Updated January 2, 2021 - 4:13 pm
The year 2020 had a final message for Zowie Bowie on New Year’s Eve, and it was the theme for the entire year past. You cannot control the elements.
But front man Chris Phillips, singers Christina Amato, Jaime Lynch and Skye Dee Miles, and a backing band of Vegas vets ably weathered the weather to usher in 2021. The collection of performers formed a show of solidarity among friends in the Vegas entertainment community. The deck at Circa’s Stadium Swim was swept by cold gusts, with showgirls holding fast to their headpieces, but the band stood firm and rocked it out for a west-regional CBS audience.
“I’ve never been through anything quite like this, having played 6,500 shows in 30 years,” Phillips said from the Stadium Swim deck. “I’ve seen a lot of live-steaming, or shows without audiences, but this is one of the more elaborate that I have seen. The intent, up through 48 hours ago, was to have about 400 people out here. Now we’re going from that to nobody.”
Phillips said he was nervous as he headed to the stage, event though he was singing and grooving mostly to a sea of deck chairs.
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) January 1, 2021
“I’m just hoping to find that threshold in the night where it feels OK,” said Phillips, a headliner in Las Vegas for nearly 15 years at such venues as Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort and on Fremont Street. “I’ve never had this kind of responsibility before, where they are estimating 5 million people will be peering at my … thinning hairline, really (laughs). Talent, I’m not so sure.”
Veteran Vegas producer and director Blair Farrington said the conditions made some of the technical preparations a serious challenge.
“We have been hoping for less than 5 mph winds,” Farrington said. “When you have a controlled environment, you have smoke and the fog and you can see the light coming through and that’s the rock-concert vibe you are looking for. It’s not easy out here tonight.”
Farrington likened the experience to a “straight-TV gig.”
“It’s not as fun, but put it out there just like there is an audience,” he said. “Think of the people out there watching.”
Figures famous in Las Vegas peppered the lineup. Dancer Jennifer Cloer, wife of ex-“Jersey Boys” co-star Travis Cloer (she also celebrated her one-year anniversary as a U.S. citizen, as she is originally from Canada) headed up the choreography.
Musically, Dave Richardson of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns was a late call-in on keyboards. “Smokin’” Joe Escriba of “Legends In Concert” was on sax and Isaac Tubb, late of Human Nature’s backing band,was on trumpet. Las Vegas’ First Lady of Jazz, Michelle Johnson, and Sina Foley sang backup while wearing weather-appropriate, holiday-red jackets. Phillips wife, Jennifer Phillips, assembled the lineup of showgirls in the just-launched ZB Showgirls company.
Around the horn, and including the horns, the band featured Tavis Stanley, George Bryant, Alfonso Bernal, Gabe Falcone, Sam Lemos, Mat Schumer, Jason Levi and Caleb McKee. Cloer headed up showgirls, Alison Koroly, Sophie Davies and Anna Van Sambeck. The dance team was Sarah Le Clear-Domingo and Alejandro Domingo, Nadia Albulet, Chelsea-Dee Robinson and Amanda Sahr. The gents in the hip-hop crew were Matt Guerrero, Demitri Blizzeard, Kalani Hakkei and Vick Ramos.
These folks have not worked regularly since March, at least, and put on a noble performance.
The band raced through a set of re-charted classics from Aerosmith and Motley Crue, with Vince Neil checking in with a video greeting on the big screen. Phillips also summoned an Elvis Presley medley, with images of The King playing across the massive video screen. “Viva Las Vegas” brought in the new year.
The singers physically faced down the stiff gusts and the musicians turned to avoid the wind to keep the TV broadcast together. Even if there were a few hundred people allowed on the deck, it’s debatable how many would have actually braved the cold to the midnight countdown.
The restrictions for crowd access were announced Wednesday, as hotel officials played it safe under COVID guidelines that also prompted Fremont Street Experience to cancel its planned $25-charge party under the Viva Vision LED canopy. The fireworks show from the Plaza property did come off as scheduled, though high winds threatened to cut that visual celebration, too.
“Well, it’s been a heck of a year,” Stevens said. “We were able to open the casino and the world’s largest sportsbook here in October and the Legacy Club a couple of days ago. It’s good to see it all come together. Next on the horizon, me and my team get to do what we love to do, which is operate. We have a good year to run through all the different seasons, the cycles, and we’re hopeful for how we stand in the pandemic.”
COVID concerns might have bogged down some of the party plans at Circa, but Stevens is forever optimistic. Asked if we would be able to attend a show with a full crowd Stadium Swim a year from now, he said, “Oh, yeah, I don’t think there is any question about that. I’m much more hopeful than that. I think some of the trends around the country, in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan … Iowa has been on the decline since Nov. 10. That all gives us hope that we will be able to bring people back to Las Vegas and put people back to work.”
Whatever the trends, Stevens’ new resort will serve as a focal point as the first new downtown resort built from the ground up in 40 years. It will also always be known as the first Vegas hotel ever to open during a pandemic.
“We’ve all hoped this will have come to an end sooner rather than later, and it lasted much longer than we thought,” Stevens said. “But hopefully with the way people are feeling, with the vaccines getting out, we’re going to be able to turn ‘21 into the Roaring 20s.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.