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Colts owner Irsay eager to rock downtown Las Vegas

Updated February 26, 2023 - 9:22 am

The phone chat could be titled the Jim Irsay Experience. It lasts some 45 minutes, or about as long as an entire rock album in the vinyl days.

Irsay easily remembers his first album. While a high school sophomore, he nabbed Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender.”

“Looking at the cover, I thought it was a soul album,” Irsay says, referring to the photo of Browne walking across a busy city street amid a multi-ethnic crowd. “But when I played it, it was more like folk music. So, I went out and bought ‘Fandango!’ by ZZ Top.”

The ever-rocking Indianapolis Colts owner is still on that jam session. An accomplished guitarist, Irsay is hosting an upcoming free show from 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday at Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.

Though the event is no-admission cost, you need to reserve a spot at jimirsaycollection.com or Eventbrite.com.

The event is the 63-year-old Irsay’s passion project.

“From the beginning, I had deep soul and rock ‘n’ roll roots, with bands like Led Zeppelin being a big deal when I was growing up in the suburbs on the north side of Chicago,” Irsay says, deep into the conversation. “But I was married at 20, I started having kids, I got involved in acoustic mandolin and classical guitar and was denied that great feeling of being in a band.”

As if making up for lost time, Irsay has built an all-star roster of rock greats, and a display of his mobile memorabilia collection. The concert features Billy F. Gibbons (whose “Fandango!” inspired Irsay so many years ago), and Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and country great and current Eagles member Vince Gill.

Those artists rock it with a backing band that includes Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar and vocals, Kenny Aronoff (Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, the Rolling Stones, Sting and Bob Dylan), on drums, Mike Mills (co-founder of R.E.M.) on bass and vocals, Danny Nucci (musician and actor from “Titanic” and “The Rock”) on guitar and sax, among many other top players.

The memorabilia on display includes items from Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Prince, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.

Irsay also owns Jack Kerouac’s original 119-foot On the Road scroll; artifacts and signed documents from numerous U.S. Presidents, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy; and the original manuscript for Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book,the organization’s founding document including the origin of the “12 Step” programs worldwide.

Last week Irsay announced he would display the saddle the legendary racehorse Secretariat wore in winning the 1973 Triple Crown.

Irsay inherited the Colts from his late father, Robert, a quarter-century ago, long after the elder Irsay moved the team out of Baltimore. Since, the younger Irsay has since spent an estimated $100 million on his collection, but displays it for free.

“This is a give-back to the people,” says Irsay, who was an NFL GM at age 24 and an owner at 38. “It’s all about you.”

Irsay offset his sports activity with an acute interest in music. He has been a natural musician since he was a child.

“I was a concert violinist at age 6, in the Suzuki method, at Northwestern school of music, but gave it up when I was 12,” Irsay says. “I picked up the acoustic guitar, classical mandolin, electric guitar. I really got into music in a big way through WGRB in Chicago (the gospel station founded in 1923), listening to The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson.”

Irsay prefers to let his band take the spotlight in these one-off shows around the country, playing Nashville, Austin, L.A., Indianapolis and San Francisco.

“It’s become a really interesting and organic way for me to be kind of like Quincy Jones, the producer of entertainment,” Irsay says. “I’ll get involved in the show in the way Alfred Hitchcock was involved in his movies, where you occasionally notice me.”

The set list at Irsay’s show at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center in December included such rock classics as “Born To Run,” “Comfortably Numb” and “Gimme Shelter.”

This is Irsay’s first show in Las Vegas, which of course is now a premier NFL city.

“Back in the 20th century, I could never have imagined the Raiders playing in a beautiful stadium in Las Vegas,” Irsay says. “Gambling was just so taboo in those, everything about it was just taboo. But times have changed, I love having the team here, we were just here last season (a 25-20 Colts victory), and I love (Raiders owner) Mark Davis.

The Irsay family has some nostalgic feelings about Las Vegas, dating to the Dan Tanna era.

“My dad used to love Vegas, when I was a kid. He loved playing baccarat,” Irsay says. “He probably lost too much money, but he didn’t lose all of it.”

Cool Hang Alert

Wednesday marks the first all-female presentation at The Composers Showcase of Las Vegas at Myron’s at the Smith Center. The show assembled by TCS co-founder Keith Thompson honors International Women’s Day. The lineup of women showcasing original work is Brooklynn Baca, Riley Cohen, Vita Corimbi Drew, Elisa Fiorillo, Olivia Dease, Michelle Johnson, Crystal Lewis, Lisa Dawn Miller, Ms. Monet, Steph Payne, Izzi Ray, Jolana Sampson, Giada Valenti, Tymara Walker and Jackie Wiatrowski.

Doors at 8:30 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m. Tickets at thecomposersshowcase.com or thesmithcenter.com, or by calling 702-749-2000. The performance livestreams at showtix4u.com/events/ComposersShowcase, and I always say, this is one of the coolest nights of entertainment in our city.

PodKats! Episodes

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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