The first time I ever saw Clint Holmes perform live was about a decade ago, and it was not at Golden Nugget or Harrah's.
It was at Las Vegas Athletic Club on Sahara Avenue and Decatur Boulevard.
Holmes was pedaling with great intent on an exercise bike. I recall him being wreathed in sweat, watching a Yankees-Red Sox game on one of the gym’s TVs. I was wandering by, smoothie in hand, and introduced myself as “a big fan,” though I’d never actually seen Holmes’ show. At that moment, I was wearing a burgundy Washington State University hat with a big white “W” stitched over the bill, and Holmes asked if I was a Washington Redskins fan, because he happens to be a ’Skins backer.
I said I was a 49ers fan, and he asked about the hat.
“Wazzu,” I said, referring to Washington State as those in Pullman would. He didn’t know what I was talking about. We ended the awkward exchange with him saying, “I need to finish this,” referring either to the conversation, the 12 minutes remaining in his workout, or both.
Since, Holmes and I have become good friends, and he is one of my favorite people in the city. The fact that he is one of the great entertainers you will see anywhere is almost beside the point, except when you learn that Holmes will be the resident headliner in the Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts series beginning in the spring of 2012.
Starting in April, Holmes is booked to perform on the first Friday and Saturday of each month. He might well add a Sunday afternoon matinee show, too. Holmes will headline at the double-level, 258-seat theater in Boman Pavilion, named for Smith Center board member and benefactor Dr. Keith Boman. Tickets will be $35 to $50.
The jazz/cabaret theater sits high and overlooks Symphony Park. As Holmes says, it will be the equal of any club of its size in the country.
“The first time I got to tour it, I thought, ‘This is as beautiful as any theater I’ve been in,’ ” says Holmes, who has just this year performed at Feinstein’s at Lowes Regency in New York. “Acoustically, it’s going to be at that level, too.”
This is a music venue in its purest form. The club will offer table seating near the stage and high-top tables closer to, well, the bar. Food will be served, and it should be the first traditionally designed jazz club (or, in this case, jazz/cabaret club) in the city since the Blue Note closed at what is now Harmon Theater at Krave at Harmon and The Strip.
Others booked to play the club are the San Francisco Jazz Collective and Branford Marsalis, whose most recent appearance in Las Vegas was at Ham Hall this year. Famed cabaret performers Barbara Cook and Andrea Marcovicci are among the early headliners at the Smith Center, and Linda Eder also is committed to the venue.
A classically trained vocalist who is famously the son of a British opera singer and black jazz musician, Holmes is best known for his five-year run at Harrah’s, which ended in 2006. He initially moved to Las Vegas to perform at the Golden Nugget, where his singing-in-the-shower billboard ad campaign turned a lot of heads.
Since he left Harrah’s, Holmes has been touring the country and performing on cruise ships, returning home to play such Vegas hotel-casinos as the Suncoast. He’s apt to step onstage with Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns at the Palms, or at his wife Kelly Clinton Holmes’ cabaret show Monday nights at Bootlegger Bistro. He’s also performed, impromptu, at Stirling Club at Turnberry Place, where Clinton-Holmes is entertainment director.
Over the past few months, there has been talk that Holmes might take up residence at the Stratosphere. That concept honestly never felt quite right, as Holmes would be sharing headlining status at the hotel with the quirky adult production “Bite” and the triumvirate of thrill rides atop the hotel. The Smith Center certainly will offer a more refined venue, though Holmes can perform effectively in any forum. His awesome performance of Sammy Davis Jr.’s “What Kind of Fool Am I” at the Golden Rainbow “Ribbon of Life” benefit show in June reinforced that fact.
But to catch Holmes at close range is the ideal way to appreciate the power of his voice and his appeal as a well-rounded performer.
“People will tell you that seeing him in an intimate room is a really great experience,” says Smith Center Chief Executive Officer and President Myron Martin, a friend of Holmes since the two met in New York in 1991, several years before either moved to Las Vegas. “He is one of the best singers in the world, one of the extraordinary talents of our lifetime.”
Holmes plans on inviting Las Vegas musicians to join his three- or four-piece band onstage. “I’ve already thought of calling Jerry Lopez as a special guest,” Holmes says, referring to the bandleader of Santa Fe, whose ensemble backed Holmes during his entire run at Harrah’s. “I have a feeling Santa Fe is going to be involved in this.”
Martin stresses, “This is different from a showroom experience. The Smith Center campus, period, was built for those of us who live here. Las Vegas just doesn’t have a great jazz club or cabaret space, or a club for grown-ups who want to have a great night on the town.”
Away from his commitment at Boman Pavilion, Holmes will continue to perform across the country. A highlight in October is his performances in “Remembering Bobby Short” at Cafe Carlysle in New York, from Oct. 11-29. He’s booked at Suncoast in December and Harrah’s on New Year’s Eve, leading into his appearances at the Smith Center.
“What we want is, when someone walks up to a concierge in town and asks, ‘Where do the locals go?’ Over time, the answer will be to see this show at the Smith Center,” Martin says.
Holmes, as always, is mostly seeking what he calls “a cool hang.”
“For me and the things I’ve been trying to do in the past few years since Harrah’s, it’s perfect,” Holmes says. “It’s geared around the community, it’s exciting and new and different. It’s just great to have this kind of place to hang out, you know?”
Yep. For Holmes, it is a concept as simple as riding a bike. Or, in his case, an exercise bike.