Stories that Uplift the Spirit and Broaden the Mind

“I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”

Best. Block Party. Ever. Some of the world's best musicians got together in Vegas for a 3-hour tour de force.


Often my wife Beth and I travel to find fun, but sometimes the fun comes to us. That’s what happened while we were watching the Grammy Awards last month. Almost lost among the national commercials was a local advertisement for a free concert and exhibition of pop culture items, coming to my hometown of Las Vegas. I went online and snagged a ticket from Eventbrite, figuring I could always toss it if something better came along. Little did I know that, just like Charlie Bucket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I had scored a golden ticket. I’d get to see a real one at the show too.

What do you do if you’re a multi-millionaire owner of an NFL team during the off season? If you’re Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, you pull some of your most interesting collectibles out of storage, gather a few musician friends from the world’s top bands, and throw a free block party for thousands of strangers on a Saturday afternoon.


“When’s the last time you had a free concert?” Jim Irsay asked the crowd, who cheered in appreciation. The outdoor venue was packed, despite a last-minute schedule change due to anticipated 50 mph high winds that moved the concert from 6pm to a noon start. Eventbrite and social media got the word out, and a crowd of about 5,000 showed up.


I’d never heard of Jim Irsay before last month, but I won’t forget him now. He’s a guy who knows how to spread the wealth, and I’m not just talking about money. For those of us lucky enough to see the show, he shared his love for music, for popular culture, for history, and even sweeter, for us.

Irsay bookended the celebration, providing opening vocals for a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” and closing with Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. As patron of the event, he deserved his time in the spotlight, and I enjoyed the pure joy of his performance. But he was no stage hog. He’d promised to deliver a master lineup, and that he did.

Mike Mills, founding member of R.E.M., assumed lead vocals for a couple songs, including “Superman,” then continued as lead guitar for the three-hour set. No doubt everyone who joined him onstage was glad to have him there.


Legendary guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd sang a couple tunes, including his hit “Blue on Black,” then stayed on stage to play the entire set too. At one point, he played the same electric guitar Bob Dylan used at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 when Dylan first abandoned his acoustic instrument. Irsay shared the longstanding rumor that Pete Seeger tried to cure Dylan’s folk music sin by threatening to cut the sound cables with a hatchet, to which Dylan allegedly said, “Play real %$&% loud!”


To celebrate the life of David Crosby, who passed away in January 2023, the band welcomed Stephen Stills to the stage. If the show was good before, it was on the verge of becoming a lovefest as the performance turned into a gigantic sing-a-long for Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Love the One You’re With.” Then, with anti-war images projected on a giant screen behind him, emotions were raw as he belted out a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth.”


For a change of pace, the microphone was taken over by Vince Gill, who sang his hit “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slipping Away” and a few others. The country star, accompanied by some of rock’s best musicians, was terrific.


Chicago blues legend Billy Branch played an important supporting role on harmonica throughout the show, receiving hoots and hollers from the crowd each time he broke into one of his animated solos. Who knew a harmonica could produce sounds like that?


Next to take the mic was Kevin Cronin, lead singer and songwriter of REO Speedwagon for nearly fifty years. Cronin grabbed the crowd from the first notes of his hits “Take it on the Run” and “Keep on Loving You.” Like his fellow musicians, he stayed on stage playing supporting guitar for the rest of the show. It was getting awfully crowded on stage, but there was room for one more.


Last but not least to the party was Billy Gibbons, guitarist and lead vocalist for ZZ Top. Although 5,000 of us had heard about the last minute schedule change, apparently nobody had told Gibbons. He’d been eating lunch and asked the waitress if she was going to see the show tonight. “Tonight? You’re on next!” she informed him. Gibbons raced to the stage just in time to play “Sharp Dressed Man.” He offered lots of funny anecdotes while jamming with the makeshift band on a few more ZZ Top tunes before handing the microphone back to Jim Irsay for the free-for-all finale.


Irsay wasn’t content with just putting on a free concert, however. He brought out former running back Edgerrin James to toss footballs into the crowd while Irsay announced the names of three lucky winners of tickets to next year’s Super Bowl, which will be played in Las Vegas. It really underscored the party atmosphere and the generosity of a man happy to share his good fortune.


With the concert over, Beth and I headed to a massive tent for a peek at The Jim Irsay Collection. It was, after all, the name of the event. Wow, where do you even find stuff like this? A Jackie Robinson baseball bat and Mohammed Ali’s heavyweight championship belt I can understand, sort of. The actual golden ticket from the 1971 Willy Wonka movie? No problem.


But how do you acquire the Ludwig drum kit with the Beatles “Drop T” logo played by Ringo Starr on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964? Or the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band piano? Or Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to “The Times, They are a Changin’”? Unbelievable! The collection also included more than a dozen guitars, including the one used by Don McLean for “American Pie.”



On stage, Irsay shared his 30-year membership in Alcoholics Anonymous and dedicated his cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails to those who battle addiction. In the tent, he shared the 1939 original working draft manuscript with colored pencil revisions of The Big Book, Bill Wilson’s 161-page recovery program guide that has been translated into 52 languages and saved countless people and families through the years.

For me, the highlights of the collection were artifacts dating back to the founding of our country. Reading the letter from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, written only a day after adoption of the Constitution, had a profound effect on me as I reflected on the freedoms we enjoy and the sacrifices made by patriots long ago and still today.


I’m glad I found that golden ticket. Jim Irsay really knows how to party, even though – or maybe because – he’s been in AA for three decades. Nobody asked him and his team to jump through what must have been a hundred hoops to put on such a unique celebration. His only reward was the joy he felt and the joy he shared, but I hope it’s contagious. If his players have half the heart and generosity of spirit that Jim Irsay has, I might just become a Colts fan.

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