Mr. Olympia Fitness Expo Will Leave You Breathless


Two-day event at the Las Vegas Convention Center is a jackpot of thrills…

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UPDATE: The 2019 Mr. Olympia Fitness Expo will take place Friday and Saturday September 13th and 14th. Tickets are $30 per day or $50 for a weekend pass. Order by clicking HERE

Earlier this week I introduced you to the annual Mr. Olympia events in Las Vegas, and today I’ll be exploring the most fun a fit guy or gal can have in Sin City. By that I mean the Olympia Fitness Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center. So bring an empty gym bag and get ready to fill it with swag.

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Friday and Saturday from 10 am through 5 pm is where you’ll find the world’s biggest collection of fitness fans. The Olympia Fitness Expo draws thousands from around the globe. For a $30 admission price (or $50 for a two-day pass), visitors can completely envelop themselves in every aspect of physical fitness culture.

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Dozens of booths and exhibitors line two levels of the Convention Center floor and it’s anything but a static business presentation. Both sides of the space have areas for physical competitions such as power lifting, martial arts, Tae Kwan Do, kickboxing, wrestling, karate, Olympic weightlifting and wheelchair championships.

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On the stage are contests for Men’s and Bikini Modeling, judging and awards for Men’s and Women’s Physique and the very “Vegas-y” pole competition. But the masses gravitate towards the vendor exhibits, where true paydirt awaits.

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Upon entry, attendees are given an enormous shopping bag which quickly becomes filled with giveaways. We’re talking protein powders, energy drinks, pre-workout mixes and pills, skin products, snack bars, weight-loss stimulants, shakers, t-shirts and more.

Those who purchase VIP packages get to enter an hour before the general public and are able to snag the best goodies on both days (I even got a zippered hoodie and five workout shirts). Better freebies go to those who take on physical challenges like chin-ups, arm curl contests, high jumps…and giant bowling?

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The photo below is just a sampling of what I collected while making my rounds and meeting the vendors. Most merchants require an email or Facebook registration to collect a sample bag and those lines are usually the longest…because they give away the best stuff.

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For those who find it hard to stay on their fitness plan when visiting Vegas, consider planning a trip around the Olympia weekend this year. It takes place every September, is a lot more fun than you’d think, and you’ll come home a winner. Just remember to bring an extra suitcase for all those freebies.

 

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                                           Myself looking small next to the big boys…

Photos: Sammasseur

Mr. Olympia: When Muscle Comes To Vegas, Fit Happens


A look back at my coverage of the 2015 Mr. Olympia competition and red carpet premiere of The Perfect Physique…

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As an admitted fitness buff, I always look forward to yearly Mr Olympia competitions…and especially the related events. They’re a massive convergence of like-minded individuals with a culture all their own. And for a few days a year, Las Vegas is one big fitness retreat.

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The extended weekend is packed like an overstuffed gym bag, with thousands of physique, bodybuilding, fitness and modeling enthusiasts competing, teaching, inspiring….and selling lots of products. Each year is bigger and better, and in 2015 I was right smack dab in the heart of it, representing the press for the first time.

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It should be mentioned how tough it is to get official media credentials for Mr. Olympia access and coverage. It’s an arduous and time-consuming procedure (three years of applying until finally getting my first approval).

Being a fledgling site made getting credentials even more difficult, so it was an honor to attend alongside the “big-boy” media outlets of the world. It also didn’t hurt that one of my photos was used in a two-page spread for the December 2013 Mr. Olympia issue of FLEX Magazine (toot toot!).

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But, I digress. After picking up my official press kit and badge at Orleans Casino (the host hotel), it was off to Brendan Theaters inside The Palms. This was for the world premiere of the docu-drama The Perfect Physique.

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                     Matt Christianer, David Morin and director Kandice King…

Once again, I was lucky to be one of only five media outlets to photograph the official red carpet proceedings and the only member of the press to party with the cast and director afterward. It’s doubtful that Ghostbar at The Palms ever hosted such an eye-catching crowd before (present company excluded).

The Perfect Physique is this generation’s answer to Pumping Iron. It explores the lives of fitness/physique competitors, misconceptions of being “shallow” and what drives these athletes to dedicate every moment of their existence to their bodies.

