Las Vegas Sun

October 18, 2017

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Return of the man known as ‘Rockin Don’ is not very noisy — yet



Don Marrandino and Toby Keith.

Don Marrandino’s return to Las Vegas has been less than splashy, despite sightings of the longtime resort executive at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Rehab pool.

It has been now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t for the past couple of months for Marrandino, who has been plainly visible around town but about as forthcoming as a hologram as to what his future holds at the Hard Rock.

There is sufficient reason for Marrandino’s coy disposition, and as they say, more will be revealed. But he is back.

He is in a position of authority for Warner Gaming, the company that manages the Hard Rock. He made a public appearance on behalf of the company and hotel last week, when he attended a Hard Rock unveiling of a memorabilia case honoring star chef Kerry Simon, who is fighting multiple system atrophy, a neurodegenerative disease that attacks and impairs the body’s autonomic functions.

Simon and his business partner Elizabeth Blau opened Simon Kitchen & Bar at the Hard Rock in 2002. Simon and Marrandino have been friends for many years, having been introduced by Sammy Hagar.

Marrandino’s role with Warner Gaming is twofold. He has been assigned by the company to develop projects at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas and to help manage the new Hard Rock Hotel at the former Horizon resort in Lake Tahoe. Warner has been retained to help the company convert that resort to a Hard Rock in time for ski season.

But while Marrandino will be a key figure in that transition up north, he is once more a Las Vegas resort executive. He is making decisions of consequence at the Hard Rock, where he spent a sliver of time in ’02 as part of a 20-year run here before he took a job with Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City.

“Rockin’ Don,” as he has been dubbed, spoke recently about his preliminary ideas for how to reshape the Hard Rock on Paradise Road. He is a massive music fan — he has electric guitars signed by such artists as Toby Keith and Sammy Hagar hanging in his home — and plans to keep the concept of the rock residency intact at the Joint.

“They have worked,” he said. “The Guns N’ Roses shows were amazing. Queen was here for two nights, and it’s a shame it couldn’t have been longer. The new wave is that bands don’t tour, the fans tour. And what better place to tour than the Hard Rock in Las Vegas?”

Marrandino was onboard when AEG Live, the Hard Rock’s booking partner, signed Kiss for a nine-show residency in November.

“That was a great idea, and it made a lot of sense,” Marrandino said, adding that the resort and AEG are looking at “several, several” bands that hit the Kiss-GNR-Queen demographic to perform mini-residencies at the Joint.

The smaller entertainment enclave Vinyl will be used for a production show with a comedy tilt. Marrandino has been impressed by the success of Andrew “Dice” Clay at the 650-capacity club. He is in talks to bring “a pretty novel idea and act” into that room.

Marrandino recalls the days of booking the Flamingo and then-Imperial Palace showrooms, with multiple acts running throughout the afternoon and evening.

Specifically, Marrandino is tight with SPI Entertainment founder Adam Steck. The two worked effectively together for the Human Nature and “Frank Marino Divas Las Vegas” productions, and Marrandino is quick to praise Steck’s marketing savvy and experience as a show producer. Don’t be surprised to see those two link up to bring something inventive to Vinyl.

Marrandino also speaks, vaguely for now, of a hip new nightclub at the hotel and of using the pool area in fall for concerts. He remembers the days when celebrities permeated the casino floor at the Hard Rock.

“I think the greatest thing about the Hard Rock has been when people don’t just see a rock star onstage,” he said. “They’ll see him at the restaurants, at the bar, at the pool. I think that’s important to our brand, and it’s a good thing for everybody.”

Marrandino originally is from the Atlantic City area but considers himself a true Las Vegan.

“The difference is absolutely night and day,” he said. “I love Las Vegas. I miss my surfboard and riding my bike on the Boardwalk, but that’s about it.”

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