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HARD ROCK OF AGES: As it nears closure, Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opens memorabilia exhibit that will (that will) rock you

Sinatra’s martini glass? Liberace’s rings-’n-things? Dino’s hangover cure?

Sorry, not here, gang. True, those Strip heroes swung hard and played harder to turn Las Vegas into Vegas, baby!

They never rocked, though. Certainly, they never Hard-Rocked.

Which is why, in this Hard-Rockin’ room, you’ll instead find James Brown’s “SEX” jumpsuit and Pete Townshend’s smashed-in-half stage axe. Not to mention (fine, we’ll mention it) Britney’s come-hither schoolgirl outfit in which she channeled the spirit of Nabokov’s Lolita into a 3-1/2-minute pop-anthem video, triggering worldwide leers.

View it, baby, one more time. Right here. (Click on an image to start slideshow. Story continued below gallery.)

“What’s going to make the fans stop and go, ‘Oooh, I remember that — that’s the THING!’”

Providing this scholarly breakdown on the proper art of exhibit design — his voice the timbre of a 10-year-old about to dig a tall spoon deep into a massive banana split — is Beau Dobney, coordinator of exhibits for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas.

“When you realize that’s the real deal in front of you, it hits you and you’re like, OH, MAN!”

Jot down that academic treatise — it’s all about the WOW factor. And lots of WOW factors into the Hard Rock Memorabilia Exhibition through January 2020, factors that jumpstart the rock-’n’-rollin’ resort’s extended swan song of events — a grand farewell to the brand — before it commences transformation into Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. (In February, the property is expected to shutter during renovations, before reopening with the Virgin brand in late-2020.)

“This is a big nod to how much of a linchpin this hotel was for this city when it came to the cool factor — this was THE place,” Dobney says. “I was talking to somebody about 1995, and they were saying ‘Yeah, I was sitting on opening night at a table next to somebody from SNL and Johnny Rotten and a supermodel.’ And I’m thinking, yeah, that sounds about right for circa-’95 at the Hard Rock.”

Circa 2019, it’s all about the nostalgia, baby.

Inside a walled-off space a few steps from the Pink Taco restaurant, Dobney has laid out approximately 200 rock artifacts, including costumes, signed instruments, posters, photos and all manner of memorabilia for all-purpose gawking, celebrating the Hard Rock’s rock legacy.  New items will be rotated through during the display’s run. 

Whaddaya wanna see first, rock revelers?

You can stroll past the Hard Rock touchstones and totems— say, the shovels wielded at the Feb. 23, 1994, groundbreaking by founder Peter Morton, joined by Eddie Van Halen and Chris Isaak. Plus the early casino chips — one, a $5 Santa chip, with this printed jingle: “He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice; he knows if you’ve cheated at dice.”  Oh, and there’s an invitation to the resort-hosted premiere of the 1997 actioner Con Air. You may recall that it featured a plane-full of motley airborne inmates cinematically shearing off the iconic Fender Stratocaster guitar sign en route to a metal-crunching, glass-shattering, bodies-flying Strip crash. (For more on the production of Con Air, read: https://www.lasvegasnewswire.com/behind-the-camera-conair-features-one-of-vegas-most-memorable-movie-moments/)

Your heart is hungry for Springsteen? Stop by the E Street Band tribute case peppered with instruments, posters and album covers celebrating The (just-turned-70) Boss.  And then …

Yup, those are a couple of super-cool customized hogs — motorcycles, for the two-wheeled uninitiated: an originally Hells Angels-owned Hardtail Springer model, overhauled for Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx; and a Guns N’ Roses flame-licked beauty with a Shovelhead engine.

Fashionable as they are, they aren’t nearly as tres-chic as the boldly extravagant stage-wear and memorabilia lining the display riser, containing, among others … Stevie Wonder’s elegantly beige, Pierre Cardin Billboard Awards tux jacket; Bo Diddley’s red, cigar box-style guitar; the Styx prisoner outfit from their Mr. Roboto/Kilroy Was Here tour; and a Johnny Cash-autographed guitar on which he literally keeps a close eye on that heart of his, penning the opening lyrics to I Walk the Line.

And, yes, that “SEX” jumpsuit that withstood the jiggles, wriggles, gyrations and (groin-endangering) leg splits by the indefatigable Godfather of Soul. “He had to have somebody escort him offstage because of the power, man,” Dobney marvels. “The will to perform was too much. They had to put his cape on him and help him offstage and he’d just come back out!”

That sparkler of a suit in vibrant green and ornate gold? A creation worn by Ringo Starr, conjured up by the piquantly named Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, as Dobney explains: “He was renowned for designing suits for Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, everybody through the ’60s and ’70s. If they wanted a beautiful rhinestone-studded, hand-embroidered, hand-tailored suit, it was Nudie that built them. This was a gift from Bob Dylan to Ringo.”

Across the way, the opp-gender’s sartorial sense dominates in a fashion fusillade, including … chaps and a bikini strutted in by Christina Aguilera; Lady Gaga’s “Alien” costume; a cream-leather dress that accentuated Beyonce’s slinky curves; Rihanna’s black leather playsuit; Mariah Carey’s beaded burgundy gown; and Janet Jackson’s sleekly militaristic threads from her Velvet Rope tour.

Does this look familiar? It should. Spice Girl Geri Halliwell made it a legend. “It’s from the 1996 Euro Awards,” Dobney says. “She was provided with a black Gucci dress and against her designer’s wishes, she acquired a couple of Union Jack tea towels and had them sewn on. Her walking out in that became one of the most iconic style moments in Euro-pop history.”

Now for something completely different, memento-wise. “This is a piece of art by Jimi Hendrix,” Dobney says, gesturing toward the “Kiss the Sky” guy’s spiritually-minded sketch whose creation during his 1968 Axis tour was, well, chemically-assisted.  “He was on the bus, very high on life (and other things) and he made this. This was right after Felt-Tip Markers became a thing and hallucinogens were a thing, so this was a product of that.”

Don’t forget to inspect Motley Crue’s blunderbuss of a bass drum bulging with steampunk-style protrusions and a hand-scrawled setlist attached (with such lullabies as “Shout at the Devil,” “Looks That Kill” and “Louder than Hell”); a Slash guitar; Snoop Dogg’s “Car Wash” jumpsuit; Chuck D’s Adidas sneakers; Justin Timberlake’s jersey; Elton John’s glistening Dodger Stadium concert uniform; and a display case celebrating ZZ Top’s over-the-top rock.

By the way, patrons here — unlike at more stately exhibits such as natural history or art museums — are encouraged to bust into air guitar solos.

Yes, change is coming to this longtime, hip-to-the-max hangout. Gazing around this impressive assemblage, however, we’re tempted to paraphrase a notable rock anthem:

“Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the new sound / funny, but it’s still Hard Rock ’n’ roll to us.”

The Hard Rock Memorabilia Exhibition is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays-Mondays through Jan. 31 2020. Admission is free and all ages are welcome.


To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire

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