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Calamity to reunite her original Cowpunks

Before The Pearl there was the House of Blues. And before the House of Blues there was The Joint. And before The Joint came the Huntridge theater.

And before the Huntridge theater (or at least, its use as a live concert venue) there was Calamity Jayne’s. The club at the eastern edge of Fremont Street, across the street from the Showboat — that is, before they tore down the Showboat — saw the modern-Vegas beginnings of what’s now become a corporatized niche for touring concert acts on their way up to, down from, or never cut out for big arenas and theaters.

But in 1988, “The Strip hadn’t gotten to that point yet,” says Craig Alan, who is organizing Friday’s 20-year reunion at the club now known as El Premiere. The fact that the building itself still stands is no small miracle in itself; the club had an even earlier life as the Nashville Nevada.

The mystique isn’t all due to Calamity’s hosting early sets by Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails. The real heart and soul of the club was its namesake and proprietress. This was in fact a second chapter for the singer who had introduced casino lounges to outlaw country-rock in the early ’80s.

Wall-to-wall crowds for Iggy Pop or Sonic Youth always bought a stay of execution for a venue that more often saw underpromoted tour stops from jazz, roots-rock or reggae stars, and well-intentioned attempts to showcase local bands. A year after it opened, I wrote a story with this quote from Calamity, hopeful about a new partnership with a seasoned promoter:

“When you’re able to call and charge tickets on your Mastercard and not have someone hang up on you, and you don’t have to come down and go back into the kitchen looking for Calamity — who’s fixing the deli tray for the band — then you’ll know things have changed.”

But the outlaw legend Calamity Jayne crafted for herself became her real destiny when it turned out the club was financed with generous donations of drug money.

Calamity — known in court papers as Claudia Rae — agreed to two years in prison in a plea agreement after a federal investigation of drug smuggler Carl “Ernie” Whittenburg, the largest drug prosecution ever brought in Nevada. The venue was on its last legs when it was padlocked by the feds in 1992. “We never really got to say goodbye,” Alan notes.

Calamity has been living “mostly in Mexico” of late, Alan says. But she will reunite her original Cowpunks band for sets at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., with an “all-star” jam to follow at some point in the wee hours. Admission is $20. …

Today is the last chance to see the musical “Hats” at Harrah’s Las Vegas. “I think gas has got us,” says Dick Foster, the local producer for the title tailored for members of the Red Hat Society. “Our Red Hat gals just aren’t putting the $5 gas in their tanks to come here,” he says of feeder markets in Northern California and San Bernardino County.

Foster said he opted not to extend the show for a second six months after attendance deteriorated in the past six weeks. The good news for the cast of Las Vegas locals is that Foster and national producer Mitchell Maxwell plan to tour the show to both casino and regional theater markets, starting in October or January. …

The Suncoast was built in 2000, but it’s familiar terrain for Lorna Luft.

“That’s how Vegas started. They started with rooms like that. Those were big showrooms when I was a kid,” says Luft, who first visited with her mother, Judy Garland.

The singer has been dividing her time between stage musicals such as “White Christmas” in England, and a touring cabaret show, “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” Her Suncoast shows today through Sunday are more like the latter, but even less formal.

“I want to say it’s like being in my living room,” says the 55-year-old singer. “It’s basically me telling the audience how I grew up.”

Luft went on to play the showrooms under her own name, first at the Sands with Danny Thomas. She spends a lot of time doing theater in England (her husband is British) but prefers Las Vegas to her official Southern California address.

“You’re still in an incredible city with a pulse,” she says. And it resonates every time she visits: “I played there in my 20s and now I’m in my 50s and I’m still playing there. That’s a really cool thing to be able to say.” …

Early adapters to the Review-Journal’s entertainment blog, Vegas Voice, found (on May 14) that I basically made fun of a popular theory: Michael Jackson could be forced to work the Las Vegas Hilton as an indentured servant, because the Hilton’s owner, Colony Capital, is now carrying the paper on his Neverland Ranch.

But a June 13 story in the Wall Street Journal wiped a wee bit of the smirk off my face. On one hand, the article negates the whole theory by claiming Colony wants Jackson to sell the ranch, which would then eliminate the company’s $23 million strong arm.

But if their partnership nonetheless continued, one option discussed in the apparently well-sourced story addresses my biggest skepticism about the whole idea: that Jackson lacks the work ethic to perform the 200 or so shows of a Cher or Barry Manilow.

I hadn’t considered the idea, as the Journal reports, of a “Love”-style revue based on Jacko’s music: “Mr. Jackson wouldn’t be a regular part of the performance but would appear for 20 to 30 performances a year, possibly with his brothers.”

Be very afraid.

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 702-383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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