A blow-by-blow account of 1 long night at Big Blues Bender

The fashion accessories of choice are Mardi Gras beads, the bigger and shinier the better, as the bulb-adorned crowd comes decorated like beer-chugging Christmas trees.

This is a festive bunch.

It’s day one of this past weekend’s Big Blues Bender at the Plaza.

The capacity crowd isn’t here to sing the blues so much as dance them away.

For one long night, I joined them.

Here’s how it all went down:

5:10 p.m.: Ever see a dog catch a rat? Once it has the thing in its maw, it shakes it crazy hard before applying the death blow. That’s kind of the way Lil’ Ed Williams grips the neck of his guitar, practically strangling the fretboard as he conjures one lickety-split groove after the next. “Are you with me?” the Chicago blues lifer asks rhetorically at the Bender Theater on the Plaza’s second floor as crowd members roll their shoulders in their seats in wordless approval. Then Williams kicks into a song about catching his woman making love to another man. “I said, ‘Uh-uhhh!,” he exhorts, eyes as wide as the hole in his heart.

5:35 p.m.: “I didn’t come to Vegas to lie to y’all,” purrs Toronzo Cannon inside a packed Bender Showroom, dressed in white from head to toe. By day, Cannon drives a bus in his native Chicago. By night, he does some serious blues sermonizing, the stage his pulpit. “This is a good cheatin’ song,” he says by way of introducing a soulful kiss-off. Starting to see a pattern here?

6:15 p.m.: A couple of ladies doff their shoes and a dude in blue tie-dye surfs his hands on the wind as Grateful Blues catalyzes some of the most uninhibited dancing of the day at the Plaza pool on the deck of the hotel’s sixth floor. It’s hot up here, the sun as heartless as all the two-timers who’ve populated so many songs up to this point, and this bunch is making it feel hotter still. For two hours, they’ll delve hard into some of the Dead’s feistiest jams, turning in particularly fierce readings of “Big Boss Man” and “New Minglewood Blues.” “If you can’t believe in me, it’ll make it hard to believe in you,” they sing on the latter. Believe it.

7:10 p.m.: Story has it that Curtis Salgado was the inspiration for “The Blues Brothers.” John Belushi was out in Oregon shooting “Animal House” when he befriended Salgado, and the rest is history. Harmonica in hand, Salgado pistons his neck into his instrument hard as he holds court in the theater, eyes clamped shut, lungs wide open.

7:30 p.m.: “She’s like a little Tina Turner over there,” a woman marvels at the fireball up on the pool stage, whipping her red mane in the air with the ferocity of a death metal bassist. Said singer is Southern Avenue frontwoman Tierinii Jackson. Her voice is supple and commanding at once, a velvet-covered cannonball, as she leads her band in hard-nosed, undulating funk and smooth Southern soul. The breeze kicks up as she sings, one force of nature in concert with another.

8:45 p.m.: With assorted tattoos, dreadlocks and aggressive facial hair, Anders Osborne and company look like a nü metal cover band — here’s hoping such a thing doesn’t actually exist — but sound like blues rock cosmonauts as they turn in the most muscular-sounding performance of the night in the Bender Theater. This is blues as clenched fist.

9:50 p.m.: Thoughts turn to five blues classics I’m still waiting to hear at this point: 5. “Women! Can’t Live With ’em, Can’t Give ’em Enough Complimentary Shoulder Massages.” 4. “Labradoodle on My Trail.” 3. “Mendin’ My Broken Heart With Positive Thinkin’. ” 2. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Fanta Strawberry.” 1. “Sweet Home Carson City.”

10:25 p.m.: The burly Cajun fellow who’s introducing the bands promises us an “edge-of-yo’-seat geewwwdd time” prior to Walter Trout entering the packed theater. A few tunes into his set, he tells a story of meeting B.B. King — whose second-to-last show ever was at the inaugural Big Blues Bender three years ago — in a New Jersey shopping mall when he was a teenager. “He talked to me for over an hour that day,” Trout recalls. “He really put me on this path.” Fifty years later, he’s still walkin’ it with authority.

10:55 p.m.: Jack Broadbent uses a shiny silver flask as a slide and it’s a thing to behold. The former busker turned bluesman, who cuts a whiskery, Father John Misty-meets-Rob Zombie figure, looks like he’s siphoning a lemon as he sings, scrunching up his features. His fingers are a blur as he plays, tapping out the beat with his picking hand. Flanked by singer/harmonica great Johnny Sansone, Broadbent turns a standard like “Hit the Road Jack” into a thing of pure pathos and subtle menace. It’s the most spellbinding performance of the night.

12:25 a.m.: One of the coolest things about the Bender is that there are tons of artists at large in the crowd, countless fellas with guitars slung over their shoulders, all waiting to hop up on stage at a given moment, lending a spontaneous, anything-goes vibe to the proceedings. During Southern Hospitality’s poolside set, numerous musicians join the band, highlighted by violinist Anne Harris, who does her thing bent over backward at one point, her playing and torso both on another plane.

