I was just in Las Vegas. The impetus for the trip (as if an excuse is ever needed to travel to that city) was my participation in the second annual Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA). But I couldn’t go to Las Vegas, of all places, without getting in some karaoke! And so, while I enjoyed immensely the various tests of knowledge that brought me to town, and while it was fun hanging out with the interesting people who were my fellow TCONA attendees, I had to tear myself away from all that. I needed to hit some karaoke venues on the Las Vegas Strip. Over the course of the weekend, I proceeded to sing at the two places that are, in a city that doesn’t lack for karaoke options, my very favourite karaoke haunts. I’m happy to report that at both of those places, the karaoke was just as spectacular as I’d recalled it being.
Saturday night, August 11
On Saturday night I hit Zinger’s Rock ‘n Roll Cafe. The unique feature of Zinger’s is that it’s an outdoor bar. So you’re singing not only to your fellow bargoers, but to all the passersby who are walking along the sidewalk on the Strip. And of course, on a Saturday night in particular, there are quite a few people out and about on the Strip. In addition, karaoke is offered at Zinger’s seven nights a week! And the karaoke host, Chris, is a real character. Here I can be seen at Zinger’s, belting out “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay:
There was but one disappointment about this particular appearance of mine at Zinger’s: the crowd was relatively sparse for a weekend. I think the fact that it was raining on and off probably accounted, at least in part, for the light attendance at this bar that’s open to the sky. Of course I still had a great time, despite the weather and despite the lack of a packed house. I’ve done karaoke at Zinger’s during all five of my trips to Las Vegas now, and I intend to keep that streak going during my future visits!
Sunday night, August 12
The location for my karaoke appearance last night was Bill’s Lounge, inside Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. Below you can watch me at Bill’s, singing “Spandau Ballet’s “True”:
I apologize for the uneven sound quality (and the slight glitch when the guy who was operating my camera stopped and then restarted recording), but I hope you’ll still enjoy the video. And beginning at the 3:03 mark, when the videographer pans around the establishment, you can get a glimpse of the special attraction of karaoke night at Bill’s: the karaoke lounge is right next to the casino floor. So when you’re up on the stage, you’re the entertainment for the gamblers while they’re taking on the house!
And here’s an additional video of one of the songs I did at Bill’s Lounge. You can see me performing “At This Moment” (the original artist was Billy Vera & the Beaters, no. 41 on VH-1’s list of the top 100 one-hit wonders of the 1980s). This video also provides a little bit of the flavor of how the audience members at Bill’s take an active role in encouraging the performers:
I knew I would find an outstanding experience at Bill’s, having performed there before. But the night proved even more fun than I anticipated, and now ranks among my greatest karaoke evenings of all time. As the above videos reflect, the crowd was exuberant and into every song; and I was well-received by them. The karaoke host, Robert, is a nice guy who runs a top-notch show. And I met some great people — such as Stefan and Desiree, who were in Las Vegas to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary; and Marcus and Irene, a couple visiting all the way from Ireland who’d just gotten married in one of Vegas’s legendary wedding chapels a few months ago and were already making a return visit to Sin City. Can you blame them? I would also be remiss if I failed to mention Ben, who, as far as I’m concerned, won the evening with his brilliant and spirited interpretation of the Clarence Carter song “Strokin'”.
The surpassing quality of my evening at Bill’s Lounge can be summed up as follows: I arrived at about 9:30 pm, planning to stick around for a little while and maybe do one or two songs. At 1:21 a.m. I finally forced myself to depart so that I could scoot back to Circus Circus (the hotel that was hosting TCONA) for more of the trivia games that were still going on. (The scheduled events had wrapped up around midnight, but unofficial competitions continued well into the wee hours of the morning. The folks who show up at TCONA are hardcore!) Even at that late hour, I was ambivalent about making my exit from Bill’s; I could easily have lingered there for much longer. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, I believe in always leaving on a high note. 🙂
And when I wasn’t singing . . .
And now, a few notes on the non-karaoke aspects of my just-concluded long weekend in Vegas. As mentioned, the main focus of the weekend was the trivia conference. TCONA was everything I hoped it would be. The competition, consisting of both individual and team events, was very stiff; attendees included some of the finest trivia types in the United States, and even a few entrants from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Norway. I held my own in many of the events, and while I would have maybe liked to do a little better, the important things for me are that I was challenged; I had the pleasure of going head-to-head with trivia superstars; I got to take part in some truly entertaining and well-designed tests of knowledge; and I learned stuff. (I view getting a question wrong as an opportunity to learn a fact that I didn’t know before; and I enjoy trying to acquire as much knowledge as possible about this amazing world we live in and the people who inhabit it.)
It would also be unthinkable for me to spend time in Las Vegas without hitting the blackjack tables. This time I didn’t fare as well at those tables as on most of my prior trips; but I have no complaints about luck not being a lady for me on this occasion. I’ll make up for it next time. 🙂 And at least I didn’t do anything to unnecessarily sabotage my chances — unlike the novice player at my table who insisted on doubling down on 12. (He did so despite the unanimous warnings from his fellow players as well as the dealer. Predicably, he was then dealt a jack.)
Between the jam-packed TCONA schedule and my periodic escapes to karaoke bars and casino floors, I didn’t have much of a chance to fit in any sightseeing (although I’d already taken in most of the area’s top tourist sites during my prior visits). But I made time to check out Las Vegas’s newest museum: the Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, also known as the Mob Museum (see photo at left). Just opened in February 2012, the Mob Museum occupies a historic building in Las Vegas’s downtown that once contained a federal courthouse. The artifacts and displays fill up three floors, and you can easily spend hours making your way through them. I learned a great deal not only about the history of organized crime, but also about the early history of Las Vegas. The museum provides a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter, and the production values are first-rate. Bonus: a question on one of the quizzes I took at TCONA even asked about a mobster whom I’d just learned about at the Mob Museum the previous day! (And sadly, I’d already forgotten his name, and I got that question wrong. 🙂 Note to self: if it ever comes up again, the name of the man who ran Murder, Inc., and was nicknamed the Lord High Executioner, was Albert Anastasia.)
Due to my lack of down time during the weekend, I was unable to complete and publish a blog entry while I was still in Las Vegas, as I’d been hoping to do. But the present article will still be going live before I land in New York! As I click on the “publish” button on my blog’s dashboard, I’m somewhere over the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. So hello from the upper reaches of the troposphere, and I’ll see you again soon! Now I need to get around to finally finishing my much-delayed Easter Island article. 🙂
I leave you with a photograph depicting one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in Las Vegas: the Boneyard, a junkyard of discarded neon signs from a city that has long made exceptional use of element no. 10 on the periodic table.