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                                         Actor and fitness model TJ Hoban…

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                     Fitness stars Matthew Christianer and Heather Schneider…

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                                      Fitness star Toth Atilla (left) and a friend…

It’s also dedicated to fitness superstar Greg Plitt, who was tragically killed in an unrelated photo shoot after filming was completed.

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                                                  Greg Plitt 1977-2014

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The movie is emotional, raw, revealing, unexpectedly uplifting and often quite funny. It’s directed by prodigy Kandice King, who produced her first film at 18 years of age. The Perfect Physique was screened in major metro areas with the cast and director via a modified roadshow theatrical release. It is now available for streaming on Netflix., and I was honored to have a quote from this article posted on the DVD/blu-ray boxes.

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The following morning was the launch of official Mr. Olympia proceedings, with a press conference featuring all qualifying competitors for the main event on Saturday night. Much like the theatrical match-ups before boxing and pro wrestling matches, the Olympia press conference is a lot of bravado, self-praise and rah-rah to get the audience pumped up. It’s always free to the public, and the Orleans Theater was packed to the max.

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My favorite part of the weekend is always the Fitness Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center. Held Friday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm, it’s an all-out festival of fitness stars, products, demonstrations and competitions. It really has to be seen to be believed.

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For those who don’t follow Mr. Olympia, Seattle native Phillip Heath was going for his fifth consecutive win. His nemesis Kai Greene did not enter, and depending on the source you believe, was either banned from competing or refused to sign his contract to compete.

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                             Myself with seven-time champion Phil Heath in 2013

At the end of the night, Heath won his fifth trophy and a $400,00.00 prize. As usual, he and his entourage would party the night away at Wynn/Encore’s XS Nightclub. And Heath would return again in 2016 for crown number six.

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I, like always, will be back this year to give you all the details when Phil Heath goes for trophy number eight. Don’t miss out…order your tickets now.

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This year’s Mr. Olympia Competition and Fitness Expo weekend runs September 13th through the 16th. Tickets, schedules and information are available by clicking here

Photos: Sammasseur, publicity still via The Perfect Physique

2018’s Star Trek Convention is a Galaxy of Discovery and Thrills


Bold adventures await those who attend Creation Entertainment’s annual event at Rio Las Vegas…

Not all Sin City conventions are stately affairs with sport coats, lanyards and clipboards. Freewheeling gatherings like the Mr. Olympia Competition and Fitness Expo appeal to thrill-seeking tourists and locals alike, amping up the fun with excitement, merchandise opportunities and celebrity encounters.

One of my favorites is the official Star Trek Convention by Creation Entertainment, held annually at Rio Las Vegas. This star-packed weekend draws thousand of fans from all over the world and is always well worth the …er, trek.

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This year’s takes place from August 1st-5th. Here’s their official announcement:

After the unqualified success of our 2017 show we couldn’t be more excited to announce and open up The Official Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2018!

This show will continue what makes ST:LV so excellent: Putting fans together with the stars, closer and more personally than anywhere else. With over 130 guests last year, and over 100 already signed on for 2018, we are again set to deliver the unique Creation experience people love. From panels you can’t see anywhere else, like our TNG 30th Anniversary talk with the cast, to demonstrations of the makeup and costuming techniques from the original SFX crews, there is truly something for every fan.

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As any regular attendee will tell you, Star Trek conventions are truly immersive experiences. Devotees prepare all year to create the most impressive and authentic recreations of characters from the movies and shows. It’s almost a competition to see who can “wow” other guests the most. The events are even lovingly spoofed in the hit film Galaxy Quest.

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The Rio Convention Center is packed with facsimiles of sets, ships, transporters, Captains’ chairs and vendor tables. Scheduled events like themed weddings, symphonic performances of the scores from Trek films and series (by the Nevada Pops Orchestra), dance and karaoke parties fill every available hour, sometimes going well into the early mornings.

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       Trek wedding attendee Justin Molnar gives his best “ironic applause”…

But of course the biggest draw is always seeing and meeting the legendary stars who’ve won their places in the hearts of fans. Iconic actors like William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Kate Mulgrew, James Darren, Joe Piscopo and Denise Crosby top the list of over one hundred stars who are scheduled to appear this year.

