Nevada 150 & Ray Charles: Great Nights in Las Vegas

A full house in Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts awaits the Nevada Sesquicentennial All-Star Concert.
Photo by Diane Taylor

The spirit of Ed Sullivan was in Las Vegas last week. On Monday and Tuesday, local Las Vegans were privileged to see two “really big” shows. Both were large in terms of cast; both were top drawer in terms of content, but only one can be seen again, through October 29 at The Venetian Las Vegas.

Show number one, on Monday night, was the Nevada Sesquicentennial All-Star Concert at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. For two hours, the event celebrated the fact that Nevada became the 36th state in the union “when Abe Lincoln needed our votes” in 1864. Mentioned repeatedly, as guest singers, dancers and acrobats were introduced, was that Las Vegas, 150 years later, is now “the entertainment capital of the world”.

The event lineup included everyone from Penn & Teller to Wayne Newton. Among the 25 other guests/entertainers were Governor Brian Sandoval,the Jersey Boys, Cirque du Soleil, Human Nature, Frankie Moreno, Clint Holmes and even 89-year-old Jerry Lewis.

Though audience members were told not to take photos, entertainer Frankie Moreno said, “Go ahead and take pictures”. This photo was taken from the back row of Reynolds hall.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Three of us who now live in Nevada enjoyed a girls night out for this show. Late in buying tickets, we sat in the very last row of the highest balcony in Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall. Yes, we had to use binoculars from time to time, but the sound was perfect, and frankly, we could see pretty well even from the top of the mountain. We particularly enjoyed the large cast from a group called “Broadway in the Hood”; they filled the huge Reynolds Hall stage and their energy reached every seat. As part of the program, a number of videos were shown on a huge screen, and we could see those, too. Even though a good deal of stair climbing was required to get to our seats, all of us had a grand time at the show, and now I can truly recommend “even the cheap seats” at Reynolds Hall.

A courtyard at Smith Center was just one of the after-concert gathering places for desserts, wine and coffee.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Part of our good time at the sesquicentennial concert was after the show, a mini celebration for everyone who attended (and that was more than 2000 people; the show was a sellout). Small sweets, wine and coffee (free) were offered on each level at Smith Center. The night was beautiful, and our group even spent a good deal of time outdoors in a courtyard where still more delightful desserts were served. Ticket buyers also received a gift bag that contained a copy of the governor’s proclamation honoring Nevada’s 150th anniversary, a Nevada 150 lapel pen and a deck of cards with each card celebrating a different scene from Nevada’s 150 years. Did we get our money’s worth? Yes, indeed. Our back-row seats cost just $25 each. We came away inspired by music, inspired to be proud Nevadans, filled with sugar highs and had our own lapel pins to boot. A great memory.

Clint Holmes, Take Six, the Las Vegas Mass Choir and the Las Vegas All-Star Big Band pull out all the stops at Georgia On My Mind.
Photo courtesy of the Venetian Las Vegas

Tuesday night, my husband and I attended the official opening of a new Las Vegas show, “Georgia On My Mind,” celebrating the music of Ray Charles at the Venetian Las Vegas. The evening is all about the music, and if you like talented voices and a large live band, this show is a real treat. Sitting in front of us was Bob Anderson, himself a well-known singer whose own show about the music of Frank Sinatra is coming to the Venetian Las Vegas in January. Anderson couldn’t wait to give standing ovations to many of the numbers in Georgia on My Mind.

DownBeat artist of the year Nnenna Freelon is one of the co-stars of Georgia On My Mind.
Photo courtesy of The Venetian Las Vegas.

The star/host of Georgia On My Mind is Clint Holmes, and to many Las Vegans, he can do no wrong. He is, in many minds, the best singer in Las Vegas. He’s also a great host … totally comfortable in terms of easily introducing songs, Ray Charles history and other entertainers. His co-stars are Grammy award-winning saxophone player Kurt Whalum, Grammy award winning singing group Take Six, Grammy nominee singer Nnenna Freelon and the Las Vegas Mass Choir under the direction of James R. Smith and Edie Aikels. The band accompanying the artists, dubbed the Las Vegas All-Star Big Band, is under the direction of pianist and conductor David Loeb. Clint Holmes’ own pianist, Jeff Neiman, is also part of the ensemble.

The image of Ray Charles greeted the official opening night audience attending Georgia On My Mind at the Venetian Las Vegas.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Georgia On My Mind does not try to imitate Ray Charles; it is a celebration of his music as interpreted by the artists on stage, and everyone on stage knows their business. At times, the show rocks as well, particularly when the Las Vegas Mass Choir adds their voices. No better rendition of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” can be found anywhere. And that song is just one of many “wows” during the show. Incidentally, the lighting at this show is spectacular — adding to the drama and beauty all around.

Clint Holmes and Kurt Whalum salute the music of Ray Charles.
Photo courtesy of The Venetian Las Vegas

Before Georgia On My Mind, those of us dubbed VIP guests were invited for hors d’oeuvres in the Venetian’s DB Brasserie restaurant. Right outside the restaurant was the red carpet where invited local celebrities could pose for photos. Then once inside the restaurant, the food and drinks kept coming…to positively influence reviewers? Perhaps. However, my husband can’t be influenced by such things and he said of Georgia On My Mind: “It’s a very good show.” I agree, and hope that visitors will find this musical gem. My own feeling: I wanted the show to go on and on…the way I feel about some Broadway shows.

Georgia On My Mind runs five nights a week (dark Sundays and Mondays) through October 29 and can be purchased by calling The Venetian Box Office at 702-414-9000 or on the resort site.


One response on “Nevada 150 & Ray Charles: Great Nights in Las Vegas

  1. Megan and I attended the all-star concert at the Smith Center. Truly one of the highlights of recent years. We really, really enjoyed it.

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