For decades, when entertainers performed in the main showrooms of Nevada casinos, two people always discreetly stood off to both sides of the stage. Throughout the performance, these showroom captains trained their eagle eyes on the audience, ready to pounce and confiscate a camera from anyone trying to photograph the occasion.
There was one headlining group, however, that welcomed photos back then and would even enter the audience during every performance specifically to pose for photos while singing. That may not seem remarkable after the advent of the selfie, but the gesture has always illustrated the relationship the Lettermen had and still have with audiences.
Those audiences have grown significantly older, but time has not hurt their dedication to the music of the Lettermen and similar groups of their era, such as the Four Preps or the Four Freshmen or the Four Lads. The Lettermen – a trio – have outlasted the others. Founder Tony Butala still leads the group as he has since their beginning in 1959.
Butala’s first nightclub appearance was in a nostalgia revue in 1958 at the Desert Inn in Vegas, cleverly-called “Newcomers of 1928” and featuring Paul Whiteman, Buster Keaton, Rudy Vallee, Fifi D’Orsay and Billy Gilbert. Since then he has performed in almost every casino showroom, including 17 engagements at the Nugget in Sparks alone.
Butala brings the latest incarnation of the Lettermen to Cache Creek on Friday, Jan. 22 (9 p.m.) and Saturday, Jan. 23 (8 p.m.). Along with him will be Donovan Tea, who in 1984 moved to the group after being a production singer in Las Vegas’s “Lido de Paris,” and Bobby Poynton, with the Lettermen 11 years and a veteran of similar groups, having sung with the Diamonds and the Crew Cuts.
The Lettermen have an impressive songbook, including “The Way You Look Tonight,” the theme from “A Summer Place,” “Shangri-La,” “Goin’ Out of My Head,” “When I Fall in Love.” These are seasoned veterans of the casino stage, and few handle that venue better. ($29-$45; cachecreek.com)
STS9 – Sound Tribe Sector Nine – first arrived on the scene around 15 years ago, bringing its fine mix of jam band music, electronica and jazz, as well as a neo-psychedelic live show to the Bay Area. Since then the musicians have contributed immensely to the electronic scene, described by them at the beginning as “conversations” between their instruments and laptops. STS9 has a rare appearance Thursday, Jan. 28 at Harrah’s Tahoe. (8 p.m.; $37.50; Ticketmaster)