What Happened to Las Vegas Lounge Acts? Future Stars Given a Chance to Shine in Red Rock Casino Show
The audience was treated to a pleasant surprise at Red Rock’s free variety show on Sunday.
About 20 minutes into the monthly matinee “Brunch to Broadway,” the emcee ushered four local high school students onto the stage. Two were young girls, aged 16 and 17. The two other kids were a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.
Inviting minors onstage to join a live show at a casino seemed a bit unusual.
“Brunch to Broadway” is 75-minutes of music with a live band. Years ago, these types of shows were quite popular. They used to be called “lounge acts.” Every big casino had one. Lounge acts played both afternoons and nights, and sometimes even into the early morning. Shows were free, although seeing the most popular entertainers often required a two-drink minimum, and getting a really good table usually mandated a generous tip to the Maitre’d. Many popular singers and comedians of the past century began their careers as Las Vegas lounge acts.
Unfortunately, searching for a free lounge act on the Las Vegas Strip has become tougher than finding a casino that pays 2 to 1 on blackjack. Lounge acts have pretty much disappeared.
However, there are some notable exceptions. Several “locals” casinos — which means resorts catering mostly to local residents instead of out-of-town visitors — continue to offer this throwback to the past. Red Rock (owned by Stations Casinos) and Suncoast (owned by Boyd Gaming) host regular variety shows in their showrooms. Most are free. As one might expect, the crowds in attendance skew a bit older. But I’ve also seen many families and young people in the audiences. It’s nice seeing shows featured that can be enjoyed by everyone.
“Brunch to Broadway” is fun. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve enjoyed this show on three occasions (there’s a different show each time). The set list mostly includes show tunes and standards from the classic American songbook. Performers rotate in and out from various shows around town.
Sunday’s show was special, however. The two younger kids joined a four-piece band — which then became a six-piece band. Instantly, a horn section was born. The boy played the saxophone. The girl played the trumpet. The kids didn’t always hit every note perfectly. But that didn’t seem to matter. It was really cool to see the youngsters playing alongside professional musicians in a live show. The kids appeared to be having the time of their lives.
The two teen girls each sang a solo. Later, they sang together. Both girls were excellent. But, the audience could tell they were also a little nervous. Again, none of this mattered. Their songs were from Broadway show tunes.
A bit later, the other full-time performers continued the show. Finally, the entire ensemble cast did a few songs together with the band. It was all good fun. The price (free) was certainly right.
The episode impressed me. Bringing four youngsters onstage and giving them a chance to perform in front of a live audience added something really special to the performance. Sure, it’s understandable that Strip casinos would never take a chance like this — inviting school-age children to play in a live show. Visitors don’t pay $130 for a seat in the Bellagio showroom to see a 12-year-old trumpet player. But locals’ casinos are different. We have other expectations.
Indeed, locals’ casinos are very much part of our communities. People in our neighborhoods often work there. We go to movies at Red Rock and Suncoast (many locals casinos now have movie theaters). We eat at restaurants there. How nice to see a few casinos allowing youngsters to display their talents alongside full-time professional performers. What a marvelous idea.
The best way to keep great music alive is making sure that children are exposed to it. If they aren’t exposed to songs we grew to love, then gradually the music will fade away. If young people don’t develop an appreciation for the classics, then some of the greatest music ever written will be forgotten. Allowing local high schoolers the chance to perform music we enjoy and even mix in some of their own more contemporary stuff is a win-win arrangement for everyone.
After the show at the exit, the performers greeted members of the audience. We remarked to each young entertainer how much we appreciated them for giving their time and talent. See the photograph above of the two young ladies who performed in the Sunday show.
Sure, this was a small thing. A few kids performed in a free Las Vegas show. What’s the big deal?
Well, maybe this is a big deal. If more high school kids are given the chance to sing and play musical instruments at casinos, then perhaps free lounge acts will make a comeback, someday. If kids are provided with a creative outlet and allowed to pursue their talents in songwriting and performing, perhaps not quite so many will become absorbed by e-games and techno-music.
What happened on Sunday afternoon made a positive impression on me. Hence, I congratulate Red Rock casino management and the band for inviting these young stars of tomorrow up to the stage. Hopefully, the seeds of great music have been planted for many more generations to come.
At least it’s a start.