Christmas in Vegas

So the final show of 2011 went splendidly, and I was served drinks by one of the cutest bartenders I’ve ever seen in my life.  I played an early set at the Good Hurt in Venice, California, and I was rather surprised at the turnout.  I was running terribly late on my way there, and the typical LA traffic didn’t make things any easier for me.  I got to the bar at 7:58pm for an 8:00pm set time, but to my surprise, the door was locked when I got there.  I knocked on the big metal door and the sound guy came and let me in, asking me what time I was supposed to play.  When I told him, he looked at his watch and quickly told another guy to open the door and man his post.  One other girl walked in while we were sound checking, and I thought that this might be the extent of the audience, and that would have been alright.  Instead, I was told we were going to push back the whole night by about twenty minutes, and by the time I was up on stage playing we were up to around twenty people in the audience.  I didn’t know anyone when the night started, but by the end of the night I had made some new friends and I was invited to sit in with a harmonica on a show the following week.  Unfortunately I was already committed to be out of town for the week, but with any luck there’ll be several opportunities in the new year.

So I opened the night with a solo acoustic set, and then a very pretty girl played another acoustic set with some crazy guitar stylings.  She reminded me of John Butler, who is a badass guitarist, and she mentioned on stage that she is a huge fan of Richie Havens; it came through.  She had some solid rhythms and a really strong voice, and afterward we traded CDs and agreed to keep in touch to help book shows together.  Having a network of musicians or bands to work with results in sort of a “slinky effect,” which is beneficial for everyone.  It helps tremendously when it comes to booking shows, cause it creates something like a collective foot in the door at any given venue, and then things generally open up from there.  Anyway, she was great and I’d love to play another show with her sometime.

There was one more acoustic act before the amplifiers came into play, this time a duo with two guitars.  I had talked with the two guys that were playing, but I didn’t realize that they were on the bill for the evening until they got up on stage.  They played original stuff that had heavy influence from the grunge movement in the 90’s, very akin to Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots.  They told me it was their first official show, but I wouldn’t have known it otherwise because they had their music pretty well together.  When they finished their set, I ended up hanging out and drinking with them for the rest of the night while the other bands played.

The other bands were pretty good, and it was a good follow up to the acoustic start of the night.  The first band was called See Green, and it was basically one girl singing and playing guitar with a whole myriad of instruments around her.  There was a total of six people in the band, including two keyboardists, a drummer, bassist, and another guy on lead guitar, plus the girl that was singing.  They had a style that’s really kind of tough to define, but imagine what it might be like if No Doubt ran into the B-52s and created a dance album.  Their live show was pretty great, and of course it never hurts for a band to have a beautiful singer in a cute dress.  By the time they hit the stage, there were at least forty or fifty people in the bar, and I now had to fight for the attention of the cute bartender.  I really didn’t mind though; the drinks were free.

The next band was called Man + Robot, and they also had a female vocalist and another girl who played guitar.  It was a four piece traditional rock band: bass, drums, guitar and  vocals, and they played something a little like Soundgarden: with firm roots in alternative rock.  I enjoyed their set, but it was the band before them that really hit the spot for me.  When they finished playing, the bar started to clear out, so I said goodbye to the beautiful bartender and headed back to the van.  I hadn’t really drank all that much, so I decided to hit the highway while there was no traffic and get to the outskirts of the city.  My plans for Friday included a fourteen hour drive to Park City, Utah, and I didn’t want to start out the drive with heavy traffic.

The reason for the detour to Utah is simple: I was offered an opportunity to go skiing with my family.  My immediate family is made up of a bunch of skiers, and in fact my brother is a Ski Technician, so every couple years they try and put together a ski trip.  This year they went to Park City, and thats not an entirely unreasonable distance from LA, so I added four more states to my 2011 adventures and got in a couple good days of skiing.

Unfortunately, I had a huge wipeout while I was in Utah, which is to say, I stubbed my toe on a bed frame and broke my pinky toe.  I did it with socks on, and although it hurt, I thought I had just stubbed my toe like any other time that’s happened in the past.  But when I took my sock off, my toe was pointed off to the side in a very unnatural way, and it was obvious that something was wrong.  I thought I had maybe just dislocated it somehow, and that if I played with it a little, maybe it would just pop back into place.  My brother and my dad joined in the game, and they took turns pulling on my toe, trying to get it to look normal again.  After a little while of this, we decided I should go to an urgent care clinic and have a professional look at it.  So we jumped in the car and found a place, and the doctor was actually really cool.  He was a skier, and after taking an X-ray and telling me it was definitely broken, he said I could still ski if I wanted to because I surely couldn’t break it again.  He gave me this special boot, and as he explained, it bears much resemblance to a ski boot in the support that it gives the foot, so if I could take the pain of skiing on a broken toe then there was nothing to stop me from doing so.

