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Holmes cultivates roots in New York

Blame it partly upon his adopted city. But Clint Holmes has long fought the assumption that men of a certain age with a great voice must be singing the Sinatra songbook of standards.

Holmes always resisted those classics, and his fans appreciate his ongoing effort to balance a commercial showcase with the relentless desire to tell his own story, usually through his own songwriting.

Nearly halfway through his 60s, Holmes is surrendering more often to the siren call of George Gershwin and Cole Porter. But, as you might expect, he is doing so on his own terms in two intertwined projects.

This weekend’s audience at the Suncoast will see "Inspired," in which the singer’s autobiographical thread now weaves together the singers and songs that motivated him over the years.

While it pays homage to the likes of Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr., "I didn’t want to do another tribute show," the 64-year-old says of the showcase he performed at Feinstein’s in New York last April. "We worked on the theatricality of it and the bottom-line truth of it."

In October, Holmes heads back to New York to perform at the Cafe Carlyle, where a tribute to Bobby Short will honor the late singer who was synonymous with the room for 35 years.

Holmes says he was an acquaintance of the New York icon, though they were never close friends. He was more drawn to the project by their life similarities, not musical ones. "He’s an African-American performer from a poor background who taught himself how to be ‘sophisticated,’ " Holmes says.

The challenge will be to make the audience "feel that this is about Bobby Short, but my version of that," he says. "I will base it on material he did that was important to him, in a way that honors Bobby but where I still get to do what I do."

The former Harrah’s Las Vegas headliner still entertains offers to go back into business on the Strip, but "I’ve been trying to cultivate roots in New York, and all this stuff is doing that." The Feinstein’s gig drew a positive review from the New York Times, albeit one that cited Wayne Newton and the Vegas lounge cliches Holmes has long endured. …

Well this was a surprise. On April 17, I wrote about Las Vegas shows using Groupon as a new tool for filling seats. But the focus was limited to small comedy shows and the like. What a surprise then, to see a Groupon offer for Saturday’s big Rihanna concert.

The $45 ticket offer appeared to allow 600 people to buy as many as eight tickets each. Bob Cayne of concert promoter Live Nation says only 600 tickets total were made available.

"It was a case study experiment to see where the sales would come from," Cayne says, testing whether they would be in or out of the Las Vegas market. "The special seat locations were not exactly scalper territory," he adds…

Here’s a retro-themed dispute for a retro-themed show: "Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show" is at odds with the Las Vegas Musicians Union, which says it is filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Hackett says the show could leave the Le Bistro cabaret at the Riviera within two weeks as a result. "We have a huge tour booked starting with the fall. I’m happy to go where the situation is much more tenable," he says.

At issue is Hackett wanting to shrink the band for the summer from the previously-set number of six players, and use recordings to replace whatever instruments are missing on a particular night.

Union president Frank Leone says their agreement prohibits less than six musicians and also the use of recorded tracks to replace any of the six, as witnessed in a recent show with four live players. "Just when you think you’ve heard it all, this is a whole new method of cheating an agreement," Leone says.

Hackett says the show always has been augmented by a full-orchestra "click track," which recorded in Los Angeles long ago. He says he notified the union of his idea to shrink the band to a quintet for the summer by rotating nights off and having the track cover missing musicians on nights they were offered other gigs.

"I was trying to make it as fair as possible for everybody. Everybody go with a little less and we’ll ride out the storm together," Hackett says. He calls the union "selfish, arrogant and self-serving."

Leone says Hackett is being "cavalier," to put it mildly. "The point is, if you have an agreement, live up to it." …

We thought this race was over. Back when "An Evening at La Cage" left the Riviera, there was a bit of suspense about whether it would return before star Frank Marino opened a rival drag show. Marino’s "Divas Las Vegas" has been up and running since late 2009, and that seemed to be that.

But now, the L.A. Comedy Club at the Four Queens will give way to the return of "La Cage" on July 13, with its longtime second banana Jimmy Emerson stepping in to host and co-produce with Billie Duncan’s Starr Pro Productions. Original producer Norbert Aleman has licensed the "La Cage" name and is contributing some of the old costumes and props.

The next goal is for the venue to stay open after the show as an alternative nightclub, along the lines of "The Birdcage" movie. Four Queens spokeswoman Lisa Robinson also notes the L.A. Comedy producers leave on good terms, and may book the club for one-night stands by "name" comedians. …

Finally, Ron Keel is hoping country star Ronnie Dunn has a lot of good, scandal-free years left in him. Keel, who plays Dunn in the Golden Nugget’s "Country Superstars Tribute," has copied the singer’s giant forearm "COWBOY" tattoo, linking their fates as only six big letters can.

He didn’t like henna, and "that Sharpie ink was way toxic," he says.

What makes this slightly more puzzling than, say, a career Elvis impersonator’s nip and tuck is the fact that Keel still works to maintain some degree of the hard rock career he had under his own name in the 1980s.

"I’ve never been the best singer in the world, but I am the best at something," he explains. "I am the best Ronnie Dunn tribute artist in the world. I’m the only guy in the world who can really do this guy."

Plus, he likes the tattoo.

"If it was something I didn’t think was cool, I would wear long sleeves," he confides.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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