12:55 a.m.: Big Blues Bender founder A.J. Gross and Southern Hospitality keyboardist Victor Wainwright lock arms and jump into the pool together, fully clothed. Like I said, anything goes.

1:05 a.m.: Their set begins with a winking take on Johnny Watson’s “Too Tired,” a nod at the late hour, which the dudes up on stage then successfully defy. Singer-guitarist/master-of-the-rock-face Nick Schnebelen is leading the ace Bender Brass Band in the showroom. They put the hammer down on Muddy Waters’ “Electric Mud” as a guy in a gray tank top spins himself in circles and plays some mean air sax down in front of the stage.

It’s early Friday morning.

So many bottles have been emptied.

And yet the dance floor remains full.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Las Vegas residency
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Vegas residency (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES final night showcases Drake at XS Nightclub
Drake performed for CES attendees and club-goers at XS Nightclub in Encore at Wynn Las Vegas in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (John Katsilometes Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Happy Hour party at Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace
Conventioneers mingled during the Hardware Massive CES 2019 Happy Hour Bash at The Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2019 Has A Cordless Hair Dryer
CES Has A Cordless Hair Dryer (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Panel talks Impossible Burger 2.0
Panel talks Impossible Burger at CES during launch at Border Grill on Monday, Jan. 7. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Dream of AJ Montgomery
AJ Montgomery lost part of his leg in a vehicle accident but found his dream as a performer in “Le Reve.” (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kelly Clinton-Holmes of the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes chats with Kelly Clinton-Holmes, director of the Stirling Club's New Year's Eve entertainment.
Month-by-month entertainment coming in 2019
“True Detective” Season 3, HBO (Jan. 13) Travis Scott, T-Mobile Arena (Feb. 6) Robbie Williams, Encore Theatre at Wynn Las Vegas (March 6, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 16) “Game of Thrones” Season 8, HBO (April) Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas Motor Speedway (May 17-19) “Fiddler on the Roof,” The Smith Center (June 4-9) “The Lion King” (July 19) Psycho Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay (Aug. 16-18) Life is Beautiful, downtown Las Vegas (Sept. 20-22) “Tim Burton @ the Neon Museum” (Oct. 15) “Frozen 2” (Nov. 22) “Star Wars: Episode IX” (Dec. 20)
Lacey Huszcza invites you to find something to love at the Las Vegas Philharmonic
Lacey Huszcza, executive director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic talks about the orchestra's wealth of programming. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gina Marinelli offers La Strega preview
Gina Marinelli used a pop-up New Year’s Eve dinner at Starboard Tack to preview items she’ll feature at her new Summerlin restaurant, La Strega. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Year’s Eve at Sparrow + Wolf
Sparrow + Wolf’s New Year’s Eve party was a sort of official unveiling of its newly renovated space. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Debra Kelleher Of The Stirling Club
Debra Kelleher, DK Hospitality President talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the Stirling Club.
Richard Ditton Of The Stirling Club
Richard Ditton, an investment partner of the Stirling Club talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the club.
NYE at the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes reports from the reopening of the Stirling Club on New Year's Eve 2018.
Michael Stapleton of the Stirling Club
Michael Stapleton, COO of the Stirling Club talks with Johnny Kats about the reopening of the club.
Recap the Countdown on Fremont Street — VIDEO
Nearly 40,000 people packed Fremont Street to enjoy America's Party Downtown. As the tradition stands, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman counted down the clock on the 3rd Street Stage, alongside her husband and former mayor, Oscar Goodman.
New Year's Eve live from the Las Vegas Strip Bellagio Fountains - Video
Reporter Aaron Drawhorn near the Bellagio Fountains as hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate New Year's Eve in Las Vegas
Ryan Reaves describes the flavors in Training Day beer
Ryan Reaves talks about the flavor of Training Day, the new beer from 7Five Brewing that was launched at the PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves describes his new beer
Golden Knights winger Ryan Reaves talks about his new beer from 7Five Brewing at a launch party at PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas' five biggest NYE concerts
Imagine Dragons at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Lady Gaga at The Park Theater at Park MGM, Maroon 5 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Bruno Mars at T-Mobile Arena, and Tenacious D at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Celebrate New Years Day, Hangover Day and Bloody Mary Day at Cabo Wabo
Celebrate New Years Day, Hangover Day and Bloody Mary Day at Cabo Wabo (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Symon, chef and owner of Mabel's BBQ, talks about his first Las Vegas restaurant
Michael Symon, chef and owner of Mabel's BBQ, talks about his first Las Vegas restaurant. Bizuayehu Tesfaye @bizutesfaye
New American Eagle flagship on the Las Vegas Strip lets you customize your clothing
American Eagle flagship on the Las Vegas Strip lets you customize your clothing
Bellagio Conservatory display is Majestic Holiday Magic
Majestic Holiday Magic at the Bellagio Conservatory
Las Vegas Ready for 2019 NYE Fireworks Show
The city of Las Vegas is ready to celebrate "America's Party" with a new and improved fireworks show that will pay tribute to the Golden Knights.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like