Las Vegas Sun

August 27, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Step aside Elvis, veteran pens song to be the new ‘Viva Las Vegas’

Steven Rutherford's Las Vegas Song

There are many nice people in Las Vegas, but Steven M. Rutherford exuded kindness, the way a giant teddy bear might. A self-described musician and poet, he said he picked up a flute almost 30 years ago, mastered it on his own, then played in various bands. Inspired from his personal experience, he sings Joe Downtown a sample of a song he wrote about Las Vegas.

Armed with a letter of encouragement from Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Steven M. Rutherford arrived with his own Las Vegas song, one he says is more up-to-date and ready to become as iconic as Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas.”

A Vietnam veteran, Rutherford, 57, who served in the Navy as a navigator, had pinned his song’s lyrics on the bulletin board at The Beat coffeehouse, which doubles as the Sun’s downtown satellite office.

I wanted to hear what it sounded like, so I gave him a call. Rutherford, a disabled veteran – hypertension, back problems – showed up ready to sing. He walked over from his apartment on Bridger Avenue. He carried a bottle of pop in a brown paper bag.

There are many nice people in Las Vegas, but Rutherford exuded kindness, the way a giant teddy bear might. A self-described musician and poet, he said he picked up a flute almost 30 years ago, mastered it on his own, then played in various bands.

“You know, Joe, you starve to death being a poet,” Rutherford said, chuckling.

One of his favorite books is the dictionary, which he is constantly reading to find new words to express himself in poem.

He tries to see the movie, “Forrest Gump” whenever it’s on television, he said, because the message speaks to him: “Gump may have been slow but he had other gifts. You don’t know what God is giving you.”

Lyrics for Rutherford's song came to him simply by experiencing Las Vegas.

“Like when I say, ‘Where you stop is where you stare’ – I had just come to Vegas and every time you stop somewhere, you see the lights and the neon and you have to stare.”

One day he’d like to collaborate with other musicians to do justice to his song. He still has dreams.

“All an artist has are his gifts and his dreams, and if you can make it real, envision it, it’s never too late. It can happen.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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