Lady Luck, Colorado Style 

The Vegas circuit meets Cripple Creek at the Palladium

When you've got Lou Rawls filling the air underneath the blue, blue mountain skies of the Colorado Rockies with that velvet, velvet voice, who needs Vegas?

And when youve got Momma Nature getting in on the act -- piling puffy white clouds upon each other until, just as Rawls starts in on his version of Satchmos What a Wonderful World, a light rain begins to fall -- who needs Vegas?

This is summertime, turning to autumn, old-time Colorado style. In its inaugural season, the Gold Rush Palladium in Cripple Creek has pulled in such acts as Freddie Fender, Mickey Thomas and Starship, and Chris Daniels. On Sept. 16, Bill Haley and the Comets are scheduled to play the new, wood fence-lined, open-air theater in the gold mine/ gambling town west of Colorado Springs, and Shauna Russell will finish out the season on Sept. 23.

Theres something excruciatingly comforting about going to hear great music in Colorado where the new venue isnt named after a soft drink or a beer or a dotcom company.

Its satisfying beyond measure to breathe the randy atmosphere of historic integrity in the preserved, old gold-mining-town-turned-gambling-mecca.

And its fine when, after the show, you can head next door and enjoy an delicious plate of spaghetti with a glass of merlot where you dont pay a fortune and the waitress might well have been that nice lady who babysat you a long time ago.

Then, of course, theres the gambling. All of the casinos lining Main Street have those newfangled machines, and you seriously have to figure out how to manipulate them if you hope to seriously woo Lady Luck. Or, you can stick with the less-complicated, old-fashioned one-armed bandits, with the familiar sevens, the bars and the cherries. You still might not win the jackpot, but thats all relative.

Its inspiring, driving out of the valley as dusk settles in, to see the shadow of that old mineshafts smile, the mineshaft standing sentry on the side of the hill as it has for nearly 150 years. That old mining building is rusty and weathered and starting to slide down the mountain, but its a far, far sight better than, say, an army of prefab condos lining the ridge.

Last Sunday, the ageless Rawls harkened back to the time when somebody told you what to do, you did it. He joked about Ed Sullivan and his cup of coffee; well, you thought it was coffee. Like it was yesterday, Rawls talked about when Tricky Dick was trying to run a number on us, assuring the people that there were no troops in Vietnam.

Mostly he gave us his gift.

Rawls promised only the old songs, the stuff of magic, and with his grooving five-man band he delivered the unforgettable classics. With his smooth, wide grin, he sashayed from Room with a View right into Your Good Thing (Is About to End). In the soft summer breeze, he told the audience to tighten up to their sweethearts while he belted out Lady Love, and they did. His trademark, Youll Never Find Another Love Like Mine, brought shivers and his Im Your Hootchie Cootchie Man exemplified the prototype.

Me and Barry White, we invented [the] rap back in nineteen mumble mumble, Rawls said, evoking belly laughs from the audience, a refreshingly diverse crowd. But [the new crop] took it to a whole new level.

The Palladium wasnt packed, but luckily Rawls confided that this is a little-known secret Im going to share with my friends.

Hes just still so classy, after all these years, said Deborah Elgis, the manager at the Gold Rush Hotel and Casino restaurant next door to the Palladium.

The night before the show, Elgis said, Rawls and his bass player pulled up in a limo in front of the casino and came inside for a meatball sandwich. Rawls made a point of talking with the waitstaff, many of them too young to know who he is, she said.

And yes, he made an impression.


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