The largest conference hall will be filled to overflowing with attendees eager to hear amusing anecdotes of their memories on set. They’ll answer audience questions, banter with each other and sometimes run through the crowd for selfies with fans (Enterprise captain Scott Bakula loves to do that when he attends).

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Along with the familiar, 2018’s gathering should be packed to the brim with stimulating debates. Following the completion of newest TV series Star Trek: Discovery‘s first (and very polarizing) season, talk of another theatrical film to be helmed by Quentin Tarantino AND the recent announcement of yet more series on the horizon, Trekkers will have their tricorders overloading with information and fascinating revelations. There’s even a report that Patrick Stewart will return as Captain Picard in a new show. Wowza!

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             Actress Adrienne Barbeau is interviewed by FOX News…

My personal favorite part of every Trek-con I’ve attended is what’s known as the “Exhibitor Hall”. Far from just a flea market, the vendor area is also where the more approachable celebrities gather, along with fellow actors from other genre classics like Battlestar Galactica, Nightmare on Elm Street and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. And of course there are oodles of collectibles to gawk…and haggle…over.

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        Actors Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman are attacked by a Sleestak…

This sci-fi/horror geek has gone hog wild schmoozing with beloved actors like Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York), Virginia Madsen (Dune, Highlander 2, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) and Land of the Lost stars Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman.

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      Myself with dedicated fan Karen Crumley as Spock’s mother “Amanda”…

Check out the official Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2018 page for a complete list of events, stars, professional photo opportunities and schedules…and to order your tickets. Events and special package deals sell out quickly, so don’t delay. I’ll see you there August first!

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      Yours truly (right) with “Guinan” from Star Trek: The Next Generation…

The Official Star Trek Las Vegas Convention will be held at the Rio Hotel Casino August 1st through the 5th.

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Photos: Sammasseur

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars – Chef Paola Bugli


Profiling a Chef who brings true Italian authenticity to Westgate’s “Fresco Italiano”…

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Outside the entrance to Fresco Italiano, two adorable Vespa scooters are amusingly parked. Almost symbolically, it seems as though they’ve been waiting for the right pair of riders to hop aboard and take control.

Inside, that very thing has taken place for two Italian immigrants who recently arrived to helm Fresco’s kitchen and operations. Despite the restaurant already being an established hit, this pair has elevated the Tuscan eatery to new heights.

Regular readers might recognize Fresco Italiano as my very first column when I launched this site last summer. Since then, I’ve dined here repeatedly, savoring every wonderful morsel. Not only is the food to die for, but the atmosphere and service scream “Italian authenticity”.

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                            General Manager Dora Pana and Chef Bugli…

As you enjoy the dining experience, your party might be greeted by a lovely blonde with a distinctive Naples accent. General Manager Dora Pane loves to chat with her guests, lending a family-like ambiance to every visit. She’ll remind you of that favorite aunt who invites you to sit down at her kitchen table and “mangiare“. (I’ll be spending time with Ms. Pane for a profile article very soon.)

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But of course, the big draw for this type of meal is the magic that happens inside the kitchen. That’s where Chef Paola Brugli comes in. This elegant native of Florence is the Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano and an absolute treat to meet. As busy as she is in the kitchen, Ms. Bugli also finds time to engage her guests and share a mutual enthusiasm for great dishes.

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Kitchen time was ingrained in Chef Paola’s family traditions. She learned from her mother and grandmother how to make pasta, polenta and sauces. They worked together as a team, each doing something different to prepare a complete meal. Lessons from those collaborative efforts would be invaluable once Bugli decided to pursue a career in the culinary arts.

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                                                           Florence, Italy…

Chef Paola enrolled in the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero Aurelio Saffi of Firenze Italy in 1977. There she achieved degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, then spent the next several decades honing techniques in fabulous restaurants and destinations throughout Italy.

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The shores of the Unites States eventually welcomed Chef Bugli to a new chapter and more career adventures. First came Atlanta, where she spent a decade in the kitchens of several noteworthy restaurants, holding positions as Sous Chef, Pastry Chef, Chef de Cuisine and Executive Chef.

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                                          Lumiere Place Casino Hotel…

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                                      House of Savoy Italian Eatery…

Eight years ago Bugli settled into the St. Louis area after capturing the attention of a recruiter for Pinnacle Entertainment. There she spent a year and a half as Executive Chef for the now-shuttered House of Savoy, an authentic riverfront Italian eatery in the gorgeous Lumière Place Casino Hotel. This turned out to be her first position in a gaming resort, but fortunately would not be her last.

