Who ordered the pepperoni-and-anchovy pizza with garlic knots and a Bulgarian gadulka player?
"Somebody sent out for pizza and when the pizza man came, I and someone else went to the door," says Patrick Gaffey, cultural program supervisor for the Clark County Parks and Recreation Department, recalling one night rehearsing with co-workers he'd organized into a band for a yuletide blowout.
"As we were trying to pay him and count the money, he was trying to see past us into the room. He had a heavy Eastern European accent. He asked what we were doing. I said, 'Trying to play music.' He said, 'I -- I play too!' We asked what instrument he played. 'I show you -- in the car!' "
Returning, Angel Gadzhev of Bulgaria, taking a break from pizza delivery in Las Vegas, tucked the instrument from his native land into his chest and began to bow on the steel strings.
"We were already feeling like hopeless amateurs," Gaffey says. "When he started playing this complex music, it was awesome."
Bulgarian Pizza Man was soon on the stage of the Winchester Community and Cultural Center Theater. Delivering music. (Maybe he had a slice or two after the show.)
"Every year I perform here several times," Gadzhev says. "I didn't have other place. I want to invite the best Bulgarian musicians here. Winchester helps me."
We all hear it: "Las Vegas doesn't have culture." Yeah, yeah. Give it a rest, lazy, uninformed naysayers who can't be bothered to slide off the Barcalounger while their own pizza cheese dribbles down their chins.
"Periodically, people have walked in the front door and said, 'Oh, so this is what this place is? I've lived around the corner for 20 years and I've always wondered what this place was,' " says Gaffey in his office at the Winchester Center. "You can imagine how frustrating it is for us to hear that."
Lodged unobtrusively on South McLeod Drive -- its bucolic, off-the-main-drag locale near East Desert Inn Road of no help in flagging down passers-by -- the center is home to multiple multicultural offerings on its stage, as well as an art gallery and numerous community programs.
The entire globe passes through your ears via the international music and musicians invited into the 274-seat Winchester venue since the World Vibrations series was introduced in July 2005 (it picks up again Jan. 23 with a program of Jewish klezmer music):
Sandip Thanki strumming an Indian sitar, New Zealand's Dane Nagahuka, Cuban legend Rogelio Darias, Lei Qiang on the erhu (Chinese violin), Ecuadorian sounds by Duchicela, Japanese koto music by Yoko Fitzpatrick and Paraguayan harpist Mariano Gonzalez, as well as programs of Russian, Peruvian, Nigerian, Irish, Thai, Italian and Iraqi music.
Concentrating on dance, the World Steps series -- featuring mostly Nevada groups -- stretches from Hawaiian hula to Chilean folk dance to debki, the Lebanese national dance.
"Someone will say, 'I'm from Tuva and I'm with Cirque du Soleil and I can do throat-singing -- that is so exciting to me," says cultural specialist Irma Varela-Wynants, who books performers for the series. "The idea is not to cater to a particular community, it's for the community at large so they can get to know each other and how rich we are and how great it is to live here in Las Vegas with all this cultural richness."
One Cirque moonlighter is Senegal performer Toumany Kouyate, a musician with "O" at Bellagio, who has taken his kora -- a 21-string African harp -- to Winchester for local audiences not inclined to endure Strip traffic, tourists and prices to catch him in his usual habitat.
"They gave me the opportunity to perform over there," Kouyate says in a heavy West African accent. "Performing at the theater is to show my culture. It is very important to me for people who don't know this culture. We give to each other, this cultural exchange. Two times we almost had a full (audience)."
With many programs highlighted by the Day of the Dead Festival in the fall, the Winchester Center has become a cultural centerpiece of the local Mexican community.
"The big demographic shift is that we've had a lot more Mexicans moving into this general area and we've really responded to that community partly because they respond to us," Gaffey says. "They really use our park and when we put on Mexican cultural shows, we get huge turnout, more than any others, sellouts."
Though tossing a wide cultural net over its programming, Gaffey does acknowledge that the center's programming is sometimes undervalued by the overall Las Vegas community, noting that publicizing their events has grown difficult. Having run the Allied Arts Council of Southern Nevada in the 1980s, Gaffey remembered when television stations were easy to enlist in that effort, but that outlet has largely dried up.
"You could go to one of four or five stations and they would make a PSA (public service announcement) for you," he remembers. "Then they would make dubs and you could take them to other stations and they would all play them. But then the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) said they didn't have to do those anymore. ... They immediately stopped doing them. Nobody would play anybody else's because they all insisted on putting their own station logo on them."
Budget slashing also has weighed on the center, especially given the core audience. "We depend on mailings, but mailings are very expensive and with the recession, I put up a sign on our counter that said, 'Please give us your e-mail address,' " Gaffey says. "Since most of our audiences have been seniors, they were coming up and saying, 'We don't have an e-mail address.' "
That aging demographic comprises much of the fan base for jazz concerts, a Winchester specialty, produced with the Las Vegas Jazz Society, and a drop-off has been noticeable. "We used to do an awful lot of jazz and for years we recorded jazz concerts on Channel 4 (the Clark County channel)," Gaffey says. "But it's hard to get people to turn out for jazz concerts anymore."
Community theater was another genre that left an alarming number of empty rows in the Winchester theater several years ago -- all the more unfortunate given the waste of a large, comfortable venue when several acting troupes wound up in cramped, uncomfortable spaces around town.
"We had companies we worked with and we co-sponsored their shows and of all the things we've done, that was the most difficult," Gaffey says. "We had some good productions, but it was really hard to get audiences to come out. We kept trying year after year. The only thing that worked was a Hispanic company that did Hispanic language plays."
Aiming to refresh and expand their concert audiences, the center -- not known as a hot spot for the hip and happening crowd -- launched its Young Originals series last summer. Among the more cutting-edge acts that have taken their stage are the Las Vegas indie-folk group Dusty Sunshine and the funk-master band, Moksha.
"One of our problems is people aren't used to coming here for rock concerts because we've been catering to a very senior audience for a very long time, so this has been something of a revelation," Gaffey says.
"My biggest concern was, how many security guards are we going to have? That turned out to be a total cliche. We were lucky to do this at a time when there's a number of really good bands."
Featuring a category-defying repertoire -- elements of indie-folk, bluegrass, a bit of a '60s vibe, a little swing-jazz and four-part harmonies -- Dusty Sunshine made its Winchester debut in October, coming away with a desire to return.
"We all dreamed that we could sound as good as we did at the Winchester," says Heidi Guinn of Dusty Sunshine, most of whose gigs are in local clubs plagued by often poor acoustics that compromise their sound.
"We were able to show people what we're capable of when we have a really good sound system. Also, we haven't been able to play a lot of shows that aren't in 21-and-over venues. This was a good opportunity to broadcast our music to a broader range of people. I encourage all my musician friends, 'You've got to try to play the Winchester.' It really is such a treat."
Ratcheting up the decibels a tad, the series next welcomes local rock band Coastwest Unrest on Jan. 21, with its intriguing instrumentation of violin, cello, guitar and drums. "We hope to open them up a little bit because we're more abrasive and a little bit louder than Dusty Sunshine," says Unrest's Noah Dickie. "But for them to reach out to us, we were all in."
No Bulgarian gadulka players contribute to Coastwest's musical unrest (yet).
Post-show pizza, however, is entirely possible.
(For more information on concerts and programs at the Winchester Community and Cultural Center, call 455-7340 or visit www.clarkcountynv.gov.)
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@review journal.com or 702-383-0256.