Smith Center gala saw big moments

No one wanted to go home.

A black-tie grand opening crowd sipped Moet & Chandon Imperial champagne and lingered until midnight Saturday, basking in the afterglow of a gala christening of the $470 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

No one, it seemed, was in a hurry to see a momentous night — the celebration of a new era — come to an end.

Some highlights we’ll long remember:

■ Carole King, Martina McBride and Jennifer Hudson, bringing down the house late in the show with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Smith Center president and CEO Myron Martin couldn’t stop raving about Hudson’s powerful performance. Name the greatest current female singing star, he said, “and Jennifer Hudson will take her place and stay there for a long time.”

■ Philanthropist Elaine Wynn thought the first standing ovation of the night — for violin virtuoso Joshua Bell — spoke volumes about “the hunger for classical music and the sophistication and appreciation.” It bodes well, she said, for future classical offerings.

■ Country icon Merle Haggard, who teamed up with old friends Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, can’t wait to come back. Haggard rated Reynolds Hall as one of the finest rooms he’s played. “It’s one of the places I hope I’ll get put back in as a singer sometime in the future,” Haggard said. The digs were several cuts above his first Las Vegas venue, the Nashville Nevada Club “many years ago, before Howard (Hughes) left town.” Nelson, who turns 79 next month, and Haggard, 75 on April 6, included a duet of their latest collaboration, “A Horse Called Music.”

■ Another Martin memory: As Fred W. Smith, Don Snyder and Martin were walking backstage on their way to address the audience, Smith shared a thought moments after John Fogerty’s well-received performance of “Proud Mary.” Smith said that his late wife, Mary, loved that song. “There is no doubt in my mind,” Martin said, “that Mary was proud last night as she looked down on an amazing performance at the Fred W. and Mary B. Smith Center for the Performing Arts.”


New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will be in the chips soon after winning a friendly wager with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

They bet on the outcome of the Mountain West Conference men’s tournament semifinal game between UNLV and New Mexico. Sandoval, who would have won a case of green chili, has to ante up a set of commemorative poker chips.

But it was a good day on the home front for Sandoval, who was a guest in UNLV President Neal Smatresk’s suite during the semis.

The governor proudly held up a text message from his son, James, who had just notched his first hit as a sophomore on Bishop Manogue’s varsity baseball team.


At NASCAR’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday: actor/comedian Tim Allen, giving the command to start engines; Carrot Top and Vince Neil, chatting with Air Force Thunderbirds pilots; Sarah and Todd Palin; “American Idol” finalist Pia Toscano, singing the national anthem; Sen. Dean Heller, and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. … Smith Center gala emcee Neil Patrick Harris, spending about a minute on the red carpet for photographers before striding past TV and print reporters without stopping for interviews. I’ll cut him some slack on this one: with the show being taped, he no doubt had a lot on his mind and a lot at stake.


“School’s mascot is a giant asthma inhaler.” — From David Letterman’s “Top Ten Signs Your College Basketball Team Is Not Going To Make The NCAA Basketball Tournament.”

Norm Clarke can be reached at 702-383-0244 or Find additional sightings and more online at Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke.

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