As luck would have it, Chef Paola worked under the mentorship of Jeffrey DeVito, current Vice President of Food and Beverage at Westgate Las Vegas. As she told me “It was my first job in a casino and I was a little concerned about that, but Mr. DiVito was always extremely supportive”.

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During her time in St. Louis, Chef Paolo proudly achieved United States citizenship in a wonderful ceremony held at the new National Archives, which was inaugurated for the occasion. The variety of cultures, climates and opportunities of this nation were now hers to explore without limit.

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                                                     Sea Island Resort…

Next up was the lush Sea Island Resort, south of Savannah on the sunny coast of Georgia. There Bugli served as Chef de Cuisine for Tavola, a formal yet rustic Italian dining experience. Tavola‘s philosophy is “the soul of Italy isn’t just found on the menu. It’s around the table” which might explain why the Florence native was drawn there.

After dabbling in some consulting work in Savannah, it was off to Biloxi, Mississippi for a new position with Beau Rivage Casino Resort. As Room Chef for Stalla Italian Restaurant, Chef Bugli was once again able to bring her authentic style to another part of the United States. ”

Her philosophy of simple, fresh ingredients (“super-simple is the key” she likes to say) made her very popular with the resort’s guests. So much so that she remained there for over four years, creating an indelible mark on the MGM Resorts property.

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     Chef Bugli was featured in “Women in Business” at Beau Rivage Resort…

Alas, a change in corporate management began to crush this independent artist’s creativity, so it was once again time to move on. When asked if it was difficult to make so many changes in her life, her response was candid. “Maybe I’m a masochist but I like the challenges. Sometimes you have to find the right way to part. I don’t believe in creating failures…I like to give opportunities”.

As has been the case of so many gifted culinary artists I’ve profiled, Chef Bugli found new creative horizons via the food and beverage team at Westgate Las Vegas. In January she took over as Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. And she was once again on a team overseen by Jeffrey DiVito.

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Coming aboard an established and successful venture would indeed offer Chef Paola some trials and tribulations but she was up to the task.

Everything in a restaurant is a connected process. A kitchen is like a pirate crew…we’re weird. There needs to be creative cohesiveness from front to back.

Working with General Manager Dora Pane, the two have taken the operation and streamlined it to reflect their own styles.

Food is so much about energies…your whole self. Shake people up a bit and you get good results. So we’re improving things like the service steps and our wine offerings. I’m also adjusting the flavor profile and retraining the staff with my cooking methods.

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When asked what procedures she referred to, Chef Bugli explained:

It’s not enough just to follow a recipe’s ingredients. It’s the steps that matter. You see, a sauce isn’t just throwing everything into a pot and letting it boil. Certain ingredients have to be sauteed together first to let their flavors develop. Then others like tomatoes are added afterwards. You can taste the difference by doing things in the proper order.

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Attention to detail is also reflected on the ingredients she purchases for her dishes.

The culture at our restaurant is respectful of the environment. In Italy it’s a concept called Zero-Kilometer Cooking. We can’t get all locally-produced foods being in the desert, but we can come pretty close. It’s also necessary to change our offerings depending on the season. A winter tomato won’t taste the same as one in July. People will know the difference!

Making a difference is what Chef Paola’s cooking is all about:

Guests are more educated now. Everyone is a connoisseur, so we approach Fresco Italiano with a friends-and-family atmosphere. This may be casual fine dining, but we want people to leave feeling like they’ve had an experience.

When asked about her new life in Las Vegas, Chef Paola gave a bit of a shrug. “I haven’t had time to get to know Vegas yet, really, except through the people I’ve met at Westgate. When I settle in, maybe I’ll start up a local women’s chef group”.

As for Sin City sights, the Florence native had plenty to say about the Strip. “Las Vegas replicates so many famous landmarks and they’ve done it beautifully. You’ve got Paris, Venice, Rome, Egypt. It’s amazing”.

She did have a word of warning for any future resort planners, though. “Vegas can do anything else they want, but they’d better leave Florence alone. We’re already perfect!” she chuckled wildly.

