In the swirl of newsy events, something transformative happened in Las Vegas recently.
No, I’m not talking about President Obama’s visit or the Energy Summit or Harry Reid’s stand on the Iran nuclear deal or any of a dozen other significant developments over the past few days.
Instead, let me tell you about an unusual event the happened during a concert at the Palms’ Pearl venue.
Jackson Browne, a singer responsible for many songs familiar to Boomers and a host of left-leaning environmental ballads, was on stage and made a point of saying how he’d spent years avoiding Las Vegas. It was a place where has-beens went to finish their careers, he suggested sheepishly. It was a place he identified with greed and excess, particularly anathema to his environmental principles.
But, he said, it had come to his attention that real people actually live here and asked how many in the crowd of perhaps 2,400 were locals. A roar went up and the troubadour seemed a little surprised. In the course of the evening, he kept looking into the crowd.
He commented on how nice the room is. He commented on how much he disliked the plastic cups being used for drinks in the hall. The next round of beverages for the band came in paper cups. The next came in glasses. He noted the progress.
Then he went on to play and play and play. At one point, he commented that casinos had learned that cutting shows short to hustle guests back to the gaming floor wasn’t productive and he lauded the Palms for understanding artists. But a little while later, he felt the need to ask the house manager if he could play on.
The answer was yes and he did – for 3 hours and 15 minutes by my watch.
He concluded by thanking the crowd for “transforming my view of Las Vegas.”
I bring this news to you not as a concert review, but rather as a positive sign in Las Vegas’ growth into a major American city.
Whenever I’m out of town, I hear it and I’m sure you do too. Too much of America still sees us as Browne portrayed us — a land of excesses in an uninhabitable patch of desert where people play but don’t stay. We’ve long ago left that image in the dust. The issue is spreading the word.
The Convention & Visitors Authority does a wonderful job of selling the market to business travelers, fun seekers and thrill seekers. But Las Vegas’ ability to get the message to the rest of America seems an issue. We still don’t seem to play well in Peoria, as the old TV ratings line went.
Bill Foley’s foray into professional hockey will get Las Vegas into the consciousness of a whole new segment of America and Canada, people who think the only ice here is in drinks. That’s good.
Perhaps the attention we get from national politicians this electoral season will help with a set of engaged voters who may have a preconceived and erroneous view of Las Vegas. It might even land us a political convention downstream.
But these are rifle-shot successes. We still need the breakthrough moment to do for Las Vegas what the Olympics did for Beijing.
I admit to having no ready answer. Maybe the creative folks at R&R can turn their thinking to a set of spots debunking Vegas myths.
But I do know that if we can change Jackson Browne’s view of Las Vegas, more can be done in this city of infinite possibilities.
Browne’s voice is heard in corners where Las Vegas is not exactly top of mind. If he tells a few of his friends and they tell their friends. Think of it as an old world form of social media among the group that’s too “cool” for Vegas.
And, for those of you who enjoyed an earlier column about a concert experience, yes, I was again embarrassed by “my generation.” I’ll overlook the frequent bathroom trips. But at 10:30, way too many people decided it was getting past their bedtime and left. Serves you right. You missed about a quarter of a really good show.
At least two of us even saw it as transformative.