Vegas Music Summit Helps Local Bands Scale Up

The event returned to help a scene that won’t always help itself

Seth Handler moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles about a month ago. By day, he works in marketing. By night, he plays music with singer-songwriter Janelle Nikole, who’s been trying to make her own way through the local acoustic music scene. Handler says he’s already made inroads here faster than he ever could in L.A.

“I’ve been able to meet someone in every little area in very little time,” Handler says, citing the compact size of Las Vegas—both physically and culturally—as a “pro.” Furthering those connections was the reason he and Nikole attended the Vegas Music Summit, which was held August 1-3 in the Fremont East Entertainment District.

Launched Downtown in 2009 by longtime local promoter Brian Saliba and Rodel Delfin of L.A.-based artist management firm RM 64, this annual music business networking conference (think South by Southwest, but much smaller) returned to Fremont East after a year off. It offered strong programming both day and night, fulfilling its mission of giving independent artists the chance to perform for industry professionals as well as to interact with those same insiders during workshops and mixers.

Given that rare opportunity to connect with A&R reps, producers, promoters and bookers—at the end of the “A&R at the Majors” panel, reps from Virgin Records and Hollywood Records actually offered to listen to demos—the middling attendance at most panels (about 25 on average) calls into question just how serious local musicians are about succeeding in the entertainment industry. Would it have been worth the $49 to $99 for a three-day conference pass for a member of an up-and-coming band to attend the “Las Vegas Club Promoters” panel to hear directly from bookers how to get onstage at local venues?

Maybe not, and that may speak to the state of Las Vegas’ music scene. Among the local musicians who did make it to the daytime programming were members of Paper Tigers and Avalon Landing, both of which were booked to play the nighttime showcases—meaning free panel admission. Paper Tigers founder Jason Juadines found the panels “educational,” and came to get “face-to-face” time with industry reps, in order to “bond the trust” that exists between artists and the people representing them. Avalon Landing’s Mike Vargovich, on the other hand, came to the Club Promoters panel to air his band’s grievances with a promoter.

It was at that panel where Live Nation’s Holmes “Homie” Pooser, who does booking and marketing for the House of Blues Las Vegas, made known his own complaints with Las Vegas-based musicians, including lack of professionalism and the loss of community among local artists. “It needs to get back to that,” he said, referring to the long-gone Boston Bar & Grill, a Spring Valley neighborhood venue that was the epicenter for the Vegas music scene more than a decade ago. Unlike that era, when bands filled the Boston to support each other, Pooser observed that bands don’t connect with each other anymore, a sentiment echoed by other promoters on the panel.

With the concentration of local-friendly venues on Fremont Street such as the Beauty Bar, Backstage Bar & Billiards and Fremont Country Club, however, it seems the opportunity exists for Vegas-based musicians to find a central area around which to rally, even if not in a singular venue such as the Boston or the Huntridge Theater (whether or not the latter returns to fulfill that purpose remains to be seen). At the “DTLV Players” panel, Carlos “Big Daddy” Adley even discussed plans to toss his tavern license for Fremont Country Club so he can produce 18-and-over shows in the traditionally 21-and-over area, another big step toward cementing Fremont East as the center of live music in Las Vegas.

Pooser says attending events such as the Vegas Music Summit or organizing formal mutual appreciation societies aren’t the solutions to rebuilding that sense of community in the local music scene. It’s much more organic than that, and much simpler.

“Go to each other’s shows,” Pooser said. “Get to know the bands you’re playing with. And stick around when your set’s over.”

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