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Fresco Italiano is open for dinner 365 days a year at 5 pm – lunch hours vary by date. For more information or to place reservations call 702.732.5276.

Photos: Sammasseur, Chef Paola Bugli, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Beau Rivage Casino Resort, Seas Island Resort, Westgate Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOUNDTRACK Brings Alive The Songs Of Your Life


Legends Clint Holmes and Earl Turner are the heart and soul of a superlative collaboration…

Earl Turner and Clint Holmes, the stars of Westgate’s new SOUNDTRACK production, amusingly carry with them a condition I call “Danny Gans Syndrome“. That is, they’re very well-loved by Vegas audiences but virtually unknown elsewhere. That’s unfortunate, as talent is…and should always be…universally recognized.

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             Clint Holmes (left) and Earl Turner light up the Westgate stage…

Yet Turner and Holmes continue to prosper and thrive on Vegas stages. The two friends have performed separately for many years and are mutual fans of one another. As Clint tells the story “When arriving in Vegas back in 2000, I did what every performer does…I asked “Whose show should I see?”. Everyone told me about Earl Turner…and they were right. He’s terrific”.

These days you’re just as likely to see Earl in the audience for Clint’s solo performances as vice versa. But when these two collaborate for an ongoing series of concerts at Westgate’s International Theater, it’s the fans who will be rejoicing.

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SOUNDTRACK offers a familiar premise – cover versions of songs you know and love…and what they mean for memorable events in your lives and theirs. The target demographic is mainly folks forty and over, yet the gentleman do justice to current hits as well. It’s a well-rounded collection of favorites sure to please every generation.

Much of the fun of this anthology comes from not knowing what’s next, so I’ll try not to spoil things by pounding out a track list. Just know that artists as diverse as Bobby Darin, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Ed Sheeran and The Beatles get the SOUNDTRACK treatment, all done in the inimitable styles of the two leads.

Much like Human Nature JUKEBOX at Venetian, SOUNDTRACK bounces through the decades somewhat randomly, adding to the sense of spontaneity that makes productions like this such a joy. Between the songs are humorous anecdotes that convey a warmth these two have clearly shared through the years…both onstage and off.

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                                                             Serena Henry…

Holmes and Turner fittingly open SOUNDTRACK with “The Boys Are Back In Town”. But this is far from an all-guys night at the theater. Talented back-up singer Serena Henry comes front and center….and owns the stage with a set of classic songs made famous by other female vocalists. It’s almost disappointing when Serena steps back out of the spotlight. Expect to hear lots more from Ms. Henry in the future.

Both stars also have their own moments alone onstage. Clint demonstrates the way he learned to be funky from his African-American father (his mom was a “proper British white woman”, he tells us). Earl shares his evolution from country tunes to a spot-on James Brown impersonation that will have you on your feet and holding your sides with laughter. They come back together for a scatting session that will leave you breathless.

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                                                            Earl Turner…

The eight-piece band led by musical director Christian Tamburr is as attractive as it is talented. Standout saxophonist Rocco Barbato brings a huge slice of “sexy” to several solo moments including a vocal/instrumental jam session with Holmes.

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                                                           Rocco Barbato…

The large International Showroom stage, once home to the likes of Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand and the returning Barry Manilow, is nicely utilized with simple but effective sets. Lighting, sound and visuals are all what you’d expect from such a well-known venue. Costuming is pretty basic with the band in black suits and the gentleman in shiny pants and sparkly blazers. Ms. Henry dazzles in a series of flattering ensembles.

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One thing that I’m personally pleased to see is a minimum of sing-alongs and “I can’t hear you!” moments. Those live-performance cliches are so overused…and quite frankly need to be retired. If I wanted karaoke I’d go to Ellis Island Brewery, so thank you SOUNDTRACK for sparing us many of the cornball audience-participation segments.

With Holmes and Turner both having busy solo schedules, the dates for SOUNDTRACK are somewhat limited. A next round of performances will begin July 5th and a full schedule of upcoming shows is available here.

Be sure to stake out a future date and mark this show down on your list of Vegas “musts”. SOUNDTRACK is one memorable playlist that should not be missed.

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SOUNDTRACK performs on select dates at 7 pm inside Westgate International Showroom. Tickets start at $48 (plus taxes/fees) and are available here. Travelzoo is running a special for seats starting at $24 by following this link.

