As I stood before the crowd on Saturday morning , I almost couldn’t believe the words I was saying: “Welcome to 22nd annual Big Smoke Las Vegas Weekend.” It’s hard to imagine we’ve been doing this show for so long.
As always the crowd invigorated me. All weekend, from the Friday night Big Smoke evening (one of two we held that weekend), through the seminars on Saturday and the final seminar on Sunday, I was saying hello to readers from around the United States and around the world. Smiles abounded. Some were people I see every year, some were first timers. The Cigar Aficionado staff and I met cigar lovers from New York, California, New Jersey, the Midwest, Washington State, Canada, Greece and even Australia. Many had been to several Big Smokes.
I thought back to that first Big Smoke in Las Vegas, held at the Bally’s Hotel (a much smaller venue) in 1996. I wasn’t on stage that day, but sat in the audience, taking notes for a story I would write about the seminars.
We didn’t know what to expect. First of all, who would wake up early on a weekend in Las Vegas to sit in a room and hear about the world of cigars? Turns out, plenty of people. I think we had capped attendance at 100 or so that day, and they were there, eager and ready to go, lighting cigars along with the panelists, paying attention to what was said and taking in the knowledge. The seminars were like the pages of the magazine coming to life.
It’s been that way ever since. Saturday morning, looking out upon hundreds of faces, I saw the smiles. They were treated to an all-star lineup of cigar stars, people like Rocky Patel, the globe-trotting cigarmaker. Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, the veteran among veterans, a man who has been making great cigars since the 1970s. Jonathan Drew, who shared his story of dreaming to sell cigars in a small kiosk and then following passion to create one of the world’s largest handmade cigar companies. Litto Gomez, presenting the No. 1 cigar of the year and, in a classy move, tipping his famous hat to all the cigarmakers gathered in the room.
I love going to the Big Smoke Las Vegas. The cigarmakers I have met over the past 22 years of working at Cigar Aficionado are old friends now, and I treasure the time I spend with them. And meeting our readers, hearing their feedback, watching them enjoy fine cigars in a grand setting is validation of what we all do here at Cigar Aficionado.
For those of you who came, thanks for coming. We hope to see you again next year.