Cher recently received Billboard’s ICON Award and turned 71 years old! Just when you think she has stopped performing she comes back and shows us what she is made of! Her new show “Classic Cher” is in residency in Las Vegas and Washington DC this year. I had the opportunity to see this show while in Vegas at the beautiful new Park Theater at the Monte Carlo. It was 90 minutes of pure Cher! Cher fans were out in full force. An intimate theatre of approximately 5,000 seats, everyone was having a great time.
Twelve Bob Mackie costume changes, dancers, a live band, a little Cirque and chatting with the audience, she gives you the complete Cher experience. There is a video package of her astounding career starting from the 1960’s with Sonny, TV shows, movie roles, awards, video moments that we have all seen over the years. She does a video duet tribute with Sonny of “I Got You Babe” a sentimental fan favorite. The greatest hits like “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”, “Halfbreed”, “Bang Bang” and “The Beat Goes On” keep coming. There is a big production number from her 2010 movie “Burlesque”. A lovely stripped down version of Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” as her tribute to Elvis. I say, just go, she’s Cher! Upcoming dates are at https://cher.com
Recently joining Cher’s show is guitar wiz, Joel Hoekstra, who has played with Night Ranger, Whitesnake and Trans-Siberian Orchestra among others. He took time to talk to us and tell us how this whole gig started for him.
How did you get this gig with Cher?
I’m filling in for her guitar player Dave Barry while he plays on The Voice and I believe it was Justin Derrico, the main guitar player for the Voice, who recommended me.
Are you going to be in the show for the rest of her residency?
Yes, finishing up this run here in Vegas and it looks like I’ll be a part of another run or two this year as well.
Will you be with her in D.C. as well?
Yes, the 8/31-9/10 run in D.C is one of the runs I’ll be a part of.
What has the experience of working with her been like for you?
Fantastic! Cher has had a #1 single in 5 decades, so there is a lot of diversity in terms of the styles of music that you get to play. The musicians on the gig are really amazing, so this gives me an opportunity make some new friends and branch out a bit.
You were in the band for Broadway’s “Rock of Ages”, what was it like doing Broadway?
Rock of Ages was a blessing for me. It gave me an opportunity to play music I like with great musicians 8 shows a week for over 6 years. Thankfully, the gig was 100% flexible in terms of my touring schedule as well, so I was able to keep growing in that area of my career at the same time. Basically I had a gig every day for about 6 years.
You have played in some great bands like Night Ranger and Whitesnake. Do you have a preference in playing in a band or solo?
Any opportunity to play guitar for a living is a blessing in today’s music industry. Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate every opportunity and to focus on the positives of each scenario.
When did you start playing guitar?
I was 11 years old.
What was your first big break?
My career has been a series of small or smaller breaks more than a “big break” and I think that’s the way it is for most musicians. That’s an important thing for younger players to realize. All of those small breaks come more from hard work, than from luck.
What has it meant to you to play with Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
I love being a part of Trans- Siberian Orchestra. Paul O’Neill, who recently passed, was nothing short of an inspiration. I love the guys in the band like brothers. Many of the days are 2 show days, so that means you’re onstage in front of 10,000 people for 4 hours on those days. That’s an invaluable experience that you can’t really find anywhere else.
What gigs are next for you?
Whitesnake is focusing on writing/recording this year, so I’ll be in and out of the studio with them. As I mentioned, I’ll be doing more work with Cher. In addition to that I’ll have some shows with Broadway’s Rock of Ages Band, some acoustic shows with my friend Brandon Gibbs. I’m also doing a week of clinics in Brazil and I’ll be counseling at Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp again this summer. Fingers are crossed that Trans-Siberian Orchestra will tour this Nov/Dec as well.
photos by Vicky Sullivan / Rock the Lens Photography