Downtown, not The Strip, wows Liane Hansen on her first Las Vegas visit

Liane Hansen, far left, and Jennifer Cornthwaite, far right, in an impromptu confab at The Beat.
Photo: John Katsilometes

In her stand-up show at Harrah’s, Rita Rudner has said that no matter where you are from, Las Vegas is the opposite.

Liane Hansen laughs at the thought, but she doesn’t fully agree.

“I could go to Times Square and get the same type of flash and glitz,” says the longtime host of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday. “There’s no gambling, and there’s a different product being sold on Broadway than there is on The Strip. But I imagine if you lived in a small town in a flyover state, where Las Vegas is so much bigger and brighter, that would be true.”

Liane Hansen, host of NPR's <em>Weekend Edition Sunday</em>

Liane Hansen, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday

Hansen visited Las Vegas for the first time a couple of weeks ago for a series of reports about our region that aired last Sunday and conclude this Sunday.

Last weekend, the show featured Hansen’s session with Mayor Oscar Goodman in his office at City Hall, a segment focusing on unemployed low-skilled workers that was hosted and produced by KNPR’s Adam Burke and a report about the city’s sluggish recovery from recession. Hansen opened that report by saying the city reminded her of what Somerset Maugham once said of Monaco: “It’s a sunny place for shady people.” Interviews last weekend ranged from Goodman to oft-tapped financial analyst Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis to 41-year-old Las Vegan Lorraine Valdez, who was recently laid off from a local printing company.

On Sunday’s show, scheduled to air from 5 to 9 a.m. on KNPR 88.9-FM, Hansen mixes it up once more. She visits Jubilee! at Bally’s, fulfilling a long fantasy to hobnob with real-life showgirls. She checks in on the Nevada Cancer Institute to gauge the city’s efforts to become a national center for advanced health care. She focuses on Southern Nevada’s attempts to diversify its economy by investigating such newer technologies as solar power and visits the Sempra Energy solar plant in Boulder City.

Hansen also takes a flier from a Bally’s PR rep and drops in on The Beat Coffeehouse at Emergency Arts to check out Fremont East and experience the bubbling new activity and investment happening just off the Fremont Street Experience. That downtown visit led to an unexpected interview with Beat and Emergency Arts proprietor Jennifer Cornthwaite, which led to an even more unexpected interview with me and Brian Paco Alvarez, who were hanging out at The Beat when Hansen showed up.

Hansen says she came away startled at the sheer volume of people who visit Las Vegas. “It was a surprise to me to see so many people there. There were lots of foreign tourists, lots of tourists from across the country, and it is certainly a great place to people watch. I really enjoyed that.”

As is the case with many first-time visitors to Las Vegas, Hansen said she had no idea of what the city offered outside The Strip.

“I had no idea what it was like when I got there,” she said. “But to go downtown, to see The Beat and the (Emergency Arts) art galleries and studios and right next to El Cortez, that combination of old and new, was very interesting to me. Downtown is authentic, it has a seedier feeling to it, the stuff down there is old. I like the old, opposed to the constant shine on The Strip.”

Hansen says she views the Las Vegas assignment as a sort of going-away gift from NPR, where she has worked for 35 years, the past 21 as host of Weekend Edition Sunday. But she will be back, she says, to visit the Neon Boneyard, Red Rock National Park, Symphony Park (especially the Smith Center for Performing Arts and Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health) and some of the wedding chapels on Las Vegas Boulevard she’s heard a lot about.

“I left there feeling like the day after Halloween, having eaten too much candy,” she said, laughing. “I’d overdosed on all the lights and sounds and people.”

Whenever Hansen has fully recovered and is ready for a second swing through Vegas, there will be a seat awaiting her at The Beat.

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