LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Guitarist Carlos Santana has an answer for anyone who questions what a self-proclaimed hippie is doing playing a months-long residency in Las Vegas: He doesn't buy into anyone's illusions of who he is.
Santana opened his new show last week at the Hard Rock Hotel -- 40 years after the guitarist thrilled the crowds at Woodstock -- becoming one of the biggest music-makers from the generation of peace and love to take up digs in Sin City.
The 61-year-old Mexican native told Reuters this week that he does not care about anyone who might criticize him for straying from his hippie roots by taking the gig in Las Vegas.
"I don't buy into other people's illusions about who I am," Santana said. "First of all, they don't even know about what I do with my money."
Santana, an 11-time Grammy winner, said he has a long history of supporting political causes, such as Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu's fight against apartheid in South Africa, and charities, such as earthquake relief in Nicaragua.
He noted that fellow 1960s superstar Bob Dylan, with whom Santana has toured in the past, will play at minor league baseball parks this summer. "What's the difference if I play at a parking lot, Woodstock or Las Vegas?" Santana said.
Santana, whose hit songs include "Smooth" and "Black Magic Woman," opened his show "Supernatural Santana" on May 27 at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, in the first of 72 shows he will play this year and next at the venue.
Music critic Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Santana's show opened with video images from Woodstock and it seemed an odd fit for Las Vegas' crowd of weekend revelers.
"The fact that Santana's show worked in this setting proves what an unusual rock icon he is," Powers wrote.
A week before opening in Las Vegas, Santana performed on the finale of top-rated talent show "American Idol" on the Fox network, and gave advice to the singing contestants.
"You have to make ugly faces to make pretty notes," Santana said. "The first thing I noticed at rehearsal is they looked really good, like models, and they were sucking their cheeks and looking like they belong in an agency for beauty."
"I couldn't feel the notes, so I said you need to start making ugly faces," he said.
Raised in Tijuana, Mexico, Santana learned his own musical lessons from his father, Jose, a mariachi violinist. As Santana tells it, he once saw his father on the violin play call-and-response with a bird in the backyard.
"And he goes, 'See if you can talk to birds, you can definitely talk to people's hearts,'" Santana said. "That was the biggest lesson that he taught me."
Even though he will tour Europe in July, Santana said the idea of staying in one place attracted him to Las Vegas because it allows him to avoid the hassle of flying to shows.
Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry news source Pollstar.com, said Santana's residency at the Hard Rock is a natural progression for a Las Vegas hotel industry increasingly attracting top acts.
"Part of it is the realization that the audience coming to Vegas is much more varied than it used to be, and it includes many of the Woodstock generation," he said.
Prior to Santana, one of the few rock stars to play Las Vegas as a resident was Elton John, who this year ended a five-year run that resulted in more than $120 million worth of ticket sales, according to figures from Pollstar.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh