Before catching a concert at Vinyl or The Joint, you might take a moment to check out the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s memorabilia displays. They’re always a blast to look at, whether we’re talking the Mastodon exhibit (which includes guitars and handwritten song lyrics) or the Imagine Dragons “On Top of the World” assemblage (showcasing spacesuits and a director’s clapboard), which is a tribute to the band’s music video, itself an homage to the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Indeed, the Hard Rock exhibits remind us that rock ’n’ roll is an epic story, an enduring narrative mythology. Sometimes the tales are tragic, such as Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell’s recent suicide. Mostly, though, rock confirms our appetite for musical expression.
The person furthering the Hard Rock’s commitment to honoring rock history is exhibit and memorabilia coordinator Beau Dobney. He doesn’t boast a degree in museum studies, but he has years of experience playing in the Las Vegas hardcore scene, which inspired him to assemble “Lucky Punks,” a punk-themed series mounted on the walls of Mr. Lucky’s, the property’s 24-hour diner.
What got the exhibit rolling? While working with Coheed and Cambria backstage, Dobney met the band’s tour manager, Pete Stahl.
“I was telling him how I was procuring [items] for a sizable late ’70s to early ’80s hardcore punk display,” Dobney recalls. “My eyes lit up when [Stahl] said he was in a band on Dischord Records.”
That band was Scream. Stahl then reached out to his old drummer, Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters), to secure a floor tom, a piece from Grohl’s drum kit when he played with Scream and later with Nirvana. The display includes a sweat-smudged backstage pass for a Nirvana show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
“Part of my goal is to give bands that haven’t enjoyed their moment in the sun the attention they’ve earned,” Dobney says, while giving Vegas Seven a tour of the exhibits. “The layman might not recognize T.S.O.L. and D.O.A., but they’re part of the fabric of early hardcore punk.”
Mike Roche, a tattoo artist at Hart & Huntington, also helped Dobney. The two met backstage at a Rancid concert, where Roche revealed he plays bass in T.S.O.L. The result is the T.S.O.L. case in the “Lucky Punks” exhibit.
“As I was procuring for this punk display,” Dobney notes, “I kept running into people who were involved in early hardcore punk.” Dobney’s new gig allows him to collaborate with second-tier yet hugely influential bands, and to tell them: “I want to display what you have left.”
We head over to the Pharrell exhibit. Lit within a case adjacent to the Hard Rock Tower is the custom Nick Fouquet hat seen in Pharrell’s 2014 Grammy performance of record of the year winner “Get Lucky,” in which the artist performed with Daft Punk and Stevie Wonder.
Upstairs in the admin offices, Dobney explains his trajectory: He joined the Hard Rock in 2013 as an exhibits coordinator (hired by legendary rock-memorabilia curator Warwick Stone, who left the position in December 2016), started part-time and learned the ropes. Now he does the staging, sets stuff up in cases and maintains the majority of Hard Rock memorabilia. Everything is catalogued in what looks to be two full executive suites crammed with clothes, gear and tour paraphernalia.
In one corner, there’s Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde’s iconic black-and-white bullseye Les Paul guitar; in another, a Liberation, a Moog strap-on keytar-style portable synthesizer.
“Before, there was a big ’50s, ’60s vibe to the curation. I’m an ’80s, ’90s kid,” Dobney says. “What I’ve found is that as long as you have a story to go with it, anything can work. There are bands coming out today who need their stories told, too.”
Dobney’s Top 5
The curator’s favorite items in HRH’s music memorabilia collection
“The dress that [St. Vincent frontwoman] Annie Clark gave us from her tour with David Byrne. Sometimes people raise an eyebrow, but then I remind them she was asked to sub in for Kurt Cobain during Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a black and purple velvety tube dress. I’m a massive St. Vincent fan. I love that I’m able to inject the fringe and the indie stuff.”
“We just put up a Chris Cornell display next to the Magic Mike [Live Las Vegas] entryway. [It centers on] a guitar from the early Hard Rock Café collection. A modified Gibson Les Paul, [the members of Soundgarden] signed it and donated it to the café in 1992. And I paired it with a print from Seattle grunge photographer Charles Peterson’s Screaming Life book. It’s crazy to think that Soundgarden formed in the mid-’80s! He’d played for years, but Cornell still had so much more music to give us.”
“Oh, man, the Freddie Mercury jacket from Queen’s 1986 Magic tour, the band’s biggest and final tour with Mercury. I paired it with videos of him playing live in Budapest wearing that jacket. There’s so much good stuff on A Kind of Magic, like the Highlander film ballad “Who Wants To Live Forever?” I had three sisters growing up, and they were always introducing me to new music, and Magic was just as important to me as hair metal, New Wave, classic rock.”
“Ben Weinman, lead guitarist in prog-hardcore legend Dillinger Escape Plan, was nice enough to give us a guitar, an ESP with a special feature that allows it to be thrown down a flight of stairs and stay in perfect tune. He signed it here with a Sharpie: ‘No great art ever comes from comfort.’ When I think of prog, I can’t think of anyone better than Dillinger, really.”
“My all-time favorite piece? Probably this fiber-optic guitar from Styx, Tommy Shaw’s then state-of-the-art instrument, including 15 feet of transparent plastic fibers and light housing weighing 30-plus pounds. When we got it, it was all melted. I’d never worked on fiber optics before, much less from the 1980s. It’s quite primitive now, considering all the advancement in LEDs, but it was cutting-edge back then.”