Seeing Sinatra

PHOTO CREDIT: NEWVINE PERSONAL COLLECTION

PHOTO CREDIT: NEWVINE PERSONAL COLLECTION

Frank Sinatra

Among the experiences I have appreciated in my life are the two times I saw Frank Sinatra in concert.

I became a fan of Sinatra in 1980 when he released New York, New York. That was the year I got married. My wife and I honeymooned in New York City so I must have heard that song a hundred times leading up to our wedding. I know I heard it a few times while walking the streets of the Big Apple during the week of our honeymoon.

Fifty dollar tickets

Two years later, I was in Las Vegas for a convention. I stayed at Caesars Palace and as luck would have it, Frank was playing in the big room. Tickets were fifty dollars, so I stayed away from the casino and plopped down my money for what I thought would be a once-in-lifetime concert.

Lucky seats

No one I knew from the convention had any interest in attending the concert, so I entered the big room without them. Again, luck was with me as the usher escorted me to the front and center of the theater to a seat that filled out a table of eight. I had one of the best seats in the house simply because I was there alone and there had been room for only one more at that table. I made friends with the other people at the table and we settled in for the show.

“Welcome to my daddy’s show”

First up was Nancy Sinatra. While the lobby posters billed the show as Frank and Nancy, the daughter did not sing with her dad. I remember a few things about her performance that seemed strange. The first words out of her mouth when the applause from her introduction ended were “Welcome to my daddy’s show”. I found it odd was that her only hit record These Boots Were Made for Walking was not included in her half-hour show.

Other than being Frank’s daughter, the only reason most people would want to see Nancy sing would be for her to sign that hit record from the mid-1960s. I guess if your father is Frank Sinatra, it doesn’t matter what you sing on stage.

There was no duet with her father, even though the pair scored a top ten record in the early 1970s called Something Stupid.

Comedian Charlie Callas

Following Nancy, comedian Charlie Callas performed for a half-hour. Callas had a rubbery kind of comic face that actually reminds me of actor Jim Carrey. He kept us laughing as we patiently awaited the arrival of the real star of the show. As Callas left the stage from one end, Frank Sinatra walked out from the other end. There was no introduction, just applause from a grateful audience. Frank thanked the audience and asked Charlie Callas to come back out for a final bow.

Chairman of the Board

After Charlie took his final bow, Frank signaled to the orchestra leader and started his show with I’ve Got the World by the String. Then, for the next hour-and-a-half, we saw the man known as the Chairman of the Board take command of the stage. He finished with Chicago, and then returned for a curtain call where he sang New York, New York. He was sixty-seven in 1982, probably a few years past his prime, but still a very entertaining performer. Eleven years later in 1993, a seventy-eight year old Sinatra was still performing and I once again got a chance to see him live on stage.

Show in New York

This time it was in Rochester, New York. By then, everyone knew the Sinatra we would see on stage was not the same Rat-packer we witnessed in 1982. As one local critic described the event prior to the concert, “You’re not going to the show to see the Sinatra of thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. You’re going to the concert to witness one of the world’s greatest performers as he winds down his public life.”

Comedian Tom Driesen did the warm up act at this Sinatra concert. Son Frank Junior conducted the orchestra. Frank sang the lyrics that appeared on a teleprompter at each of the four corners of the boxing ring type stage.

It wasn’t the same as I had experienced eleven years earlier, but I knew that going in. My wife and I enjoyed the show.

Sinatra parking space at the Cal-Neva Resort at Lake Tahoe, photo by Steve Newvine
Sinatra parking space at the Cal-Neva Resort at Lake Tahoe, photo by Steve Newvine

Shortly after that performance, Sinatra stopped performing altogether. He passed away a few years later at the age of eighty-three.

The closest I would come to the Sinatra legacy again would be a parking spot marked with his name at the former Cal-Neva casino at Lake Tahoe on the California and Nevada line shortly after moving to California in 2004.

I have fond memories of the two Sinatra concerts I saw from a few decades back. Frank is gone, but the music lives.

No matter what you thought of Sinatra’s personal life, and there was certainly enough to pick apart if that is your pleasure, no one could argue about his contributions to popular music and the classic tunes commonly referred to the Great American Songbook.

To paraphrase the lyrics of one of his hit records, those were very good years.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced