Conni Emerson - Queen Bee of the Las Vegas Buzz

By Lee Abraham

"Here's another song of ours about sex, well actually its about love, love and sex. Make that life, love and sex, oh you guys know what I'm talkin' about, right?" Conni Emerson is onstage and obviously having fun. "Anybody here know what I'm talking about?" 

The crowd is captivated by her mischievous charm, a hybrid blend of country girl innocence and street smart sensuality. But as alluring as her stage presence may be, it's the music, and most importantly, Emerson's voice and songwriting talents that have built her loyal following. 

Whether she's rockin' the house, singing strong and soulful like a younger day Bonnie Raitt, or settling into a folk-rock groove that might have fans of Shawn Colvin doing a double take, Emerson performs like she's got the music in her blood. And why not, her Dad is a blues musician and her mother is music professor at UNLV. Emerson has been writing songs and singing since she was a kid, but its playing music onstage that turns her on.

"I guess I got a lot of the musical genes from my Dad," jokes Emerson. Performing solo with her acoustic guitar, Emerson won a local country music radio station talent contest in 1996 and received $1,000 and two trips to Nashville as first prize. Although the trip was fun it was also a learning experience, "I found out things like you've got to know somebody to get your tapes to a record company or they'll just get thrown away. I did a bunch of open mic.'s at the Bluebird Café, a famous songwriter's hangout and the camaraderie of the writers there was so special and very supportive. I learned how cool it is to be in that sort of music community."

Another lesson learned is the importance of doing things right, a lesson not lost when it came time to record her new CD. With the backing of her recently formed band "Shindawg," and a few special guests, the self-titled debut album succeeds in capturing the dynamic, polished sound and rich vocal harmonies that are so important to her live show. Built around two multi-instrument players with Pete Trauth on guitars and mandolin, and also Kelly Malecki on guitars and keyboards, Shindawg mixes up the sounds and instrumentation but the groove stays "in the pocket" thanks to the band's rock steady rhythm section of Dean Rodriguez on drums and Mitch Potter on bass.

Whether it be the wail of a Delta Blues slide guitar, the rapid fire picking of a Rocky Mountain mandolin, or the sweet sounds of acoustic rock and roll, Shindawg's diversity and variety of musical textures make each of Emerson's original tunes distinctive. The independently produced recording was almost two years in the making and Emerson has no regrets, "We took our time with it because we wanted to get it right. I'm glad we did, because I'm real happy with the album and I think we're releasing it at a great time."

Emerson is right, there's a buzz in the Vegas music scene these days. 12 Volt Sex has been signed to RCA and several other local bands are reported to be in discussions with major labels. Bands are even helping each other and working together to promote the local scene. In this new and refreshing spirit of "good music makes good neighbors," 12 Volt Sex (no doubt the "hottest" band in Vegas right now) and Las Vegas legend, Mark Huff will lend their support with performances at Emerson's official CD release party on Saturday at the Boston.

There are a slew of other bands in process of recording CD's and the recent success of all-local, all-original shows at the Huntridge are another indicator that the Las Vegas music scene is beginning to see the glimmer of a new day. That new day may shine its light in May, when the EAT'M Conference hits town and of course, Conni Emerson will be in the middle of it, having been selected as one of the featured artists to perform at the prestigious event.

"I'm really excited about EAT'M, because its a lot like South By Southwest was at a  roots level, not like it is now where they've basically got it tied up so that its only "signed" bands down there now. The original idea behind South By Southwest was to get unsigned artists in front of record industry people which would enable a lot of networking that would otherwise never take place. EAT"M will be an extraordinary opportunity to interact with people in the business that you would have a hard time meeting on your own. I'm just really, really excited about it."