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August 20, 2014

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How the Bellagio Conservatory boss dug up the scoop on Santana’s percussionist

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Edison Graff

Carlos Santana and Gregg Rolie join Neal Schon onstage during Journey’s concert at Pearl at the Palms on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013.

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Artist Dale Evers' 13-foot guitar sculpture for Carlos Santana and House of Blues is unveiled at HOB in Mandalay Bay on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. Santana, Evers (in black) and Paul Reed Smith (in striped shirt) of PRS Guitars attended the unveiling.

SOMEWHERE 35,000 FEET OVER MEXICO — At this writing the Kats Report Bureau is a flight from VegasVille to Guadalajara, for a visit tied to Carlos Santana’s concert Saturday night at Vincente Fernandez Arena. The show is an unveiling of Santana’s upcoming album “Corazon,” in which he delves artistically into the time he spent growing up just south of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco.

Santana is to be joined in concert and on the album by a collection of artists cutting a wide swath across Latin culture. Those set to appear Saturday night (with their various country of origins included parenthetically) include Chocquibtown (Colombia), Gloria Estefan (Cuba), Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (Argentina), Juanes (Colombia), Miguel (USA), Niña Pastori (Spain), Samuel Rosa of Skank (Brazil), Salvador Santana (USA), Soledad (Argentina) and Diego Torres (Argentina). Appearing on the album but not in the show are Lila Downs (Mexico), Ziggy Marley (Jamaica), and Romeo Santos (Dominican Republic), with Marley the lone non-Latin artist to appear on the album.

No release date is yet set for “Corazon,” and it is not known how much Santana will sample from the new album during his shows at House of Blues, which resume in January. But this does promise an inventive and musically satisfying project, much like a Latin-ized version of Santana’s terrific collaborative all-star CD from the fall of 2010, “Guitar Heaven,” released when he was still in residency at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.

We’ll rake out a little more here as we groove to the turbulence on this AeroMexico aircraft:

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Tony Lindsay, lead singer for Carlos Santana and winner of 11 grammies, performs during a fundraiser to benefit trombonist Mike Turnbull, who is recovering from stage-four thyroid cancer, at New Song Anthem Church Saturday, May 11, 2013.

• Pepe Jimenez of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns and Frankie Moreno’s band at the Stratosphere is playing percussion on the Santana gig.

I learned of this in the most obvious fashion: Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens chief Andres Garcia told me.

How this happened: Garcia was leading me on a tour of the Christmas display when we stopped at the small stage to the right of the Conservatory entrance (just behind the polar bears; you can’t miss it). Garcia said he’d recruited a great drummer in town to play with the music ensemble as part of the attraction.

“A guy, Pepe, from Puerto Rico,” Garcia said. “He is my buddy, but I am losing him for a few days because he is with Santana in Guadalajara.”

“If you are talking about Pepe Jimenez,” I said, laughing, “he is also my buddy, and it looks like I’ll see him in Guadalajara.”

The link between the Santa Fe band and Santana is strong in Las Vegas. Periodically members of Santana’s backing outfit (or, if you will, “band”) show up at Santa Fe’s shows at the Lounge at the Palms whenever Santana is booked at House of Blues. Multiple Grammy Award-winner Tony Lindsay sings with Jerry Lopez and the guys whenever he has a chance, which is frequently and not often enough.

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New “Jubilee!” creative consultant Frank Gatson Jr.

• Where might you experience some genuine grousing? At “Jubilee.” The cast of the legendary Donn Arden teeming-with-showgirls production has not uniformly appreciated the unvarnished approach of Frank Gatson Jr., known for his inspired work with myriad superstars (Beyonce and Michael Jackson, for starters). Gatson arrived in mid-October and made it clear he planned some significant changes in the long-running show, which opened at the old MGM Grand in 1981.

Gatson’s criticism of the condition of the performers (principally the men in the show) and costumes he feels are outdated, pointless and — worse — boring, has not been uniformly appreciated. The show is expected to go dark for a few weeks after Veronic DiCaire closes her current run Jan. 18 (Caesars Entertainment has announced she will return to Bally’s in the spring) to allow for Gatson’s directives to be put in place. As one Caesars official noted recently, Gatson’s aggressive attitude and respect for the show’s history are exactly what “Jubilee” needs to keep pace with the top productions along the Strip. But as they say at the gym (where Gatson says some of the show’s improvements will be realized) no pain, no gain.

“Jubilee,” as always, is one of the shows that producers of national telecasts seek when developing vintage-Vegas production numbers. The American Country Awards dropped host Danica Patrick into a dance number with “Jubilee” cast members to open Monday night’s show. At 5-foot-2, Patrick is a half-foot shorter than the required height to perform as a “Jubilee” showgirl, and joked from the stage, “There’s no chance of having a wardrobe malfunction, because there’s not much to malfunction.”

