April 13, 2024
Tom Ingram’s key presentation. Photo by Las Vegas Review-Journal

Celebrating its 25th year, Viva Las Vegas ran from April 14th to 17th in Sin City, Nevada. Over those 25 years it has moved from the Gold Coast Hotel to the Orleans, weathered two recessions, survived an epidemic, and continued to thrive.  Its latest honor is having Vegas’ Mayor award Tom Ingram, the event’s organizer, with a Key to the City.

“Rockabilly Weekender” is the event’s tag line and rockabilly is the musical heart of VLV, but R&B (Tammi Savoy, Mike Sanchez), country (Big Sandy & the Fly Rite Boys, Lil Sue & the Cow Tippers), soul (Barrence Whitfield, The Extroadinaires), plus odds and ends like Televisionaires (pop), Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts (Hawaiian), The Surfrajettes (beach party), and Bloodshot Bill (angst) provide variety.  

The Music

Reflecting on VLV 2022, Hicks with Sticks presents its musical awards, a.k.a. The Hickies. 

Michigan gets the They’re-from-Where? award for being the home state of The Firewalkers and Michael Hurtt & his Haunted Hearts.  The Firewalkers’ only recording is a 45 from 2019, but what they lack on record they put into their live show with a tight band backing energy-gal Laura Mendoza.  Michael Hurtt’s band has two strong CDs to its credit, the second of which includes “Searching for Shadows” with the line “… the bartenders cringe when I walk through the door.”

The Hickie for VLV’s Lifetime Achievement award is shared by Big Sandy for MCing and playing, and pianist Carl Sonny Leyland for making every band he supports that much better, both doing so for 25 years and counting. The Reincarnation-of-Ruth-Brown award goes to Tammi Savoy who knocked it out of the park, first on Friday night with the Groove Empire Orchestra and the Extraordinaires, and then on Sunday night with her own band The Rhythm Maestros, her entire set having been captured by Johnny Angel of Frontline Videos.

Big Sandy & the Fly Rite Boys
Photo: Steve Hathaway
Tammi Savoy with the Extraordinaires
Photo: Steve Hathaway

The Hickie for Best-Player-of-his-Great-Grandfather’s-Music goes to Short Fuse of the Henry Family Combo. Since he’s this good at this age, it safe to predict there’ll be more Hickies as he comes of age.

Short Fuse on Bass

Wrapping up the music brings us to the Hickie for Best-Souvenir-CD by Willie Barry & the California Hot Shots recorded in glorious mono. Hot shots indeed! He couldn’t go wrong with luminaries like Ashley Kingman from Big Sandy, Carl Sonny Leyland, Deke Dickerson and Dave Stuckey backing him.

The Stages

VLV hosts six stages starting with the main stage and nearby auxiliary stage, both of which are isolated from the casino. There are two more stages accessible from the casino floor. One is a seated auditorium called the showroom and the other is a bar on the main floor. The showroom hosts a fashion show, burlesque shows, Deke Dickerson‘s Guitar Geek-a-rama, Charles Phoenix‘s vintage 35mm slide show, and The Dave & Deke Combo‘s Hillbilly Fest.

Jose Segue, front row wearing the brown hat, watches the Hillbilly Fest with Jeff Seiwald and HWS calendar man Steve Hathaway on the aisle.

The bar, called the All Night Jumping Showcase, features bands doing 20-minute sets between midnight and 4am to keep the party going, though the rush of setting up, playing and packing out in 30 minutes, band after band, can be like tasting ice cream samples but not ordering a cone.

Lil Sue and the Cow Tippers at the All Night Jumping Showcase

Another big stage is outdoors and connected to the car show. Jerry Lee Lewis has played there in the past and the Blasters were headliners this year. They had to cancel and luckily they did because the wind blew so hard by the time they should have taken the stage that the entire parking area — stage, car show, car show vendors and all — had to be closed.

The sixth stage is by the pool where swimwear, flying beach balls and drinks with paper umbrellas are all the rage. A few bands play there but most of the poolside music is DJed, and while they are mostly taken for granted, the DJs are wonderful and support all the stages, meet-ups, special dance events and pool parties; most spinning vintage vinyl.

The Car Show and Pool

VLV 2022’s pool parties and car show feature babes, hot rods, a “Back to the Future” car and vintage oddities like Airstream trailers and an operating ice cream van.  The cars, though plentiful, were down slightly from previous years reflecting 21st century economics for 20th century automobiles which are now priced in the mid-five-figure range.  Guys who can afford buying, rather than building, vintage cars probably aren’t going to show up at VLV. 

At the Pool Party

Those who’ve been to Viva Las Vegas keep going because of the good times written about here. For those who haven’t been yet, getting to it is something to add to your bucket list. If it’s this interesting to read about imagine what it’s like to experience.