Tuesday, June 23, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Was it a message that the Electric Daisy Carnival dare not compete? Was it a message that what you were about to experience was out of this world? There’s never been a country music concert where the setting in advance of the stars uttering a single note was themed like a shining, silver-steel flying saucer.
It separated into three circular sections and lifted skyward in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace as chart-toppers Reba McEntire and rocking partners Brooks & Dunn powered onto the stage. As they set the mood of the night in high-speed propulsion kicking off with a “Whiskey Drinking Cowboy” opening with “Play Something Country,” the side arcs of the metallic flying machine parted to show the huge, full stage.
Out of the box, the trio launched into eight of their No. 1 hits in a mashup with such a fierce force, it was more like a rock show than a country concert — and the fans loved it. They were just as noisy and fun loving as the stage stars, but they also were respectful and removed their Stetsons to prevent people behind being blocked from the view.
It was uber-high energy from the get-go. Reba was kicking up her sequined boots, and Kix Brooks was running and jumping the complete length of the large stage. Only the quieter Ronnie Dunn stood fairly still, but oh the power when he unleashed his voice on “I Believe.”
It had the goose bumps of an evangelical tent revival meeting that won thunderous applause and a standing ovation. There were numerous moments like that throughout the show. Even the 6-foot-6 cowboy in front of me wiped tears from his eyes! Magical and spiritual.
In all, some 30 hits in a two-hour show that didn’t stop from the very first second to the last. The threesome sang together and separately while Reba changed into five outfits, including the slightly risque red sequined gown that came apart to reveal her legs in a shorter, Charleston-type dress. “Its OK to party while Reba changes,” Kix laughed.
Every Reba outfit comes with a new pair of knee-high boots, and she looks fabulous! Most of the time she was in fringed blouses over her jeans. You simply would never believe she’s the veteran star she is at age 60. Performers less than half her age could take a cue from her about giving your all for your fans. She’s the country queen!
It was obvious each one of the trio loved being onstage at Caesars. At one point, Ronnie said: “This is the best room to perform in the world. It’s the best sound onstage I’ve ever heard.” Reba added: “We are having so much fun up here!”
You could call Brooks & Dunn dueling guitarists, but both have their individual styles. This was like a runaway locomotive speeding down the tracks in a nonstop assault of country hits. Their 10-piece backing band was on fire blasting on all cylinders. This was a toe-tapping frenzy with a ton of sass! Rock country or country rock, lasers galore lit up to salute them. Only Motley Crue pyrotechnics were missing, and who needs them when you have these hit-song fireworks?!
It was the first time in five years that Brooks & Dunn were back together. “We are proud to be here,” said Kix. “We needed a break. There was never a rift. A year ago, we had a dinner and talked about this residency. We rode a bus for 20 years trying to get off. We needed a job.”
“I just remember a lot of tequila,” Ronnie interjected quietly.
The duo calls Reba their referee and best friend. She calls them her best buddies. A lot of their dialogue onstage is off the cuff. On the rundown, it’s simply listed as “talk,” and they have interesting tales to tell. Reba’s story of her first video in 1986 on HBO after an Aretha Franklin video is priceless.
She explained that they’d picked their songs because “they matter to us.” Kix had a punch line: “We didn’t want zippity. This is not the Dunny and M-Reba show. These are the songs that matter.”
Nearing the two-hour mark, not one drop of energy has evaporated from the stage. They are still going strong with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” and Kix pulls a girl from the second row to dance with him atop the stage steps. I looked up to the upper balcony, and fans there were dancing along. And it’s with the same frenzied energy the trio began the show with 120 minutes earlier. Talk about ensuring that fans get their money’s worth.
It’s so obvious that these three are the best of friends. I chatted with them before the show:
You’ve been hanging out together in Caesars Palace ever since you arrived. Go back to the time that the three of you connected as friends. When was that, and why have you never gotten on each other’s nerves?
Reba: Well, hold on, Robin. We didn’t say that — we won’t go that far! We toured in ’93 to ’94, ’97 to ’98 but really started hanging out more a lot later.
Ronnie: Reba was our boss. You know, she was the first person who really took us on tour. So we worked for her. We admired her, and everybody was pleasant. There wasn’t any odd stuff going on.
Reba: It wasn’t like it was now.
Ronnie: We had to bring to the star curtain with you, the vanity thing. When we first met her. It was like …
Reba: I will beat the fire outta you (laughter)! He is full of it!
Ronnie: I’m serious!
You never know when you’re kidding or not.
Ronnie: We showed up, and Reba was the first one to ever give us a job out on tour. There were like four tours that were happening at the time. We were lucky to have four No. 1’s in a row, so we had the momentum really quick to go out and get like $100 a night. And Reba was kind enough to pay that (laughter).
Kix: I will say this, though, Ronnie and I miraculously started heating up as a band. I remember Reba and her husband Narvel (Blackstock) came into our dressing room and said, “Guys, you don’t have to ask for it. We’re giving you a raise. Because we think you’re going to have a really big career, and we wanna be friends in the future.”
And I thought that was really cool. Really old pro, good stuff. I don’t think we really knew each other until both of our careers were in the hotspot when we co-headlined the first time. And of course Reba has her own jet and invited Ronnie and I to fly with her. And that’s when we started visiting a little bit.
Reba: I don’t think we started hanging out a lot, though, until 2011 when we went duck hunting down in Louisiana and went on vacations together. That’s when it really started. Now when Caesars came a-calling, we knew Las Vegas meant great restaurants for me and great golf for them. How could you say no?
What’s the chemistry among the three of you?
Reba: We all three are fun-loving people. We work hard, we play hard. And love to cut up.
Ronnie: I think there’s a certain sensibility. We’re all kind of from the same area. Kix is from Louisiana, but it’s northern Louisiana.
Reba: That’s close to where I grew up.
* * *
This repartee among them works brilliantly with the audience, too. There are 10 “talk” spots in the packed rundown that ends with an emotional “My Maria,” Reba’s “Fancy” and the “Only in America” tribute to our troops with eight Navy sailors onstage saluting.
There’s something special about country audiences. They’re patriotic, loyal and fierce defenders of what makes America great. Reba and Brooks & Dunn certainly are part of the music fabric of this country, and there’s a powerful message of common sense, strict values, downhome family and love for America all wrapped in a sizzling entertainment spectacular.
I think if the 2016 presidential candidates burn out, Reba could easily become president, Kix a fun-loving vice president and Ronnie our sober secretary of state. They’d have the world clapping in unison very quickly. They sure had 4,300 fans in the palms of their hands at Caesars, including me. All of us would have taken off with the three of them if that space ship had been real.
Something tells me that they will be Las Vegas headliners for quite a while. I asked them if, after a couple of shows, they could tell that they would be here for a long ride? Said Reba: “They haven’t asked yet. It may be too early. We don’t know who will ask.” Chimed in Kix: “If they do, we will!”
For now, they’ll be performing through July 4 and then return Dec. 2-12 during National Finals Rodeo. Watch for 2016 dates to be announced before the end of the year!
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.