The stage was deemed too dangerous for the band to perform its 8:15 p.m. time slot. Drummer Jack Turchin said from his hotel room Thursday evening that the band was “looking forward to the Hot August Nights crowd,” but said he and the band were off to Pahrump to finish the weekend, and then playing in Laughlin the following weekend.
Tuesday afternoon was a different story when Turchin and lead singer Jay Kessler sat down to discuss the band, Hot August Nights and playing various venues including Victorian Square, which the band was much looking forward to.
“That venue (Victorian Square) is really more people rather than cars,” Kessler said when comparing it to other places in Reno. “It is a mass of people. The sound is great, the stage is great, the lighting is great and it is the best venue of all.”
Lil’ Elmo and The Cosmos endured an epic run of Hot August Nights performances, spanning 22 years, dating back to the inaugural event. After the band went on hiatus from the event for about five years, the group was thrilled to be back in downtown Sparks and Reno playing its specialty vintage rock n’ roll tunes.
“There are some people who haven’t embraced where music has gone in the last 20 years, and they like that organic vintage rock n’ roll thing that we do,” Kessler said. “What we are doing now is basically trying to walk people through the history of rock n’ roll. We feel that occurred between ‘57 and ‘77. We are trying to capture those defining moments in the history of rock n’ roll.”
In the near 30-year existence of Lil’ Elmo and The Cosmos, the Los Angeles-based band has cycled through plenty of musicians, but original members Steve Feller and Turchin have largely kept the name and band going. Kessler, who is an original member but took a few years off in the 1990s, said the longevity the band has shown ranks high among rock n’ roll acts in major markets.
The band began at a high school talent show in 1973 and the boys went on tour at ages 17 and 18, but decided to break up in 1975. That breakup, however, lasted 10 years before the original members decided to re-enter the music scene.
“It was like none of us could really figure out how to make a great living so we all had to come back to this,” Kessler said. “We are friends forever and we have gone through a lot of ups and downs together. Now we are sort of making a comeback and it has been great to be a part of.”
Tuesday night, Lil Elmo and The Cosmos played at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno for a large crowd of Hot August Nights enthusiasts. The band has played major venues in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego and Reno during its career and Kessler said crowds in Victorian Square would have experienced an upbeat setlist Thursday evening with plenty of fun coming from the stage.
“We are going to play tunes that these people love and want to hear,” Kessler said earlier in the week. “It is also a show and event though we left a few of our props at home, like our surfboard and vintage car that come onstage with us, I think people will still get a great vibe from us.
“It is a high-energy, fast-paced show. These tunes tend not to be that long so if we are doing 75 minutes we will do 24 or 25 songs in that period. It starts high and it ends high.”
When the asphalt beneath the stage has cooled from its Hot August Nights fever, Lil Elmo and The Cosmos will continue to keep busy writing and recording new material, as well as finding tour dates in the area. Kessler said the band hopes to play the Reno-Sparks area “any time the opportunity presents itself,” and added that the band’s goal in the studio is to produce a viral hit.
“We are hoping to record something that has that kind of (national) appeal because no major label is ever going to sign us,” he said. “We have to produce everything on our label and hope the marketplace latches onto it. If we don’t, we will be scratching and crawling for dates, which is kind of what we are doing now.
“Now it is about reinventing. About two years ago, we decided we were going to rebuild the act to the point where it was musically and visually strong. For the last year we have pretty much been consistently touring in markets like Laughlin, Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles. Slowly, but surely, we have rebuilt our place in the marketplace.”
The history behind Lil’ Elmo and The Cosmos can be further delved into at www.lilelmo.com and Kessler said the band currently faces a unique opportunity to amp its appeal back to levels it experienced previously.
“We had some records that almost kicked through and that helped us nationally and we became one of the biggest attractions in the corporate special-event business, fairs and festivals and casino showrooms. That was our niche and that is how we survived and built our fan base.
“A lot of people think rock n’ roll is dead now. I don’t think it’s dead. When we make a record, we try to go back to analog and, to me, I think analog is more pleasing to the ear. We are trying to find people that are into that. Certainly in a venue like (Hot August Nights), where you have all these vintage car fans, they really embrace this music.”