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Love for sail: Yacht rock bands navigating Vegas entertainment scene

Updated September 29, 2022 - 11:09 am

The music takes you on a voyage, as the ocean mist and cool breeze brush across your face.

The craft is a yacht. Playing on the hi-fi are such textured tunes as “Sailing,” “Ride Like the Wind” and “Africa.” You sing along because you just can’t help it.

Yacht rock has formally docked in Vegas. This music was once known as “easy listening” or “soft rock,” with infusions of soul, disco and smooth jazz. The subgenre has coalesced under a friendly, airy title. The music lends itself to costumes, callbacks and widespread grooving.

The Vegas yacht rockers include:

— The Windjammers. The lineup loaded with A-plus players is based in Las Vegas and has built a following primarily at Station Casinos venues. Those shows are on pause as the band secures dates with (appropriately) Royal Caribbean International. The band has also played the Copa Room at the Bootlegger Bistro.

— The Docksiders. The national act has moved to town and started the city’s first yacht rock residency Sept. 8 at The Duomo music club at the Rio. The Docksiders play at 6 p.m. daily (dark Fridays and Saturdays) in an open-ended run.

— Yächtley Crëw, another national act and pioneers in the yacht rock culture, play six dates over three weekends at Kaos at the Palms beginning Nov. 18 and 19 and running through Feb. 24 and 25. The act debuted, to a wild response, at Kaos on July 1 and 2.

— Yacht n’ Roll. Another highly proficient band that has performed several dates at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur and Boulder, most likely to return to the Rush Lounge at the Golden Nugget in October.

The band that claims to have launched yacht rock shows, under that specific title, in Las Vegas is Orange County outfit Yachty By Nature. They played Brooklyn Bowl in 2017, and the swingin’ entertainment fortress Top Golf at MGM Grand in 2017.

Also, the touring band Yacht Rock Revue headlined to a healthy crowd, estimated at 75 percent capacity, at the House of Blues in August.

And among superstar headliners, Christopher Cross is playing The Pearl at the Palms on Friday night. Cross should be on the yacht rock Mount Rushmore, winning Grammys with Yacht Rock songs before it was even a term.

Taken together, yacht rock is a busy cruise line in Las Vegas. The people who play it say nostalgia is at the core of its popularity.

Windjammers take a bow

“There’s almost this rule, like the 40-year rule, where if it was popular 40 years ago, it’s going to be a hit right now,” says Jerry Lopez, founder of The Windjammers, a spinoff of legendary Vegas horn band Santa Fe & the Fat City Horns. Lopez brought that band to Las Vegas in the mid-1970s.

“The people who remember when this music was in the Top 40 now have discretionary income,” Lopez says, “and they are remembering the time when they were at their coolest. It all starts there.”

The Windjammers have performed no-cover shows and ticketed performances. The band opened at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort in January 2020, just before COVID hit. They routinely fill the room, regardless of whether there is a cover.

Lopez has worked in Las Vegas since Santa Fe’s first “proper” gig at the Mint on Fremont Street in 1975. He says of those days, “We were a Top 40 band, and this music was in the Top 40 in those days. So, we understand the material.”

Even so, Lopez adds, “I’ll be honest with you, I really wasn’t positive this would work. I knew the rest of the guys who put it together loved it. And I assumed, because of that, other people who get out and support live music would love it, too.”

Kaos on the seas

Palms Vice President of Entertainment Crystal Robinson-Wesley says that bringing in Yächtley Crëw was about more than just a cool hang. It was sound business.

“It’s the hits from the ’70s and ’80s, and that’s really leaning into our core customer,” Robinson-Wesley says. “What we found is, they know all the words. These are very recognizable tunes, feel-good music, and that’s what people are looking for. It really matches well with who we cater to on an average day.”

The Cross booking at Pearl has also tapped into the yacht rock demo.

“Absolutely,” Robinson-Wesley says. “I tell you, we’ve had to expand our seating, he has been so popular. We are really excited about it.”

Yacht around the Dock

Also off the Strip, The Duomo at the Rio has taken on the city’s first yacht rock residency with The Docksiders. The band was signed by industry vet Damian Costa, late of Caesars Entertainment.

The Docksiders are musically formidable, fronted by entertainment industry vet Kevin Sucher, an accomplished producer, artist and tour manager who has worked with David Foster, Tony Orlando, Stevie Wonder and Gwen Stefani.

The Docksiders don Vegas-inspired, sequined blue boat jackets, captain’s hats and white slacks. Videos of the songs in their set list play at the back of the stage and on the monitors on either side.

A Docksiders show is set up to be an oceanic, musical adventure. Appropriately, one of The Docksiders’ yacht rock anthems is Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” The experience is an escape from the news of the day, antagonism, whatever negative vibes might be outside the club’s doors.

“This music is so representative of a simpler time, and a time that, just for me personally, had a lot less stress,” Sucher says. “These songs have been sort of the soundtrack to our lives.”

Sucher’s band expands the yacht rock horizon by including several songs from female recording stars, especially Olivia Newton-John, sung by Sucher’s wife, Erin. “There are hardly any female artists, maybe a handful,” Sucher says. “Maybe Carly Simon with ‘You’re So Vain,’ but not other aspects of her catalog. A couple of tracks from Linda Ronstadt, Yvonne Elliman, which is teetering on the disco side of things. So, we got a little creative.”

Even-keel appeal

Yacht rock became the advanced version of adult-oriented rock in the mid-2000s, through the video series “Yacht Rock,” which charted the fictionalized lives of soft rock stars of the 1970s through the early ’80s. The genre took on a massive audience when SiriusXM launched Yacht Rock Radio in 2015.

The website YachtOrNyacht.com has also been instrumental in solidifying the yacht rock culture. If you really want to slip into the scuba gear for a deep dive, the site continues to categorize and list hundreds of yacht rock songs.

“There are songs on that website where you’re like, ‘Who is this? What is this?’ Then you listen to it, and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. I get it. That is totally the vibe I want,’” says Phillip Daniel, aka Philly Ocean of Yächtley Crëw.“These songs are so well-produced. In that era when you had many of the same studio players on several songs, the songwriters, producers all were very experienced pros.”

The format has won over some discriminate fans. Emmy Award-winning set designer Andy Walmsley and his wife, Amy, have been Yacht Rockers for about six years. “I like happy music. There are several bands out there, where their whole thing is to b miserable,” says Andy Walmsley, a longtime Las Vegan who won an Emmy for his “American Idol” set design. “The thing about Yacht Rock is, none of it is miserable. I want music to be fun, and it is fun.”

Audience members feel an easy breeze in these shows. But playing yacht rock properly is a task.

“The production of the music during that era was mainly by live musicians. There was very little, if any, digital sequencing or any of the electronic stuff that is used today,” Lopez says. “It was all done by humans, and most of those humans were really, really good musicians.” Windjammers and The Docksiders sing live, with no backing tracks. As Lopez says, “To do it justice, to add all the nuance and minutiae that goes into this music, takes real skill.”

Sucher says yacht rock today is where classic rock was two decades ago. “I think it’s the beginning, and this is just my instinct talking, but I don’t think yacht rock is going anywhere,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I think it’s only going to get stronger.”

Lopez is prepared for any shift in tide.

“Every now and then I stir it up a little bit, then get on the board and surf,” he says.” “I just keep rolling with the waves.”

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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