Builders, planners enjoy fruits of labor at Smith Center concert

If they built it, why wouldn't they come?

And come they did, by the thousands, to celebrate the first official performances at the new downtown landmark they helped build.

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts won't open to the public until March 12, following donor appreciation previews Tuesday and Wednesday and this Saturday's invitation-only opening night gala.

But that didn't stop those involved in the center's planning and construction from whooping it up Thursday and Friday with country singer Randy Travis at two "Hard Hat" concerts, which also showcased the art deco architecture and raise-the-roof acoustics of The Smith Center's 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall.

Built in the style of a traditional European opera house, Reynolds Hall's horseshoe-shaped auditorium affords audiences a clear view of the proscenium stage, from the main-floor orchestra seats to the top balcony.

Those sitting above the main floor, in the box seats, could watch the performance from their lofty perspective -- and also catch the show in the orchestra seats as audience members tapped their toes and clapped along with Travis.

As for the sound mix, audience members could not only hear Travis and the band, but fellow concertgoers who responded to the performance with shouts of "Sing it, Randy!"

At Friday night's concert, the sole glitches seemed to be a balky cash register at a mezzanine bar and Travis' deeper-than-a-holler voice, which seemed hoarse and raspy from a case of bronchitis diagnosed "three-and-a-half days ago," he told the assembled audience.

"If you like it, I meant to do it," Travis said of his huskier-than-usual sound. "If it's bad, I was sick. It gives me a nice out."

Travis may have had personal sound problems, but he and his eight-member band experienced no such complications during their two-day Smith Center gig.

"You'd never have guessed it was D ay One," said Terry Heitland , audio engineer for Travis' 25th anniversary tour, of Thursday's initial concert. "It's a nice-sounding space. It should work for multipurpose" attractions.

That's exactly how The Smith Center was designed, with a variety of performances in mind, from ballet to Broadway.

But Travis' twangy sound, complete with weepy steel guitar and fiddle, made Reynolds Hall seem at least as much opry house as opera house despite the swank surroundings.

"This is no doubt one of the nicest places I have ever had the opportunity sing in," he told the crowd after his opening number. "It's an honor to be here."

Before the concert, Smith Center president Myron Martin welcomed "the men and women who built this glorious building," noting that "this is your new home in Las Vegas."

He also introduced Donald D. Snyder, chairman of the center's board of directors, and Smith Center namesake Fred Smith, chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which donated $150 million to the $470 million project.

Smith choked up as he addressed the audience, praising them for "the pride you took in building what I think is the greatest performing arts center in the U.S."

Iron worker Geno Kennedy, a general foreman on the Smith Center project "from the ground up," recalled performing arts centers he's seen in St. Louis and Chicago and commented, "This is incredible -- this tops 'em all."

When asked about his role in The Smith Center's construction, Rick Poliquin of Absolute Metals led a personal tour to the Mezzanine Lounge, pointing to the aluminum trim accenting the rich wood-paneled walls.

"I think it's beautiful," said Poliquin, who moved to Southern Nevada from Southern California 16 years ago. "This facility could hold its own with any in California."

John Desvari , a Las Vegas resident since 1966, called The Smith Center "the best thing to happen in Las Vegas" since he's lived here.

Desvari and his son David, a foreman electrician on the project, came dressed for Travis' concert, complete with cowboy hats and Western shirts.

But "we want to see more hard rock -- and more classical" music as well, David Desvari said. "Something for everyone."

And while country music isn't usher Cindi Davis' favorite, she enjoyed hearing Travis' concert from a balcony seat, noting that "the acoustics are amazing."

Mitch Chvilicek , a mechanical engineer with the Oregon-based Green Building Services consulting firm, made his 20th trip to The Smith Center for the Hard Hat concerts, making sure the heating and air-conditioning system was working properly. It was .

"It seems a little different for Vegas," he said of the new performing arts venue. "But it's a good different."

Contact reporter Carol Cling at or 702-383-0272.