Thursday, July 25, 2013 | 11:58 p.m.
Editor’s Note: While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with Marc Donovan, who portrays Sam Phillips in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s; it’s the extraordinary story of the night Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins jammed at Sun Records in Memphis.
At age 16, Sam Phillips got a taste of one of the most vibrant music scenes around, Beale Street in Memphis, and found his calling. Although Sam couldn’t sing a lick or play worth a damn, he knew good music when he heard it.
Phillips went on to become the legendary producer of Sun Records in Memphis, launching the careers of, among others, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
I play Mr. Phillips in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s, a Broadway musical that re-creates a legendary night when the aforementioned group assembled in Mr. Phillips’ tiny corner-lot studio and jammed for the first and only time.
Though separated by time and space, I like to think I’m a lot like Sam, despite my somewhat limited musical ability. I’ve got a good ear and a deep appreciation for music, especially live music.
When I arrived in Las Vegas six months ago from New York City, I despaired in finding countless billboards touting DJs I’ve never heard of, nor cared to; I’m sure what they do is an art form in its own right, but it’s not my cup of tea.
With a bit more digging, I thankfully found a thriving live music scene in this town. Some of the best musicians in the world are here, and there is amazing music to experience every night of the week.
So, I’ve compiled a week’s worth of some of the best live entertainment in Las Vegas, everything from a headliner at a major casino to a midnight jam at the best little hole-in-the-wall in the city.
Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns at the Lounge at the Palms. This 15-piece band is composed of incredible artists whose day jobs include playing for Donnie & Marie, “Jersey Boys” and Celine Dion. But once a week, they assemble to play excellent arrangements of funk, soul and rock classics, as well as some great original compositions.
Unique Massive at Double Down Saloon. Some of the best local musicians get together every Tuesday night around midnight — no cover tunes, no singing, just mind-blowing free-form jams at this gloriously twisted hole-in-the-wall.
The Composer’s Showcase in Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This is not an open mic; host Keith Thompson (conductor of “Jersey Boys”) carefully screens submissions and provides an opportunity for local performers and artists to share their own compositions in a nurturing environment and a beautiful venue.
Taylor Hicks at Napoleon’s in the Paris. Don’t be fooled by his “American Idol”-winning status. Hicks is the real deal, and Napoleon’s Lounge is the perfect, intimate venue to showcase his soulful voice, great guitar and stunning harmonica skills. A small but extremely talented band backs him.
The Lon Bronson All-Star Band in Railhead at Boulder Station. This 20-piece band really packs a punch with a stellar brass section, great singers, even an electric violin that’ll knock your socks off.
Frankie Moreno at the Stratosphere. Moreno is a born showman who plays piano, guitar and harmonica and can sing his face off. His incredible 10-piece band and he perform extremely creative arrangements of classic songs, as well as some great original tunes penned by his two brothers and him.
“Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s. This is not your typical Broadway show, as the actors are the band. We, the cast members, play and sing live with no help from offstage musicians, singers or tracking, and we have some pretty big shoes to fill as we re-create what was, essentially, the birth of rock and roll.
I’ve got a front-row seat every night, and let me tell you, Mr. Sam Phillips would be proud.
Check out our other guest columns today from Marc’s co-star in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s, Robert Britton Lyons, and David Myers, owner and chef of Comme Ca at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and Friday from Life is Beautiful festival founder Rehan Choudhry.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.
Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Just as distinctive as it's famous neighbors Caesar's Palace and The Venetian, Harrah's Las Vegas has been entertaining guests since 1973. The 87,700-square foot casino is filled with 1,520 slot machines and 107 gaming tables. Outside the casino, guests are able to experience fun in a street-fair atmosphere at the Carnival Court, an outdoor lounge with live entertainment (including the bartenders), food stands and outdoor shops.
At Harrah's comedy is King, and that has never been more apparent then the comedy acts of Rita Rudner, the Mac King Comedy Magic Show and the Improv Comedy Club. After the show, guests are more than welcome to laugh at their friends at The Piano Bar, famous for its dueling pianos and karaoke. Most recently, Harrah's added tribute show "Legends in Concert" to its list of entertainment.
Restaurants like Ming's offers Asian cuisine, while Ruth's Chris Steak House offers guests fine steaks and fresh seafood. Toby Keith's I Love This Bar is a country-themed bar with a restaurant, live music and the occasional appearance from Keith himself.