Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2017

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Guest Columnist:

Nina DiGregorio: Learning to love Las Vegas through the eyes of a small-town New Yorker


Denise Truscello / WireImage /

Nina DiGregorio.

Lon Bronson’s All-Star Band at Cabaret Jazz

Lon Bronson's All-Star Band at Caberet Jazz at the Smith Center in March 2014. Launch slideshow »

Jerry Jones Benefit Show

Jerry Jones arrives at a surprise benefit show at Lounge at the Palms on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, to help raise money for his medical bills. Launch slideshow »

Dozens of unsung heroes who go nearly unrecognized among Las Vegas headliners are the backbone of the valley-wide entertainment scene. Today as our summer guest columnists wind down, we salute two hard-working musicians. They live and work here and help make Las Vegas the Entertainment Capital of the World.

While I was away on my travels, numerous personalities stepped forward to pen guest columns. Vegas DeLuxe thanks them all, and we hope that they’ll be back next summer. Now before the fall frenzy starts anew, it’s time to meet classically trained violinist, writer and arranger Nina DiGregorio, who in 2006 started Bella Electric Strings, a stunning group of gorgeous girls who thrill not only with their looks but also more importantly with their incredible music.

Nina and her ladies are well known in Las Vegas playing with The Lon Bronson Band and at last week’s grand opening of SLS Las Vegas.

One of the best ways to get various spoiled fruits thrown at you if you are a native New Yorker is to discuss a West Coast city in any sort of supercilious manner.

Ten years ago, I would have ripped into a scathing diatribe about all that I disliked about Las Vegas. But not today. Today, I am here to defend the city that I have, begrudgingly, learned to love as if it were my own.

This month, I have lived in Las Vegas for 10 years. The timing of my writing of this guest column is serendipitous. I have been forced to acknowledge after a decade of habitation here that by God I kind of like Las Vegas.

I grew up in a tiny historic village in western New York called Lewiston. Most of my immediate family resided within two square miles of one another. I could leave the front door unlocked, ride my bike with my best friend to the store or the river, and pop in on any number of home-cooked meals by relatives on a daily basis.

It was the drive to pursue my career that took me away. I left young. At first, it was quite difficult to adjust. This town kicked my ass, taught me the meaning of the word sociopath and, at times, wrung every ounce of trust and faith in humanity that I had clean out of my bones.

But it was necessary. And I grew to realize that this was not a side effect of living in Las Vegas; this was a side effect of growing up.

I also bought into the misconception that Las Vegas talent was subpar. When it comes to talent, you just have to know where to look. I challenge anyone to argue that Lon Bronson, with his quick wit and ease onstage, wouldn’t make a better late-night talk-show musical director than anyone out there. I also can say for a fact that if you stumble into a small lounge, you might be caught off-guard by John Wedemeyer. He happens to be possibly the most inspiring and talented guitarist that I have ever played with, and I’ve played with the best of the best.

Take a trip to Lounge at the Palms on a Monday night and see why The Fat City Horns are dubbed just that. Find me a singer in L.A. or New York who Tony Davich can’t touch. And then there are the Celentano brothers, whose unique vocal and instrumental chops make them a weapon in any band at any level.

My peers on a daily basis inspire me, and they are good people doing what they love, not chasing their egos. In the process of doing this, making it big might just come anyway. Just ask The Killers or Imagine Dragons.

Las Vegas is a transient town where you don’t really know your neighbors. Many people are here to make money and move on. I struggled to fill this void for many years. What I came to learn is that, although it is not the same kind of family and camaraderie that exists in small-town USA, it is definitely present in a different way.

I can relate my final change of heart regarding the Las Vegas sense of family directly to a recent event. Jerry Jones, a popular singer and community figure in Las Vegas, fell to an illness that kept him hospitalized for two months. Upon his return, show producer and set designer Andy Walmsley organized a surprise-party extravaganza at the Palms to welcome him back into the community.

The room was decked out with party gear, there were multiple well-known local acts providing entertainment, and it was attended by the who’s who of the Las Vegas scene. We waited for more than an hour for Jerry’s arrival, and finally we saw him, small in his convalescence, walking cane in hand.

The look on his face as he entered into this room full of love and support and realized that it was for him was worth the 10 years of struggle it took me to realize that I love this town.

Be sure to read our other closing guest columnist today, heroic entertainer Mark OToole. Nina and he are the heart and spirit of our entertainment city.

Thanks to all of our guest columnists while I was away. There were inspirational stories, tales of dedication and determination from young and old, headliners and the not-so-well-known. They were interesting, fascinating and perfect summer reading. We’ll do it again next summer, but now we get ready for all the 24/7 action of the fall frenzy.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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