running in casinos along the strip so it can’t be hard to find one that peaks your interest. These themed live musical and fiercely acrobatic performances have been dropping jaws and awakening wonder in spectators around the globe for decades. The price of admission is certainly worth the experience and more.

As I pack my guitar and toss my clothes haphazardly into a suitcase I’m almost sad to leave. I got to feel like a rock star for a few days. Sitting beside a pool and drinking 600 daiquiris in the blazing Nevada sunshine just felt right somehow. Just like everyone else though, I will walk that solemn terminal that will bring me home to the real world to dream of the lights, mysticism and the excitement of fabulous Las Vegas.

Stay here: The Suncoast Hotel and Casino

Eat here: Top of the World Restaurant

Be entertained here: Cirque du Soleil

 

Anders Drerup is a Canadian full-time musician and writer currently playing with Scissorkick and The Claytones.

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