So I gave my foot a day to rest, and then hit the slopes the following day.  It was a pretty light year in terms of snowfall in Utah, but I had a blast skiing and hanging out with the family all week.  And then come the end of the week I inherited all the leftovers from the trip, which means that I was sent off with all sorts of stuff, including sweet potatoes, vodka, and a couple cans of Skyline Chili!!  (If you’ve never had Skyline, I highly suggest that you track some down..)  The drive back was pretty relaxed, except that I stopped in Las Vegas for Christmas Eve, and that was a zoo in itself.  I’d never been to Vegas, and my directions took me right through the city on my way back to LA, so I thought what the hell, I might as well stop and see what it’s all about.  I got there in the early afternoon of the 24th, and immediately took the guitar and set up shop on the Vegas Strip.  I was surprised at how packed the city was, and even more surprised that I was able to find free parking.  I made about forty bucks in two and a half hours, and then dropped the guitar back at the van before exploring the casinos on the strip.  I was still wearing pajama pants and a big funny boot for my toe, but nobody looked at me sideways; I don’t think I looked half as ridiculous as the three hundred pound black man dressed as a sugarplum fairy, dancing his heart out at the entrance of a casino.  In any case, he definitely made me smile.

I wandered around the strip for several hours on Christmas Eve, and although I didn’t know a soul, I certainly didn’t feel alone- I’d never seen so many people in my life.  On the other hand, I’ve never been to New York either. Anyway, Vegas is wonderful place to people watch, and I was completely taken aback by all the money that was put into the buildings to make them ritzy and lavish.  The inside of the Paris Casino had a ceiling that was painted like the sky, another place had sixty-foot tall chandelier, and the fountains outside of Caesar’s Palace shot water more than forty feet up in the air in sync with Christmas music, and as a result people gathered around the fountain all night.  I did gamble a little bit, and I guess you could say that my experience was typical.  I took twenty bucks to a poker table, doubled my money, and then even cashed out while I was ahead.  Unfortunately, I went back to the poker table a little later and lost everything that I had won.  I thought about digging into some more of the money I had earned while playing on the street, but realized that it might start an endless cycle, at the end of which I might be stranded in Vegas.  So instead I got some dinner and then just walked around for  a couple hours, taking in all the colors and characters that Vegas has to offer on Christmas Eve.

I didn’t make it back to the van until after midnight, and although I had planned to leave the city, I just ended up staying in the parking lot overnight and getting a solid breakfast from a casino in the morning.  I found it kind of interesting that food was cheap, and that parking was free, but then I realized that the city probably just counts on people losing their money at the casinos, so they can afford to provide those things for cheap.  Anyway, I had a blast, and a slightly unconventional Christmas to say the least.  After breakfast, I meandered around the strip for another little while and then drove most of the way back to LA.  I made a stop in Redlands to see a friend from Cincinnati, and we hit up an open mic on the 26th.  It was actually a pretty packed bar at a place called the Underground, which was literally underground.  It reminded me of a restaurant atmosphere; reddish orange carpet, tables throughout the room, lingering christmas decorations on the walls.  There must have been at least eighty people there, if not more, but the sign up list for the open mic had only a handful of names on it, so although I signed up in spot number four, I was the first to get up and play.  It was odd because the way the speakers were set up, I couldn’t hear myself very well from the stage.  I played four or five songs though, and then a couple people later the friend I came to visit got up and played a couple songs as well.  It was her first time performing at an open mic, so it was a big step for her.  I’m not gonna lie, it must have been intimidating; there were a lot of drunk and loud people in the bar, but I thought she did great.  Anyway, we continued hanging out and hopped to another bar, and when it came time for last call, I decided to just make the rest of the drive to LA.  It was only about an hour drive or so, and it went pretty fast since there was no traffic on the highway at 2:30 in the morning.  I made it there and then found a good parking spot, and the next day I hit the beach again.  Chillin’ at the beach led me into a couple other opportunities, but I’ll get to those later..

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