Smitty: Well, it is the place to be in April, my friend. Give me the dates.
MS: The dates, again, are Saturday, April 26th, from one o’clock in the afternoon to 10 p.m., and from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, April 27th.
Smitty: Wow, well, my calendar’s marked, my friend. (Laughs.)
MS: That’s good, that’s terrific. We entertain people and we think we do a really good job in fabulous Las Vegas.
Smitty: Yes indeed. I second that because I can testify that that is so true. Michael, with all of the time and work involved in putting on this great festival every year, you have found time to write a book. Talk to me about the book.
MS: About four years ago, Smitty, I decided that maybe I’ve had an interesting life being one of the oldest independent promoters still standing. A lot of promoters were absorbed into either the House of Blues concert system or into Live Nation.
I think it was my good fortune not to be absorbed. A couple of us decided not to go down that road. But, you know, when we really go back, there was only 20 of us in the United States that were promoting shows and as my life unfolded, I got to promote every type of act imaginable, and if I’m doing my math correctly, this is my fifth decade in the business. I have been around music for 50 years, live concerts, producing them. That’s not just watching them; that’s producing them. That would be the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and the millennium years. That’s a lot of things that I have seen, a lot of different acts.
MS: My first shows were $3.50 and the service charge was 25 cents. For that you were able to see arena acts in the Las Vegas Convention Center Rotunda like Steppenwolf or Three Dog Night or Lee Michaels…
MS: Things that, you know, were the acts of the day. As I went down the road—the miles of aisles, if you will—the war stories started to surface. It’s not easy being a concert promoter, especially back when the road was being paved by all of us.
You know, rock and roll just came on the scene out of nowhere in the fifties. There were no guidelines, there were no rules. There was really no way to open up a book to learn how to do it. We were fighting the old guard from the Eisenhower days. I don’t mean to date myself, but a lot of those military people were running venues back in the sixties. They didn’t like rock and roll so, I mean, there was always this situation you were going through educating them that we’re okay, you’re okay type of scenario.
I’ve taken my life and I’ve recorded it into a dozen chapters that gives you a feeling of what it’s like to be born in Las Vegas. It was an unusual childhood. Where else are you going to be five years old and looking at long legged show girls with pasties? I mean, quite frankly, it was a unique and interesting experience. I grew up as a child in an adult world and my babysitters were Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
Smitty: That’s certainly unique and interesting.
MS: That’s the fact. I was thrown into that showroom—or that lounge—more times than I can remember because my parents were busy and they said “Here, watch Michael and give him a sandwich.”
MS: And I’d watch the bands work out, and with that I began to learn how things were constructed musically, or at least I thought I knew. I don’t know. I mean, I was there, I witnessed it, I felt it, and it gave me an edge going into the sixties when music became a way of life for us all. And so following the sixties into the seventies and on and on and on, as the music scene changed, I would find myself doing this type of scenario at my pinnacle as a rock promoter, which was doing a truck and tractor pull mud bog, a 15,000-seater on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday I would move over to a 2,000-seater and produce David Sanborn in it. On Sunday I’d have Stevie Wonder back at the 15,000-seater, at Thomas & Mack Center, and the following week I would have the Moody Blues in a different amphitheater. So I was always a very busy, busy person and doing various styles of music in those days, and my experiences and my war stories and my shenanigans, if you will.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Yeah, exactly, but, you know, you had to have some shenanigans. You were in Vegas, man.
MS: Well, I think it was shenanigans is what kept an alert promoter ahead of the status quo. And it actually made organizations that would try to stop rock and roll back in there, and there were many a time in Nevada they tried to do that with laws, but it kept them off guard and they thought maybe he’s dangerous. (Both laugh.) At any rate, it’s all being finished up in the book and there’s some projections as to places that I will be moving into. Again, history as to the different aspects of the concert business, its osmosis, if you will. Its history and where it’s moving from and not necessarily if that’s good or bad. You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Smitty: All right, we look forward to the announcement of the release of this great book.
MS: Hopefully in six months. Right after the festival I’ll finish up the remaining chapters and an agent will probably get it shopped and delivered soon.
Smitty: Very cool. Well, I look forward to getting the press release. (Laughs.)
MS: Very good. Thank you.
Smitty: Well, Michael, I must say that for all the years that you have been a concert promoter and this great festival you’ve done for the past 16 years in Las Vegas, you have reached legendary status, my friend, and this festival, I think, too, is really coming into the area of legendary status as well, and one has to only look back at what you’ve done with this festival and the acts that have come across your stage in Las Vegas for the past 16 years, and I applaud you for what you’ve done.
MS: Thank you so much, Smitty. You know, the torch will be passed to someone who is equally conscientious in the next two or three years and 16 will become 32 and 32 will become 64, and the festival will go on and on.
Smitty: Well, that’s great news to hear and we certainly look forward to those great years in the future of this wonderful festival, but in the immediate, I look forward to, as well as many fans, the 16th Annual Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz and R&B Festival, Saturday and Sunday, April 26th and 27th, 2008. Be there.
MS: That’s it. Thank you so much.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
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