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From left at the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame at the Orleans Arena; Michael Gaughan, Bob Thain, Berlyn Miller, Keith Martin, Tom Collins, Rossi Ralenkotter, Aaron Enget, Shawn Davis, Pat Christensen, June 6, 2009.

• On the topic of live events rich with Vegas tradition, South Point owner Michael Gaughan says he is “an eternal optimist” that the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo will return to Las Vegas in 2015. The standing 10-year pact ends after the 2014 rodeo. When asked what his gut told him about the likelihood of a new 10-year deal being agreed upon, Gaughan said, “I am hopeful. It is my hope that the NFR will return to Las Vegas. That is where all of our energy is right now, and I don’t want to talk about a scenario where something else will come in and replace it.” Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said on Friday that a “like” event would be lined up for 2015 if the WNFR is indeed uprooting and leaving the Thomas & Mack Center after a 30-year run. That event would conceivably be a rodeo-styled event, customized especially for Las Vegas with top contestants competing on an invitation-only basis.

Gaughan says National Finals Rodeo Committee members asked for a timeframe of when the two sides might sit down again, Gaughan said, “We talk all the time. There are more informal talks than formal talks,” and expects some resolution within 30 days.

“We’ve been through this before,” he said. “We went through it 10 years ago, and 10 years before that. I have to believe we can get it done.”

• On the topic of Mr. Gaughan’s calendar, Jerry Lewis is returning to South Point Showroom on Dec. 19. This is the second appearance by Lewis at the South Point this year, following a set of three dates back in May. All of those dates sold out as Lewis took fans on a sentimental journey of film and TV clips and recently unearthed anecdotes. Lewis did not assemble a band or orchestra for the show, singing only at the end with “Somebody” from the movie “Cinderfella.” Expect that type of performance Thursday. As Gaughan noted, Lewis has more than 400 hours of footage from which to choose when dialing in one of these live performances, and in May produced a rare clip of him performing a sketch with a very young Carol Burnett, which was a terrifically funny and moving moment. Lewis spent an hour and 15 minutes onstage in each of his shows in May, finishing strong each night and (naturally) leaving ‘em wanting more.

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Sami Saula, center performs " with, from left: Chris Davis, Phil Kismartoni, Shana Tucker, Eric Schribner, Ashley Korak and, Adrianna Thurber.

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Criss Angel celebrates the fifth anniversary of his Cirque du Soleil show “Believe” at the Luxor on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, at a party at Rx Boiler Room in Mandalay Place.

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Erica Linz balances atop Kyle DesChamp and Pierre-Luc Sylvain during Circus Couture “Possession(s)” at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Linz is president and co-founder of Circus Couture.

• Luxor headiner-on-the-mend Criss Angel provided some spark (and by “spark” we mean “money”) to the Circus Couture "Possession(s)" event held Sunday night at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel. The event was loaded with acts from artists in productions around town, especially those representing Cirque du Soleil, and also drew in a live and silent auction of artwork and custom attire. Angel delivered bids of several thousand dollars (organizers were not saying just how much he dropped, but it was a lot) on a night that surpassed $100,000 for the dual charities the Children's Specialty Center of Nevada (the state's only pediatric cancer treatment center that accepts patients with or without medical insurance,) and our mane-shearing friends at St. Baldrick's Foundation (which raises money for childhood cancer research).

Angel is out of “Believe” at Luxor for two months beginning in January, his first extended absence in five years with the show, so he can undergo long-overdue shoulder surgery. “Criss Angel Magic Jam” will pull together a variety of artists with a shared love of magic. Angel’s friend Nathan Burton (known mostly for his show at Flamingo Las Vegas), ace mentalist Banachek and the woman Angel says is the top female magician anywhere, Krystyn Lambert, head up the new production.

• On the topic of Cirque and community outreach, the waltz “Valsa Sasoun” was debuted during the Circus Couture event. written by “Ka” artist Sami Saula and recorded in October by Saul and a backing band recruited specifically for the session. The tune was recorded in memory of the late “Ka” artist Sarah Guillot-Guyard, killed June 29 after a fall in the show, and has been posted on Guillot-Guyard’s tribute page, ForSasoun.com. Click to the song and you’ll find an option to donate to the Cure 4 the Kids charity, which assists children in Southern Nevada suffering from cancer and other catastrophic diseases receive treatment regardless of their ability to pay. Oh, and you will be allowed the download a spirited waltz played by great musicians, too.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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