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August 28, 2014

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Rockie Brown, Sand Dollar and Tuscany forge an unplanned symmetry

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Steve Marcus

Lead vocalist Rockie Brown performs with The Rockie Brown Band at the Sand Dollar Lounge, 3355 Spring Mountain Road, early Tuesday morning, July 15, 2014.

Updated Sunday, July 20, 2014 | 8:57 a.m.

Rockie Brown Band at the Sand Dollar Lounge

Lead vocalist Rockie Brown performs with the Rockie Brown Band at the Sand Dollar Lounge, 3355 Spring Mountain Road, Tuesday morning July 15, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Chris Zemba & the Late Shift Band at the Sand Dollar Lounge

Chris Zemba and the Late Shift Band rocks the house at the Sand Dollar Lounge during their reopening party, Thursday July 10, 2014. Launch slideshow »

As we say, all roads lead through Tuscany Suites. Unless they all lead through the old Sand Dollar, which over the years also has been called Bikini Bar, Bar 702 and is now once more known as the Sand Dollar.

Or maybe all roads actually lead through The Rockie Brown Band.

These entities sit at the intersection of live entertainment in VegasVille, something of an unlikely triumvirate of venues and musicians, mixing concepts and attitudes that are at once fresh and hearken to the heyday of classic Vegas.

We’ll begin with the performers.

Brown’s band is a killer act powered by horns and a thundering rhythm section and features an entirely all-original set. I’ve been asked about Brown’s band quite a lot lately, and it’s a tough outfit to describe. Sort of Earth Wind & Fire-ish, but not as funky. Chicago as if fronted by a woman who reminds of a more-polished Janis Joplin. Somewhere in there is your answer.

A crisp and catchy songwriter who sings with impressive range and passion, Brown has been knocking around Las Vegas for about three years but only recently boosted the band with a kick-ass brass section. That all started about a year ago when she added a trombone and trumpet for her shows at Downtown Cocktail Room.

In the months since, Brown’s shows have become a popular hang with industry types and nighttime Las Vegas crawlers. She plays alternate Wednesdays at T-Spot at Tuscany (read about the place in a few graphs), and she debuted to great response Tuesday at Brooklyn Bowl. Particularly electrifying are her late-night Monday-night jams that are ignited at about midnight at the old Sand Dollar.

Which you might also know as Bikini Bar or as Bar 702. Or, as recently as last week, the Sand Dollar again.

About a year ago, the Sand Dollar was featured on the Spike TV show “Bar Rescue,” and, as part of its overhaul, the name was changed to the more-generic (but less baggage-saddled) Bar 702. The tavern has since been purchased from the owners featured on the show, Paul Wilkes and Lisa Guerena, by the Alexander family. Bart and Valerie Alexander have run multitudes of bars in New York over the years and have essentially turned the bar into a retirement project to be managed by their daughter, Brooke.

The Alexanders have taken over the star-crossed bar, which was closed for about six years before Wilkes and Guerena bought the property, and have cleaned up the entire structure and added a coat of paint and new lights and upgraded the soundboard. Just Monday, a run of five consecutive live-music nights was capped by Brown’s regular gig. Appearing at the no-cover festival were Chris Zemba & The Late Shift Band The Stoney Curtis Band, The Moanin’ Black Snakes and The Chris Tofield Band.

If the music of Brown, and of all those busy bands, can be described as a labor of love, so can the Alexanders’ investment in the Sand Dollar. When asked why she would move out to Las Vegas and take on the old Sand Dollar, lacking a real blueprint about how to succeed in the hyper-competitive Las Vegas market, Brooke Alexander says, “Our love of live music.”

She continues, “This is a place for locals who love music. We want to make it a place where you can enjoy live music consistently with great musicians and diverse talents. You can come here and be an artist or enjoy the artists.”

The Tuscany, we have written of before. The T-Spot Lounge at the casino floor and Piazza Lounge just off the registration desk are busy venues for some fine live music. Kenny Davidsen’s Celebrity Piano Bar/Bow Tie Cabaret brings in the best singers from throughout the city backed by a solid little band ranging from three to five pieces, usually. That happens Fridays at 10 p.m., and a Tuesday night showcase was added this week.

These nights are usually themed in some fashion, and this Friday night singer Jassen Allen Cropp is hosting a duets night. The room also is bringing in some up-top power with The Lon Bronson All-Star Band on Friday night, which is Bronson’s first show in the venue. Franky Perez is playing semi-regular gigs Wednesdays (when Brown is not onstage) with his rocking band The Truth, and T-Spot was the room in which BBR launched its wildly popular “Alice” Steampunk production that is headed for a more lofty locale.

Hotel owner Brett Heers, a Las Vegas native who graduated from Chaparral High, is getting booking assistance from David Perrico — bandleader at “Pin Up” at Stratosphere, founder of Pop Evolution and also the music director for BBR — in bringing talent into T-Spot. Not coincidentally, that lounge has become another late-night meeting spot of scenesters, entertainers and the like.

Just Wednesday night, Brown played her third show in as many nights after tearing up the Sand Dollar and Brooklyn Bowl (where on this night another Sand Dollar act, The Funk Jam, was performing at Brooklyn Bowl). The crowd was not so busy, as Brown has only recently added Wednesdays to her weekly schedule and — as is everyone mentioned in this column — is building support through buzz in town.

It was another blistering show by one of the city’s most promising artists. Heers was in the crowd, which is not rare, eyeballing everyone ducking into the lounge. So were Bart and Valerie Alexander, taking a night away from the Sand Dollar, a reminder that keeping the tradition of great live entertainment alive in Las Vegas is a spectator and participation sport.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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