By Caroline Fontein
Walking around the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas you’re bound to see some Carlos Santana memorabilia in a display case or hanging on the walls. Santana is the first resident headliner to perform at The Joint since the new 2,951-seat concert venue opened in 2009. Everyone knows his name, but seeing the Santana memorabilia is a real-life reminder of just how iconic the 11-time Grammy Award-winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has become during his more than four-decade and counting career. What would it be like if you saw him walking around in the casino? What would you say if you met him or had the opportunity to perform with him? That’s Latino singer Andy Vargas’s story.
A budding recording artist, Vargas’s life took on a new meaning when he auditioned to perform with Santana and his band after the release of Santana’s album “Supernatural” in 1999.
“Carlos is for us and the Latino culture he’s an icon and to be able to actually now work with him on a personal level for me is a dream,” said Vargas who currently performs with the group in “Supernatural Santana: A Trip Through the Hits” at the Hard Rock.
Vargas started his music career at a very young age with the help of his father Javier Vargas who was both a singer and musician. Javier taught Andy the traditional old-world Latin music style and by the time Andy was 7 years old he was performing with his father’s mariachi band in Watsonville, Calif. Along with mariachi music, Javier also exposed Andy to other genres cultivating his son’s passion and talent for music. Vargas continued with his music career throughout his adolescence and by the time he was 17 he landed his first recording contract with R.C.A. Records. Before the release of his album Vargas auditioned to perform with Santana.
“I think we just had a connection. I think it was the love for the music. It’s the same type of love that I have for it still. Carlos excites me when he plays the guitar. He gets me going, and I think it’s an inspiration on both ends from guitars and vocals,” said Vargas.
What was supposed to be only a two week tour of the East Coast with the band turned out to be more than Vargas expected. After just three shows Santana and the band’s conga player Raul Rekow invited Vargas to Santana’s dressing room for a meeting.
“Carlos kind of just said, ‘Hey you’re in. You’re in the band.’ It was surreal to me,” said Vargas who has been performing with Santana since 2000.
Along with what happens on stage Santana has become a mentor for Vargas, teaching him about music and life.
“I think he does this not just for myself, but for a lot of people. I think this is why people follow him and what he says because it’s not just what he says on stage, he lives it off stage,” said Vargas.
He explained that some of those words of wisdom from Santana include “being in the moment… living your word and celebrating life.”
Singing with such an iconic performer was intimidating for Vargas when he first joined the group, but his love for the music and performing is what helped him feel comfortable on stage.
“Ultimately I just have a lot of fun. I’m inspired by Carlos’s guitar, and I have a blast. So I think the fun kind of helps me hide a little bit of the intimidation,” said Vargas.
He’s especially enjoying the band’s residency at the Hard Rock. The venue and the sound system enable the group to put on shows that audiences won’t experience in other locations. One of the unique things in this show is that some of the songs including “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” are performed with corresponding video.
“We’ve been able to cultivate and build a performance solely for Las Vegas. Santana’s show is always a new show. You’re never going to come see the same show. It’s a Santana experience, but we’ve created a special experience for Las Vegas,” said Vargas. “It’s a great time for anyone to come and have a great time.”
Santana and his band are on the verge of finishing up their residency at the Hard Rock with their last performance on May 1. Vargas commented that he thinks the hotel’s decision to select Santana as their first resident headliner was a result of both Santana’s legendary status and his positive message.
“I mean No. 1 it’s Carlos Santana, and not just that, but he’s playing his ass off. He’s presenting joy in all of his notes of guitar, honestly, and it’s something that the world should hear,” said Vargas.