Las Vegas Sun

August 15, 2018

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Why ‘Vegas throat’ has performers all choked up

In 1997 when U2 embarked on its "PopMart" world tour, the band looked no further than Sin City as the perfect site to kickoff the event.

Four years later Las Vegas not only missed out on being the opening site for U2's "Elevation" North American tour that honor went to Miami but the city isn't even on the band's concert schedule.

The unoffical reason given for the omission: The area's dry climate plays havoc on Bono's throat.

Lest the lads from Ireland get a bad rap, it's not just a problem experienced by U2.

Before Bon Jovi played the MGM Grand Garden Arena in April, band namesake and front man Jon Bon Jovi reportedly said he wouldn't perform in Las Vegas again because the dry air adversely affects his voice.

The singer was so concerned with the area's lack of humidity, the use of backstage humidifiers was included in contract negotiations.

Although there is no clinical term for the ailment, "Vegas throat," or "Vegas voice" or even "desert throat" is common among performers who play Las Vegas.

"(Vegas throat) is a condition of (a) chronically hoarse-sounding voice, like that gravel voice you get," said Dr. Sharon Frank, one of three doctors who practice at Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists of Nevada.

"Most patients describe that it comes on with what they see as a post-nasal drip, that mucus is draining down the back of their throat causing them to chronically want to clear the back of their throat."

Other symptoms include severe dryness of the throat and irritation, scratchiness and sometimes itchiness, Frank said, all of which result in a change in the voice and the way it sounds.

The main cause of Vegas throat is dryness, she said, although high levels of dust, pollution and pollen play contributing factors.

That was the case at KXTE 107.5-FM's "Our Big Concert 4" on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Hot, dry wind, towering clouds of dust and not a trace of moisture in the air -- it was a bad day to be a singer.

Sitting backstage, Coby Dick, frontman for rap-rock fusion band Papa Roach, could tell early on.

"I woke up this morning and blew my nose and blood came out," Dick said. "I can already feel my voice getting raspy."

And the California band was still an hour and half from taking the stage and closing out the daylong concert.

It's not just singers who have this problem, either.

When comedian Kevin James performed recently at Paris Las Vegas' Le Theatre des Arts, his throat was drying out before he took the stage. His condition worsened and James was baffled.

"He didn't realize what he had until our (talent) coordinator told him about Vegas throat," said Andy Maiden, public relations manager with the Paris Las Vegas. "They turned on his humidifier in his room and it took care of it."

Humidifier, please

Maiden said many celebrities who have performed at Paris Las Vegas, including Barry Manilow, Natalie Cole and Dennis Miller, have requested use of humidifiers.

The machines proved so popular among entertainers that the MGM Grand Garden Arena had humidifiers built into the rooms backstage in case performers request them.

For some, however, that's going too far.

"I see people come into town so worried about drying up -- they have humidifiers everywhere," famed crooner and Las Vegas resident Robert Goulet said. "Drink some water and use throat lozenges."

Goulet added that it's not necessarily the climate that's the sole culprit behind Vegas throat, but the fact that today's singers were never properly trained in how to take care of their voices and how to sing.

Instead, he contends, they simply rely on their throat to produce the sounds when it should come from much lower -- in the gut and rear-end -- and travel upward.

"It's like when people who shout at the baseball and football games and then get a sore throat," Goulet said.

Compounding matters is usually, while the performer is here, the temptations of the city prove too great. That means late nights, alcohol, perhaps smoking or at least being in smoky environments -- none of which is helpful to an entertainer's throat.

And while after-hours activities may not be out of the ordinary for a performer in any other city, factor in that Vegas is the driest city in the United States, according to the National Weather Service. The combination is often too much for vocal cords to take.

"You have to take more precautions here," said Clint Holmes, who performs six nights a week at Harrah's. "If you don't know what you're doing, that's a problem anywhere. But it'll exacerbate itself here."

Holmes said he takes a 20-minute steam shower and drinks two bottles of water before each performance, and during the show he drinks three more bottles. He also takes throat lozenges.

"We're in a desert. Suck up as much water as you can," he said.

But that doesn't always work.

Alternative methods

Female impersonator Frank Marino was in Las Vegas 16 years without experiencing any vocal problems, before waking up one day to find he was unable to speak.

At the suggestion of many doctors, Marino started using fake saliva spray to help provide moisture, but no one -- locally or nationally -- has been able to diagnose his problem.

"The doctors can't come up with any other reason I keep losing my voice. It's not something medically speaking," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, call it Vegas throat, because there's no other name for it so far."

Jeff Katz, morning disc jockey on KXNT 840-AM, said he had heard about Vegas throat from friends before moving to Las Vegas from Boston.

"They gave me heads-up on what to expect," he said.

But recently the ailment cost Katz time at work.

"I actually had to take a day off from work, which basically I don't do," Katz said. "But it had gotten so bad that I lost my voice."

So during a show he interviewed Dr. Cass Ingram from Chicago about the problem.

Ingram, a nutritional physician and author of several books, including "Lifesaving Cures," which indirectly deals with Vegas throat, recommended oil of oregano.

"I thought he was nuts," Katz said. "But he overnighted me some of the stuff, I used it and it was fine."

Now Katz uses it every day, along with gargling hot salt water, he said, and the problem is much better.

Ingram said the reason behind Vegas throat isn't just dryness, but all the molds and fungus in the air, too.

"In a dry climate, mold does survive very well. And when the dust kicks up, you inhale that," he said.

But in all the studies Ingram has conducted, oil of oregano, which is available at most health-food stores, killed the bacteria, molds and fungus, Ingram said.

"You don't want the low-grade stuff," he cautioned. "The higher grade is more costly, running $25 to $30 a bottle, but it's worth it."

He also recommended drinking four ounces of apple cider, vinegar and raw honey mixed together; or chicken- or beef-based broth, with finely chopped yellow onions and ginger roots mixed in that's been boiled for 15 to 20 minutes -- making sure to breathe in the fumes -- and then drinking it.

Even if those remedies don't cure Vegas throat, that's still not a reason to exclude playing Las Vegas, many performers said.

"Tough it up," Dick said.