SAMMY HAGAR & THE WABORITAS; Harrah's South Shore Room; Lake Tahoe, NV; 05/01/04

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

It's not unusual to leave a Sammy Hagar show thinking it was one of the best shows you've ever been to. Sammy knows how to rock and he knows how to involve his audience to the fullest extent. Hell, the man sells tickets for fans to watch the show from the stage. A Sammy Hagar show is a true rock'n'roll party. If you leave a Sammy Hagar show without a smile on your face, you probably should have gone to the Julio Iglesias show instead.

So - it's not unusual to leave a Sammy Hagar show thinking it was one of the best shows you've ever been to. But it is unusual to leave any show thinking you've just witnessed a piece of rock'n'roll history. But that's how we felt after the Saturday evening Sammy Hagar & the Waboritas show during the opening weekend of Cabo Wabo, Lake Tahoe - nicknamed Tahoe Wabo.

Harrah's South Shore Room was decorated like a Cabo Wabo nightclub. There were fake palm trees everywhere, two or three makeshift bars set up at different points throughout the room, and a big lighthouse with the Cabo Wabo logo lit up on the side.

The show began, as one might expect, with Sammy and the Waboritas taking the stage and getting things started with the Hagar classic, "Red." "Rock & Roll Weekend" was up next, with the lyrics changed to "Tahoe Wabo weekend") and the crowd ate it up. The band, as usual, was terrific. Sammy has said he likes to play with the Waboritas because they have so much fun and I'm sure that's true - but he must also respect their incredible talent. This is one great band.

After two or three more Hagar tunes, someone made a joke about Texas and out strode Ted Nugent, wearing an American flag shirt, who let us know there was nothing wrong with Texas. He and Sammy then played a blistering version of Ted's classic "Cat Scratch Fever" that simply had the crowd screaming for more.

The Waboritas played a few more songs and then Johnny Hiland took the stage with Sammy for "Finish What You Started." Now, I had never heard of Johnny Hiland but - after his performance with Sammy et al that evening - I've learned a little more. Hiland is a respected studio musician who has played with country western stars like Ricky Skaggs, Janie Fricke and Randy Travis but you wouldn't have thought "country western" from his performance with Hagar that night. Hiland's fretwork was absolutely blistering and the audience cheered their approval even though I'm sure that most of them, like me, had no idea who this guy was. (Sammy introduced him at one point, but over the crowd noise, the guy behind me heard "Johnny Hiatt." I knew it wasn't Johnny Hiatt). Do yourself a favor and check out Johnny Hiland yourself over at

Hagar's third special guest that evening took the stage shortly thereafter. Toby Keith and Sammy sang an awesome version of "Honky Tonk Woman" before Keith sang "I Love This Bar," which he claimed was written about Cabo Wabo (for the record, I don't believe him). I've never been a big Toby Keith fan but his appearance with Sammy Hagar that night was great. They are obviously genuine friends and they had a great time together.

Sammy and Hiland did "Goin' Down" together before Sammy announced a short break to be followed by some very special guests. The break lasted no more than five or ten minutes before Sammy re-took the stage with special guests Jerry Cantrell and The Cult's Billy Duffy. The threesome performed Alice in Chains' "Man in the Box" and two Led Zeppelin classics: "Rock & Roll" and "Whole Lotta Love."

Despite the high caliber of guest stars so far, the highlight of the evening was about to come. Sammy announced, "It doesn't get better than this" and a bald man walked out on stage. "Ronnie Montrose!" Sammy announced, and Ronnie Montrose ripped into the opening riff of "Rock Candy." It was a truly powerful moment and "Rock Candy" never sounded better.

Ted Nugent re-joined Sammy and Ronnie at that point and the three of them played a hard rockin' version of the classic "Route 66." During this song, Ted and Ronnie exchanged stunning guitar leads, only to be pushed apart by Sammy who reeled off a few of his own. Watching these three rock guitar masters on stage was nothing short of breathtaking.

Finally, the evening wound down to Sammy's a capella version of "Cabo Wabo" and, despite the audience continuing to chant, "Sammy, Sammy, Sammy!" the lights flicked on and the show was over.

If there was anything about the show that was disappointing it was the fact that Waborita guitarist Vic Johnson was only onstage for about 1/4 of the show due to all the special guests. Johnson is one incredible guitarist and he was missed, despite the cavalcade of legends and stars.

Still, this was one show I will truly never forget.

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Copyright 2004 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:15 -0400.