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In the age of COVID, Las Vegas getting its ‘ambience’ on

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September 28, 2020 By John Katsilometes

The key to appreciating ambient entertainment during a pandemic is to always act surprised. Walk into a restaurant and say, “I had NO idea (fill in name of well-known Las Vegas performer) would be in here tonight!”

Las Vegas adapts fast, we have been reminded during the COVID shutdown and lurching reopening. If you tell the entertainment community that performances need to be “ambient,” fine. Soon, ambient acts will pop up wherever pizza is served. As they say in the Jurassic Lounge, life finds a way.

In a time of uncertainty, we are certain that bars and restaurants are allowed to present ambient music. Gov. Steve Sisolak has not only said as much, but also put those words in to action by hanging out next to an ambient band at a Las Vegas restaurant.

As the governor said at the time, “There is no prohibition on ambient background music, like what was playing at the restaurant — this has been allowed since the State entered Phase 2.”

Entertainers are clutching that directive as tightly as Jamie Hosmer gripped the mic on “I Can See Your Voice.” We are now getting our ambience on, all across town.

I’ve noticed, while moseying in my masks around COVID Vegas, familiar haunts are presenting conventional ambient entertainment. You know the scene, where you settle into your table and someone (is that George Bugatti?) is off in the distance, adding a musical sound bed to the experience.

For instance, Doug Taylor plays ambient piano, off in the corner, at Bootlegger Bistro’s dining room. He wears a mask and does not sing. (I mentioned to Doug between ambient sets that humming was going to become an important skill in the ambient era). Masked Mariano Gonzalez plays an ambient harp while diners enjoy Mama Maria’s meatballs.

Elvis Lederer of Zowie Bowie and Blue Man Group’s band played acoustic flamenco guitar a few nights ago at Prosecco Fresh Italian Kitchen, where popular (ambient) lounge singers Nieve Malandra and Kelly Vohnn sing from a tiny stage stage just off the main dining room. Vocalist Naomi Mauro, the star of the Sisolak Experience mentioned above, is the leader of the ambient movement at Monzu Italian Oven.

But the definition of what is ambient entertainment in Las Vegas is evolving. Those aerial numbers by the masked Jessica Delgado at Rose. Rabbit. Lie at the Cosmopolitan? Ambient. Savannah Cross’ masked, spinning dance moves at Mayfair Supper Club at Bellagio. Intense, ambient action.

The Cosmopolitan, not so incidentally, stages an ambiently popular live-music experience at Barbershop with Ben Carey and John Allred (and occasionally Dai Richards of Tenors of Rock). You need reservations, there is food, and the distance is social. Oh, and there is music.

Kenny Davidsen is ambient these days, at Tuscany Suites. He’s positioned ambiently behind plexiglass in Piazza lounge, where you can order from Tuscany Gardens. I sometimes pretend that I am there for the fried calamari, not to see Kenny in what has been accurately nicknamed “The Aquarium.”

Ken Henderson has reopened Notoriety at Neonopolis, with the formally named “Ambient Music Hang.” Ambient, right there in the title. Friday night I enjoyed an evening of ambience with Anne Martinez and her Red Penny Arcade trio. “Enjoy the ambient talent of John Wedemeyer!” Martinez said of her uber-skillful guitarist. Martinez even performed some ambient, socially distant grooving.

The band got a nice gratuity in its ambiently positioned guitar case.

There is talk of further ambience at Notoriety with members of the Tenors and Vinny “Vin A.” Adinolfi of Bronx Wanderers. Vin A. and his dad, Vinny, are ambiently booked Oct. 15 at the socially distant Italian American Club showroom, where a few weeks ago a masked wedding couple danced to the ambient stylings of Carmine Mandia.

The Vegas Room supper club holds its ambience for after Chef David James Robinson’s main course. Mask up and listen to ambient jazz from Michelle Johnson, for instance, which I did Thursday. It’s safety first, dessert at the end, ambience in the middle at proprietor Tom Michel’s hideaway.

Revelré at The Sand Dollar Lounge owner Anthony Jamison, whose pizza selection menu is terrific, has welcomed an ambient local legend, Gold Top Bob, to its squeaky-clean hang.

Ambient has not been used to describe Gold Top, ever, before COVID.

These ambient hangs are not so strongly promoted. That’s what makes them ambient. No “headliners” are to be advertised. What is and isn’t an advertisement is also being debated within the entertainment community. And good luck getting a straight answer from enforcement officials on what is an actual advertisement, and what is just an informative post, on social media.

As we have previously, but not ambiently, noted, Saddles N Spurs, owner and musician Bobby Kingston mocks the entire process with such posts as: “SNS SALOON HAS UNADVERTISED AMBIENT LIVE MUSIC WITHOUT HEADLINERS WHILE YOU EAT.” I warned Kingston I might perform some masked, ambient two-stepping on my way out of his club the other night, which I did.

Merely having some fun here. Just give me the code for when Alexon is on at Le Cabaret. Or when Spadoni is fun to say at Laundry Room.

Sometimes sorting out where to find ambient entertainment is like finding the guy with killer Grateful Dead bootlegs in the old days. But bars can advertise the menu items and the chefs, too. Frank McCarron of Da Crust is Henderson’s guy at Notoriety.

McCarron prepares his pies in advance, then bakes them in super-high heat to serve to the socially distant diners. The process takes three minutes. That’s as long as Red Penny’s socially distant, ambient version of “Come Together.” It’s a song to love while we sit apart.


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