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Las Vegas is Dwight Yoakam’s kind of honkytonk

Updated December 3, 2019 - 9:24 am

Dwight Yoakam is a honky-tonk man with a dash of Vegas flair. He even recorded a video downtown in 1986, when he had a lid but Fremont Street did not.

“We shot ‘Honky Tonk Man’ there, and I might add it was a couple of years prior to when U2 did the same thing,” Yoakam says, referring to U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” clip also recorded on Fremont Street. “I am flattered that someone was watching us in those days. We had Vegas Vic in that video, too. I played blackjack at the El Cortez hotel — I still have a pair of dice from there, from the video shoot.”

Binion’s Horseshoe, the glorious Mint, Fremont Hotel and Vegas Vickie are also featured prominently as a youthful Yoakam strums, scoots and spins. Very honky-tonk.

Yoakam is back in town for his first Vegas residency production, “An Evening With Dwight Yoakam & The Bakersfield Beat,”at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas. The six-show series runs from Wednesday through Dec. 14 (go to Ticketmaster.com for info). The performances are a multi-media homage to the California country-music sound that has influenced Yoakam’s five-decade recording career.

Yoakam’s show has been inspired by his SiriusXM station, Dwight Yoakam & The Bakersfield Beat. That channel’s tagline in indicitive of Yoakam’s musical sensibilies, “From the Dust Bowl to the Hollywood Bowl, from Buck to the Byrds.” He holds a Wikipedia-like knowledge of Las Vegas’s connection to country music.

“The hillbillies beat just about everyone to Las Vegas, guys like Wynn Stewart were early proponents of entertainment in that town,” Yoakam says, referring to the country great who owned a Vegas club called Nashville Nevada in the early 1960s and also hosted a local TV show.

Young Merle Haggard, one of Yoakam’s artistic idols, sat in with the band as Stewart was performing elsewhere.

Yoakam promises a “musical excursion” of country-rock and the Bakersfield sound that pulled him from his small-town Kentucky roots. It’s something of an onstage chronicle of country music, from a performer featured prominently in Ken Burns’ “Country Music” documentary series.

“This isn’t a rhetorical kind of hisotry lecture, or linear docu-speech, but it does have touchtones throughout my career that are far and wide,” Yoakam says. “There will be some rotating, floating tracks, some that will be in one night but not other nights. It will be a show made for Las Vegas.”

Yoakam adds, “Merle and Buck (Owens), they always talked about playing Reno and Las Vegas — Buck played the old Landmark hotel, long gone now, and the Frontier of course had country acts. … Kenny Rogers has a history in Vegas at the Golden Nugget that not a lot of people remember. So, I always knew from the time I first drove through Vegas that there was something there for me.”

That was in 1977, when he rattled through town in an orange VW Super Beetle.

“It’s a long ride in that car, let me tell you. I was heading out from Columbus, Ohio, to L.A. to seek my future life,” Yoakam says, chuckling. “We’ll probably have shots of me in the show on that trip in this overloaded Volkswagen, me and a guitar-player friend of mine, looking for fame.”

On that trip, Yoakam says, “I stopped at the Aladdin and looked around, and I walked through the old Desert Inn. I was always intrigued by those classic Vegas hotels.”

Eventualy, Yoakam played the Las Vegas Hilton in multiple headlining gigs, and the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts. As if serendipitously, he says, “I actually used to stay at the Desert Inn, in the bungaloes there, even when I was performing at another hotel.”

Today, as Yoakam himself reminds, that’s the site of Wynn Las Vegas, the country superstar’s latest Las Vegas touchstone.

RB&D for 2020

On the topic of country-music artistry: Some honky-tonk fun, thrice over, returns to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in April as Reba McEntire, Kix Brooks, and Ronnie Dunn have announced new dates for their “Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas.” Twenty four shows in all, from April 8-Dec. 12, 2020, are on the books. Tickets are onsale 10 a.m. Friday at ticketmaster.com/RebaBrooksDunn or any Caesars Entertainment box office.

Inside intel: Brooks and Terry Bradshaw share the same college alma mater (Louisiana Tech); Dunn is a terrific landscape photographer; McEntire is known to enjoy a performance by David O’Mer, the “Bathtub Boy” in “Absinthe” …

So very Harry

Harry Connick Jr. is playing three nights at Encore Theater from Feb. 26-29. “True Love: An Intimate Performance” is onsale 10 a.m. Friday, at WynnLasVegas.com or at the Wynn Las Vegas box office.

Inside intel: During the taping of “Sinatra 100: An All-Star Grammy Concert” at Encore Theater in December 2015, Connick fumbled the lines to “The Lady Is a Tramp,” repeating the second verse. He then called out, “Wait! That’s not the line!” But some in the theater thought this was an intentional tribute to Old Blue Eyes, who often kicked lines to familiar songs.

Great Moments in Social Media

R&B queen and onetime Flamingo Las Vegas headliner Toni Braxton posted a video of her impromptu appearance with Steven Tyler at Friday night’s Aerosmith show at Park Theater.

The two unleashed a 19-second segment of “Livin’ On the Edge.” As Tyler aptly shouted to Braxton: “Sing it, Mama!”

Cool Hang Alert

On the topic of “Mama” … Don’t Tell Mama piano bar is open nightly on the ground level of Neonopolis, on the iconic corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street. The open-mic extravaganza runs nightly beginning at 8 p.m. and running until 2:30 a.m., or 3:30 a.m. if I’m reviving my Barry Manilow medley.

Column fave Kenny Davidsen holds forth on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The format is anyone can sing, even if they can’t sing. No cover charge, but don’t be afraid to add some folding money to the tip jar.

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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