Photos: Sammasseur, Clint Holmes, Serena Henry, Rocco Barbato, Westgate Las Vegas

Video clip courtesy of Curtis Haines, Next Level Media and Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost Vegas: The Fall of Neon’s Reign


Greg C. brings us another photo essay, this time on sadly-departed classic neon…

When you hear the words “Classic Vegas” or “Old Vegas,” your mind probably tends to gravitate towards Rat Pack shows or tales of the Mafia. For my photographer friend Greg C., the classics are spelled out in miles of glowing neon. Glorious, painstakingly-created works of art…

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There’s nothing like memories from past visits…arriving in the city under a blanket of darkness, turning onto the Strip and seeing the dazzling light show that stretched out for miles ahead of you.

Driving past the dual ivory and gold towers of Tropicana, gawking at the multi-colored rings of Bally’s futuristic entry, basking in the flickering of Bill’s Gambling Hall…eventually reaching the ultimate Vegas throwback…Sahara Hotel Casino.

For me, the colors of the Sahara will always hold a special place in the hall of memories. It was the second place that I stayed in the city. I vividly remember getting out of the taxi and listening to the buzzing of the neon tubes and on-off clicking of the bulbs around the porte -cochere.

It was chilly that night, but the signage and blinking lights gave off their own warmth, inviting me inside for an adventure not to be forgotten.

After my scathing analysis of current Vegas trends was published, Greg suggested taking a more visual approach to what we’ve recently lost around the Strip:

I am assembling photos of all the neon signage and cool structures that have vanished in Vegas since 2010. When the photos are seen all together, it creates a vivid idea of how much has been lost in only the last six years.

Greg is absolutely fascinated with Sin City architecture. His photo essays of Westgate Sky Villashidden structural oddities and recent implosions speak for themselves. Now he’s ready to turn his lens towards the demise of long-loved neon signage and very familiar landmarks.

The beautiful neon and bulbs from the Barbary Coast were kept by Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall….. but scrapped when they transformed the simple old-school place into the bland Cromwell….

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O’Shea’s gave its life so that Project Linq could live. The new version is a pale ghost of the original…a raucous, cheap, easy-access place for casual fun lovers to get plastered and grab some basic eats. Naturally, it had to be wiped out as it runs counter to the modern corporate ideal of high-end, high-budget fun. The old façade was awesome — lots of neon and flashing bulbs. Yep….get it outta here! No place for that in Vegas.

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Imperial Palace: Yeah…it had really gone downhill. Still, it was a cheap place to hang if you wanted to be on the central Strip and were on a budget.

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The entrance of Bally’s being destroyed to create the wonderful ghost town of retail shops — the “Not-so-Grand Bazaar”. And the cool purple-glowing section of Casino Royale, destroyed for the modern blah Walgreens and White Castle additions. Gotta have retail now, don’t we?

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And out on Flamingo and Paradise, the familiar neon outline of Mr. T (of Terrible’s) was replaced by Silver 7’s. Adios to $9.99 Baby Back Ribs….

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Tropicana is still there (well, most of it) but the old-school signage with neon and flashing bulbs is gone…as is the Folies Bergere, which was the resort’s trademark entertainment for most of its pre-renovation life.

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One of the older wings of the property was demolished in 2010 (the 300-wing)……half of it by a little-known implosion. Today’s look is much more bland without the alternating dark/white stripes and the gold-accent glass on the tower tops that was whited out during the refit. The tower along the Strip also had a cool electric-blue waterfall going down the end (which they turned dark — bad decision). We need all the neon we can get…..

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Convention Center Drive:  Greek Isles was not a big name for sure…..it was actually a dump–in bad repair. The hotel has the dubious distinction of being the most renamed joint in Vegas….Debbie Reynolds before Greek Isles…. and the Paddlewheel before that……..and the Royal Americana before that……and finally the Royal Inn (its original name when opened in 1970)…. it was bought by Clarion in 2010 and imploded wearing that name.

The elderly Somerset House Motel across the street dated to the early 60’s. It was leveled in 2011. Nothing but empty lots where both stood (seems to be a recurring trend in that area).

