Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2017

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Calamity’s comeback

With electric red hair, charcoal eyes and a felony conviction, Calamity Jayne strode into the Boulder City Council meeting Tuesday night intent on securing a liquor license.

She had ridden her nine-piece ensemble -- Calamity Jayne & the Cowpunks -- out of San Diego and across Nevada's "Silver Circuit" between Las Vegas and Reno for a dozen years.

She had championed progressive music, running the Nashville Nevada nightclub on Fremont Street, when the live music scene was withering elsewhere in the city.

Now after serving two years in prison for money laundering, Calamity is looking for something a little less conspicuous.

She says she has found just the thing in Tiffany's Restaurant and underground lounge at the Boulder Dam Hotel, one of the most historic buildings in Boulder City. She has been running the show there for the past weeks but she needs a liquor license to take majority ownership in operation.

Despite letters from three lawyers -- one from U.S. Senate candidate Ed Bernstein -- describing Jayne as "energized," "spiritual," "compassionate" and "intelligent," the council appeared unwilling to budge.

Her application had already been denied once, on Aug. 9, by the liquor board, because city statute prohibits people convicted of a felony or gross misdemeanor from holding a liquor license.

When her turn at the dais came, recognizing the mood of the council, Jayne made a fleet political decision and withdrew her appeal.

"I don't want to put the council in conflict," she said demurely. "I'm putting you all in a bad situation. I apologize for that."

One friend quipped to Jayne as she made her quiet exit: "That's the most timid I've seen you behind a microphone."

Jayne, whose legal name is Cameron Cassidy Jayne, took the meeting in stride, just as she has some of her life's less-laughable moments.

One of those came at the hands of ex-lover Carl "Ernie" Whittenburg, who is serving a life sentence for smuggling massive amounts of cocaine and marijuana into the country. He provided Jayne with the money to purchase the Nashville Nevada, and with that investment came, eventually, Jayne's conviction for laundering drug money.

And her retreat Tuesday night does not seem likely to stop her.

In the Boulder Dam Hotel's candlelit nightclub that Jayne has helped carve out with former associates and band members -- tentatively known as Calamity Jayne's Underground Cabaret -- the music will go on, she said.

The house band will keep playing and Jayne will continue to try to draw names like Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Tom Waits -- three artists she could never attract to her downtown Las Vegas venue.

"They all come to Vegas to party, but they don't want to interfere with their contracts" by playing informally, she said. But an unannounced appearance in an inconspicuous little town like Boulder City might just appeal to certain artists.

As for bandmate Dave "Starbucks" Sizemore, he likes the 100-capacity room over the larger halls he has worked in Las Vegas.

"That's the part I like the best. It's more manageable," he said.

Darryl Martin, a former Boulder City Council member and friend, is optimistic there is a place in this sleepy town for a "Calamity" venture.

"The hotel will be like the romantic spot to come from all of Clark County," he said.

With boutiques opening on the first floor and restoration work moving into the former hotel rooms, the Boulder Dam Hotel is fast becoming an integral part of downtown.

And although her band has dropped from nine to its current four regular members and she is running a boutique of her own down the street, Jayne is still taking the stage.

"I'm not a rebel. I'm eclectic," she said, giving her nails a quick brush of respectable red before the night's city council meeting, replacing the black polish her nails had boasted moments before.

"I'm not eccentric."

Jayne says she could allow other investors to participate in the 70 percent interest offered to her by majority owner Morgan Fisher. Potential investors regularly approach her about becoming a part of the restaurant and club, she said, but she longs for the creative control her felony may be costing her.

"They have to understand what I'm trying to do here so we can work as a team," she says of potential investors.

But withdrawing her appeal may have gained Jayne another important fan.

In the closing minutes of the night's meeting, Councilman Bill Smith commented that Jayne struck him as "very gracious."

"I think she recognizes the community has a real concern for liquor control and such," he said.