Despite—and perhaps because of—its progress, Downtown Las Vegas has its share of haters. They bitch about parking, Tony Hsieh, the homeless, gentrification, the lack of a full-fledged grocery store and myriad other things. We get it. Downtown certainly has its flaws, but there’s a lot to celebrate here.
In an effort to spread some love, and introduce you to a few intriguing Downtowners, we started a chain reaction of sorts. Contributing editor Matthew O’Brien picked a Downtown figure he finds unique and interesting (Josh Ellis), and shared some thoughts on him. He then asked Josh to pick a person he finds unique and interesting, and share thoughts on her.
From there, the chain kept on going. …
By Matthew O’Brien
You don’t meet Josh Ellis. You experience him.
My first experience with Josh came around the year 2000. I was covering a valley-wide poetry slam at Café Espresso Roma (R.I.P.) and he was participating in the event. As he shouted his venomous, profanity-laced verses, half the audience shifted to the edge of their seats and half walked out of the coffee shop. He finished last in the slam, as I recall, but was the first person I interviewed.
I couldn’t have realized it at the time, but that slam epitomized how people feel about Josh. They either love him or hate him. I love him. He is, in my opinion, one of the most talented writers in Vegas and also a skilled speaker, musician and web designer. He’s a must-follow on Facebook (Joshua Ellis), where he clearly puts time and thought into his lengthy posts, and on Twitter (@jzellis), where he has been trolling Trump like he’s paid to do it.
Josh lives in the Downtown area (near Charleston and Eastern) and hosts an open-mic night for musicians beginning at 9 p.m. every Sunday at the Huntridge Tavern. Drop by and experience him for yourself.
By Josh Ellis
I’d known who Kristy was for several years, but I didn’t meet her till last year, when I moved back to Vegas. I was struck by the fact that she really has her ear to the ground as far as what’s going on in the city politically and culturally. She’s a producer for KNPR’s State of Nevada, and a lot of people who work in the local journalism scene don’t seem to be passionate about the city itself. They’re passionate about the nightlife or the food or whatever, but Kristy seems passionate about—no pun intended—the state of Nevada and the city of Las Vegas and where they are going. That’s rare in a place where most journalists seem like they’re biding time to get a call from a PR firm to switch careers. She’s not like that, which is refreshing to me. She lives Downtown and hangs out on Main Street and in places like Atomic Liquors and Artifice, and, to me, she’s one of the brighter stars in the constellation of Vegas.
By Kristy Totten
Fawn Douglas is an artist, activist and all-around badass. And in a town where being a “native” is highly prized, Fawn takes the cake and all the street cred for growing up in the Las Vegas Paiutes’ Downtown colony. She’s a tireless advocate for Native American rights and public lands, and she’s influenced policy locally and nationally.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Gold Butte, Nevada’s newest national monument. Fawn had a hand in that. Same goes for the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and most recently, state legislation to drop Christopher Columbus Day and adopt Indigenous People’s Day instead.
And that’s just her politics.
Fawn is a talented UNLV art grad whose work updates but honors Native American traditions, from petroglyph paintings to basket weavings to gourds. Not surprisingly, she’s also a community organizer who gives back with youth programming for Paiutes and art exhibitions for all. Her latest, “Paiute: A Journey through Traditional and Contemporary Art,” runs through May 31 at the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort.
By Fawn Douglas
It’s no accident that I met Leilani around a protest for indigenous rights. She has been an incredible voice in the movement, whether it’s for sacred lands or human rights. She is a strong woman from the Santa Clara Pueblo. Her passion for standing up for oppressed people shines in the many other causes she is a part of—immigration rights, research work at the painters’ union, as well as her commitment to activities with the grassroots collective Womxn of Color LV.
Leilani not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. She walked 11 miles beside me to raise awareness for sacred lands in the fight for Gold Butte protection. That’s only the cusp of her activism in Las Vegas.
Her passion for social justice also shines through in her art. She has been involved for a few years in the Downtown Las Vegas open-mic scene and she regularly performs slam poetry and music and previously co-hosted “The Human Experience” event.
Leilani paints the world with her words that radiate from her like a powerful eruption of her ancestors’ love, pain, hopes and passion. Here are a few lines from her poem Puga Nini Sha’de Butterfly Dance, which show her depth, strength, perseverance, humility and grace:
“She thinks, ‘I can do it,’ as a vibrant, deep and fluorescent butterfly floats over her head.
‘I shouldn’t have to hide who I am.
This is my reality—this is my truth.
Just my presence alone brings with it the entire weight of the mistakes made in the Movement and the reason why true liberation has not yet been achieved.
My truth now becomes your truth.’”
By Leilani Clark
Who is that girl?
That was my first thought when I not only saw, but heard, Ms. CoCo Jenkins for the first time. She was playing the cello on stage alongside violist Rahmaan Phillip to complement the vocals of Cameron Calloway at the Velveteen Rabbit. Seeing CoCo filled me with inspiration—wild curls like mine belonging to another young woman of color, who had mastered an instrument and stage in the way she did that night. It was totally new to me and I loved it.
Born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in Las Vegas, CoCo is the former bass player for RnR (Rhyme N Rhythm), who throughout their run on the Vegas scene from 2009 to 2015 opened for headliners like Snoop Dogg, TI, LL Cool J, 311, Ziggy Marley and Ice Cube. CoCo made her name as a heavy-hitting performer with her band, representing the growing Las Vegas art scene at the 2014 Warped Tour and playing Life Is Beautiful.
Always an advocate for the local subculture of arts, dance, music and theater, she created an information hub and promotional platform for performers and businesses throughout Downtown Las Vegas, the 18b Arts District and other areas through her website There’s Nothing to Do in Las Vegas. You can follow her and all the best underground events on Facebook at CoCoJenkinsBass and her website’s new home on Instagram @NothingToDoLV.