It’s hard to get excited by the new trends of “office-building chic”, multi-toned beige and monochromatic blah. Even some room renovations have stripped out colors in favor of hospital-room white (see Delano‘s clinical decor at Mandalay Bay, which feels like being in a padded cell). When Sahara became SLS, the cans of white paint must have numbered in the thousands.

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The north end of the Strip has clearly been hit the hardest. Not only have historic properties like New Frontier and the legendary Stardust been turned into rubble, but ballyhooed projects meant to rise from the debris have fallen into their own decay. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen where Riviera once stood.

Neon

 

 

Can’t begin to say enough on this one–it’s already been talked about enough…. but it has to be mentioned as it was probably the greatest loss of neon glory in recent years…..

These days, visitors are greeted by huge LED screens that rival those in Times Square. Sure, they’re eye-catching, but also cold and clinical.

Fremont Street is the best remaining place to see authentic neon artworks in all their splendor. But they, too, are falling out of favor as hotels get purchased and modernized (think The D and Golden Gate).

If you love neon like Greg and I do, be sure to visit your favorites and snap some photos while you still can. The pile of carcasses at Neon Museum will most likely grow higher as Sin City continues to rip out its own electric heart.

Photos and quotes by Greg C

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Sky Villas Part 3: The Verona


Photographer Greg C concludes his photo essay on Westgate’s Sky Villas…

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In the world of casino hosts, the most coveted type of client is the “whale“. These super-high-rollers are enticed into visiting and remaining loyal by being showered with lavish treatment and perks. Usage of limousines and private jets, shopping excursions, star-studded parties…and of course, lodging in the hotel’s most palatial Sky Villas. All are intended to keep that high-roller on the property long enough to bet (and ideally to lose) large sums of money, and hopefully, to return in the future for more high-stakes wagering.

Sky Villas are rarely seen by the general public, and even more rarely are photographers allowed access to the degree that Greg C has been at Westgate Las Vegas. Today’s tour of the Verona Suite concludes his trilogy of photo sessions (take a look at the previous two here and here).

With any luck, we’ll be able to turn this collection into an ongoing series, one that gives our readers unparalleled access to those dreamy suites that adorn the clouds over Sin City. But for now, enjoy the Verona Sky Villa, courtesy of the staff and management at Westgate.

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“My first impression was like stepping into a palace of Old World splendor…a blend of Italian Renaissance and Roman Glory. They say that you come to Vegas to party and see the sights — the room is just to sleep and shower (and, you know). Well, not so here. The Suite itself is an adventure. You could make a vacation out of it”. – Greg C.

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The city of Verona in northern Italy is known for its art, architecture and spirit of romance. After all, William Shakespeare placed his titular characters in Verona for Romeo and Juliet. Once a colony of Rome, Verona is rich with statues, arches, domed ceilings, pillars and artistic motifs. True to its namesake, the Verona Suite at Westgate is ornate and overflowing with gorgeous detail and accents.

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The Verona was the first of the three to be built (completed December 1994) and is the largest at 15,400 square feet. If you were a fan of the Robin Leach series “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, you might recognize the three-bedroom Verona, which was once featured on that popular show.

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Filmmakers used the Verona Suite as a stand-in for Liberace’s residence in the 2013 biopic Behind The Candelabra.

“The piano is a nice touch. If you’re a piano player, you have another reason to “stay home” in your suite. Talk about a nice ambiance to practice”.

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“Those statues! The one staring back at you with imperious Roman hauteur….the demure young beauty protecting her modesty in the garden”.

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“Yep…another awesome bedroom “suite within a suite”. And, of course, TV in bed…just what a vacationing Roman senator would require in the 21st century”.

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Suite15

“Relax by the fireplace AND soak in the tub at the same time”.

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Suite13

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New hotels in Las Vegas have become somewhat clinical, almost office-like complexes. Their suites are tech-heavy and massive, yet could easily be found in any other city. It’s nice to know that glossy, lavish places like the Verona Suite still exist in Vegas and are treated with reverence today. They’re living reminders of a time that represented the true spirit of Sin City.

View w scope

You can learn more about these accommodations on the Westgate Las Vegas reservation website. They are rarely seen by the general public and are usually reserved for their top-tier guests. Nine other themed “specialty suites” are also available…if you feel like living large and have the wallet to back it up. Click here to explore them.

There’s always room at the top. Don’t let them tell you that there is not. – Singer Adam Ant

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.