The Karaoke Chronicles: Laughlin’s The Dance Club
Editor Note: This is the next entry into the Karaoke Chronicles by our new contributor, Russ Kazmierczak, Jr.
Thanks Russ, for your willingness to put your self out there regularly whether that is Karaoke or cartooning. Your insights into the broader community are welcome.
Let’s see what Russ has to say about singing in Laughlin.
Everything in Laughlin is a gamble. The weather is a gamble. Hotel room rates are a gamble. The quality of the breakfast buffets is a gamble. So, when my girlfriend Randi said she wanted to go to Laughlin for her birthday, we researched our karaoke options . . . because that, too, is a gamble.
We found one karaoke venue, in Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino. I had never sung karaoke in a casino bar before, so I wondered what the experience would be like. Do crooners compete with the ding-ding-dings of slot machines? Is the bar lined with losers lamenting their failed fortunes, easily triggered to tears if someone sings the Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had $1,000,000?” Is the song selection limited to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tom Jones? Actually, that wouldn’t be a terrible thing.
Our first night in town, we searched the Riverside for the karaoke lounge. Someone told us to find the Loser’s Lounge, and I presumed my worst fears were true. Fortunately, we were misinformed then redirected to an escalator, which turned out to be an automated stairway to karaoke heaven.
My girlfriend and I discovered The Dance Club, a western-themed casino bar as big any bar anywhere — probably bigger, even. The dark wood decor evoked a bygone era, if only I could tell you which one. The cowboy decor suggests an Old West saloon, but the Laughlin casino vibe summons the late ‘70s, when Las Vegas lost its Rat Pack veracity and became an adult strip mall of sin, until its most recent revival. Thankfully, I’m a fan of both cowboys AND the ‘70s, so I didn’t mind the contrast. In fact, the two create a chemistry that makes you forget you’re in a casino at all.
The Dance Club features a large dance floor (duh) surrounded by table seating, and flanked by a huge stage. The space would seem wasted on NIGHTLY karaoke, 8 p.m. to midnight, if the regulars weren’t so faithful. Randi and I went all three nights we were in town, and we orbited the same core crooners each and every night. If Randi felt at all insecure about turning one year older, The Dance Club’s regulars surely eased her mind, as we were the youngest in the room by at least a decade.
Add 20 more years to that difference, and you’ll find the songs those folks loved to sing. If The Dance Club has a genre, I’d categorize it as “classic twang.” Conrad Twitty, Waylon Jennings, and Patsy Cline were in heavy rotation, though the occasional ‘80s love ballad would buck the trend. What an island in a sea of slot machines! You never know what a slot machine will give you, but those folks sang with a steadfast sincerity that kept my eyes glued to the stage, every time. Watching them made me more sappy than the wooden decor that surrounded us.
You see, karaoke wasn’t always popular. Years ago, when the cool kids spoke of karaoke, they thought of the very people Randi and I met that weekend — old, smoke-swirled stiffs that stared wild-eyed at DOS screens to sing the songs of yesteryear. Then, “American Idol” convinced everybody that they could be the life of the party, no matter where they landed on the singing spectrum, from William Hung to Will.I.Am. Karaoke became cool, and the older folks that had kept the industry warm were pushed to the back of the room.
Cynical, am I? Visit Scottsdale’s own The Grapevine, one of the Valley’s best karaoke bars, and you’ll see what I mean. The singing starts at 5 p.m. weekdays, 3 p.m. weekends, and if you arrive for the first few rotations, you’ll be delighted by retirees enjoying an afternoon cocktail and crooning tunes from the span of their lives. Then, around 7 p.m., the tide slowly turns; the room gets gentrified before your very eyes, and, by 9 p.m., the retirees have retreated entirely for the usual millennial nightclub set. It’s a microcosmic metaphor for America’s karaoke trend! Now, one could argue that those old folks go bed by 8 p.m. anyway, but, left uninterrupted, how late could they last? Laughlin’s The Dance Club proves it — they can line-dance ‘til dawn, baby!
The Dance Club’s KJs, Chris and Susie, are an incredibly hospitable pair, and they made me feel welcome immediately. (Music between performances included Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” theme, as if I didn’t dig the venue ENOUGH.) I sang Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” on our first night, and Elvis’ “Kentucky Rain” the second night. Our last night preceded Randi’s birthday, so I sang her the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” I would’ve sung that anywhere, but it seemed right at home in that room.
I know karaoke isn’t for everyone, and I know when people visit Laughlin, karaoke might not be the first thing on their to-do list. Visitors to Laughlin are usually there for a quality buffet, a nice hotel room, and, of course, the gambling. Still, I’d encourage anyone to check out The Dance Club at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino. It’s a delightful time capsule of the ol’ southwestern watering hole . . . with a soundtrack sung by the patrons themselves. It’s totally worth the gamble.