When I heard that Kelly Clinton was returning to the Bootlegger Bistro to host a new version of her old “Celebrity Karaoke” gig, I immediately decided I’d be there for opening night. “Celebrity Karaoke” was easily the best lounge show in town when Kelly was hosting it, and it died a rapid death when she left. Since the reasons Kelly departed included marrying Clint Holmes and moving to New York, I figured all the delightful nights filled with the voices of local talent were over forever. But, as the poster in the lobby of the Bootlegger shouts, “She’s Back!” Last night, so was a packed house of her fans.
Kelly opened the evening disguised as Joe Joe Spaghetti Moretti, an appropriate persona to greet an audience dining on the Bootlegger’s Italian menu selections. Although a face-altering mask and black wig did a good job of camouflaging Kelly’s face and mane of strawberry blonde hair, I figured out who it was almost immediately. Others in the audience did not, however, because Kelly’s voice sounded masculine, and she rolled out an accent that would have easily let her pass as a local on a creepy wharf in New Jersey.
Soon enough and right on stage, she pulled off the mask, released her hair, and morphed back into the Kelly everybody had come to see, a versatile, multi-talented entertainment phenomenon with a wicked sense of humor and the ability to react with lightning speed to whatever her unscripted performers dish out. Whenever I see her, I can’t help wondering how we can be so lucky as to have this kind of talent on an intimate, local stage. Kelly is the sort of performer you usually see from far away, like in a giant arena or on television. If Las Vegas has a best-kept secret, it’s got to be Kelly Clinton.
Before introducing the first singer, Kelly made it clear that the Bootlegger’s Monday night show is now called “Kelly Clinton’s Open Mic Cabaret.” No more “K” word, she said, because karaoke implies “amateur.” Accompaniment might be “tracks,” and it might be live backup—just don’t call it “K.” This was fine with me, because I always thought the “K” word detracted from the other show. “K” is for “wannabes.” Kelly Clinton has always showcased “about to bes,” “already ares,” and “still got its.” The old show launched careers, gave current performers a place to try out new material, and provided an appreciative audience to local legends.
Last night, a brilliant beginning by Mark Giovi—who got his start at the Bootlegger and now stars in “Bite” at the Stratosphere—moved on to performances by Susan Anton, the Las Vegas Tenors, Stepfanie Kramer, Domenick Allen, Gayle Steele, and a host of other excellent singers as well as two instrumentalists on the trumpet and sax. Possibly the most memorable number was “Suspicious Minds” sung as a duet by Kelly Clinton and Clint Holmes. To say the two have chemistry together is an understatement. It’s more like fission with harmony. Humor, too—they threw in a little Elvis-style “Love me Tender” along the way.
When I left, Bill Fayne’s magnificent tenor voice was still hanging in the air. For the price of a pizza dinner—and I got to eat the pizza—I had been treated to an evening of the best of Las Vegas in a setting as intimate as a friend’s living room. During the evening, Dennis Bono, husband of the Bootlegger’s owner Lorraine Hunt-Bono, thanked Kelly for bringing back “old Vegas.” While I understand what he was talking about—those good ol’ days when Vegas was small and you might find yourself sitting next to Dean Martin in a coffee shop—I’m most appreciative that Kelly is creating a venue where people like me can soak up a bit of today’s talent. Forgive me for massacring some excellent lyrics, Kelly, but…
You make me feel,
You make me feel,
You make me feel
Like these are the good old days.