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October 25, 2014

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It wasn’t the Jeff Bridges show, but the surprise Jazz Spider Tour event was a roaring success

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Oliver Padilla

Nurse Jen comforts Jerry Jones during a benefit show at Lounge at the Palms on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, to help raise money for his medical bills.

Jerry Jones Benefit Show

Jerry Jones arrives at a surprise benefit show at Lounge at the Palms on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, to help raise money for his medical bills. Launch slideshow »

We owe it all to Jeff Bridges, a forever unknowing accomplice in one of the great ruses in the history of lounge surprise parties.

Crucial to the successful execution of any surprise party, of course, is a great diversion. Bridges was that, and we’ll get to him in a bit. But similarly vital is control over the subject. “Possession is key,” as we like to say. In this instance, the subject was Jerry Jones, who spent nearly two months in four Las Vegas hospitals and medical facilities and was released about three weeks ago.

Jerry is the founder of the Las Vegas vocal group 5th Avenue, which is booked for performances in town and across the country. Jerry also is the former entertainment director at the Venetian and once ran that hotel’s gondolier program. It’s rather astonishing how many performers in this city were once gondoliers at the Venetian during the J.J. Regime.

Most important, Jerry is a dear friend of mine and scores of entertainers and industry types in town. He is a devoted supporter of live entertainment, a passion we share, and we regularly hit the scene together in a sort of oddly matched Festrunk Brothers configuration.

In early April, Jerry suffered a serious infection in his right leg. He was singing backup for Clint Holmes at Cabaret Jazz during the first weekend of that month. After the show on April 6, he was in such pain that he checked into the emergency room at Spring Valley Hospital.

On June 2, he was released from Kindred Spirits Hospital on West Sahara Avenue, his fourth and final medical center. As you might expect, it was a terrible time during which it was not always guaranteed that he’d walk out on his own legs.

He dropped about 35 pounds. His medical costs crept up to at least $300,000. He is insured, thankfully, but he remains on the hook for about $30,000, and his friends wanted to help defray those costs and also show him love and support.

Also, most of us had no plans Wednesday night anyway, so …

What prompted Jerry’s condition was either a spider bite (a late diagnosis) or some sort of dangerous change in Jerry’s sugar levels, as he is diabetic. We officially went with the spider bite because it is easier to theme a surprise variety show around them than a person’s sugar intake.

That’s where Andy Walmsley enters the scene. Walmsley also is a close friend, an Emmy Award-winning set designer (for “American Idol”) who has devised stages for many Las Vegas productions, Terry Fator’s show at the Mirage and Human Nature’s performances at the Venetian among them.

As the days of Jerry’s hospitalization were amassed as if he were incarcerated, Andy thought it a great idea to bring a surprise show into his room (a semi-private room) at Kindred. He wanted to parade showgirls, jugglers, singers and maybe some off-duty Cirque du Soleil performers into that room. A great sentiment but not at all practical and possibly illegal.

Singer Ben Stone, who has a unique capacity to settle down Andy as both are British, suggested that maybe a proper variety show in a for-real venue would be a better idea. Andy went to work, making calls and texting his many contacts in town to check availability.

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A performer in a spider costume takes the stage during a benefit show for Jerry Jones at Lounge at the Palms on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

Click to enlarge photo

A Wayne Newton impersonator (Kelly Clinton Holmes) performs during a benefit show for Jerry Jones at Lounge at the Palms on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

Summoned in that core group were Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly; Ben and his girlfriend, “American Idol” Season 3 finalist Jasmine Trias; Jamie Hosmer of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns; Four Queens comedy magician Mike Hammer; dancer and choreographer Jen Romas, who owns the dance-contracting company JRR Enterprises; Andy’s entrusted assistant, Sam Radcliffe; and my own self, who was asked to help secure a venue, co-host the show and — most pertinent — keep Jerry company on the night of the surprise performance.

Having found willing conspirators among the good folks at the Palms, expressly Entertainment Director Billy Conn and manager of the Lounge J.R. Hinson, Andy set about producing and directing this event. This is not uncharted territory; Andy has envisioned and delivered the three “Showbiz Roast” events at the Stratosphere.

But this would be different, as the central figure was to be unaware that any show on his behalf was even planned. I told Jerry to block off Wednesday night. He asked why.

“Here’s what’s happening,” I said upon picking him up from his house on Wednesday afternoon. “Jeff Bridges is in town, at Red Rock this weekend, with his band The Abiders. He’s performing a VIP show at the Palms tonight, some sort of corporate gig, and I’ve been invited. I don’t know too much more about it.”

“I love Jeff Bridges!” Jerry said, falling right in line with the perfect crime. We were to be at the Palms at 11 p.m., after a 90-minute pre-show party during which special Jerry Jones Jazz Spider Tour T-shirts were sold to raise money.

I arranged to see Human Nature at the Venetian, which made sense for innumerable reasons: They are great and I had not seen the show in a long time, they just returned from a great show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, I’d been in contact with Andrew Tierney about that show, and Jerry is a singer who would really appreciate the performance.

We took in the show, chatted with the guys (who knew about the party later, as Phil Burton whispered to me that he was surprised to see Jerry at the Venetian when he was supposed to be at the Palms later), grabbed a bite at Grand Luxe Cafe and rambled over to the Palms.

There was a slight glitch in the text I sent to Andy to alert him that we were pulling into valet, so Jerry and I walked toward the Lounge before some invited guests — such as Vinnie Paul and his entourage — could be seated behind the room’s black curtains. Somehow, Jerry did not notice that Paul (one of the more striking figures in the city) was standing at the bar.

We entered as the house band — Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns, under the direction of Hosmer — played the theme from “Rocky.” Jerry stopped for a moment, looking around, and we kind of pushed him toward the stage. He was clearly confused until I told him, “This is a party for you!” The balloons decorated with “Jerry Jones” were something of an indication, too.

Jerry sat in a director’s chair with his name on the back, under the care of “Nurse Jen” Romas, who was quick with a sponge bath, stethoscope and mixed vegetables delivered in a Krispy Kreme box.

The hourlong show moved at a quick clip and was a ton of fun. Kelly performed her wondrous impression of Wayne Newton. Skye Dee Miles appeared in nurse’s garb and was backed by a series of male dancers for “Dr. Feelgood.” Santa Fe frontman Jerry Lopez sang “Wishing Well.” Geechy Guy told 140 jokes in 5 1/2 minutes.

Stephanie Calvert of “Raiding the Rock Vault” at LVH and Starship tore through “Helter Skelter.” Anne Martinez and Savannah Smith of BBR unleashed “Titanium.” Dennis Blair performed an adept mix of standup and music. Hammer showed up dressed as the spider that allegedly bit Jerry, a spider that evidently lived in Don Rickles’ attic for a time. Holmes sang a customized version of “All of Me” by John Legend.

Comic Shayma Tash, who never fails to deliver hilarity in these shows, performed her great QVC lady bit where she takes any random object (such as a cocktail glass) and makes it “my favorite item ever!” Nikki Logan, Serena Henry and Jassen Allen Cropp joined Trias and Stone.

At the end, everyone in the show reconvened for a final number led by Holmes. Appropriately, it was “Happy,” and that was the theme of the night. We probably raised a couple thousand dollars, but it matters far less than the spirits that were raised on another great night in VegasVille.

We love this city, and we love this guy.

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

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