Las Vegas doesn’t have a large native vernacular. We don’t have neighborhoods with native accents and nomenclature. We don’t have insider stuff that we hide from outsiders; we don’t want tourists to think that we’re withholding anything they could spend money on. As a result, whenever a word or phrase finds its way into our vernacular, we tend to use the hell out of it—often incorrectly. “I got a comp.” “This is my Friday.”
The latest such piece of language is the word “residency.” We use it to describe extended engagements by entertainers; first by club DJs, then by anyone else who played the Strip for longer than a few days. Guns N’ Roses’ 12 shows at the Hard Rock Hotel amounted to a residency. Shania Twain’s dates at Caesars—10 this month, with more to come in 2013—are a residency. I’ve even heard three-date engagements called a “mini-residency.” The next inevitable step is the micro-residency—one date, or a simple two-hour layover at McCarran.
As near as I can tell, “residency” comes from club culture: I remember encountering the word for the first time back in the late 1990s, in the pages of the dance-music publication Mixmag. Some DJs play gigs that last months, or even years. (We’ve had Deadmau5 at Wynn since January, but don’t worry, that national nightmare is almost done.)
“Residency” appears a bastardization of “artist-in-residence,” a phrase and concept that dates back to the 1900s. Artist-in-residence programs are sponsored by cultural institutions and sometimes entire communities, and they allow artists to spend some time living and creating work outside of their native environment, where familiarity and personal obligations can have a negative influence on their art. In return, the institution is enriched by the work the artist creates. Badlands National Park in South Dakota has an artist-in-residence program, as does the SETI Institute. UNLV has an artist-in-residence program.
That brings us back to Guns N’ Roses, Santana, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Def Leppard and the many other extended engagements that have earned the “residency” tag. I’m having difficulty getting my head around this: Considering what I just said, what makes an extended engagement by a musical artist—an artist who probably doesn’t live here in town even temporarily, and who is being paid millions by a corporation for a few weeks’ work—into a residency? Even by the Mixmag definition of the term, it’s wrong—and I sincerely doubt that Axl Rose wrote any new music while he was in town.
The closest any Las Vegas casino gets to the true artist-in-residence heritage is the Cosmopolitan’s program at the P3 Studio Gallery, but even those “residencies” last only a month. Imagine if they brought in someone like Augustine Kofie for three months and sponsored his efforts to create large-scale works around town? Or what if the Wynn hosted Röyksopp for as long as it takes for them to make an epic techno record, with no expectations of DJ sets played? Or if any hotel with a dark showroom gave it over to a young playwright for workshopping a play or musical?
But that won’t happen, and no matter. We’re stuck with “residency,” now and forever. It’s yet another meaningless phrase for Vegas’ otherwise well-meaning tourism and public-relations people to run into the ground. Probably only a matter of time before we use it retroactively to describe “Elvis’ residency at the International” or “Sinatra’s residency at the Sands.” If Sinatra knew that he’d someday be linked to DJ culture, he might have hung on for a few more years just so he could beat up those responsible.