Renaldo Elliott has established himself as one of Las Vegas' most sought after musicians. A professional drummer, he has performed with various artists during his nearly two-decade career and traveled around the world while doing so. However, this New Orleans native who has trotted the globe made Las Vegas his adopted hometown many years ago, and now, he aims to showcase the diverse music scene in Sin City. Vegas411 was able to sit down with Renaldo for a virtual chat and learn about what brought him to Vegas, his new platform, LiveandDirect702, and the virtual concert series, "Today We Play."
Me: Are you originally from Las Vegas? If not, what brought you here? And what part does music play in that journey?
Renaldo: I was born in New Orleans and grew up in Denver. I was in Denver most of my life. Then, I moved out here (to Vegas), and I was a freshman at UNLV, and I started studying Jazz. It carried on from high school. My study at UNLV was Jazz Studies. So, through UNLV, I got to know different people, got to be in different bands: reggae bands, playing at church, funk bands, cover bands... whatever, you name it. I started my own type of bands, and I kind of got my name that way.
Me: How did your professional experiences contribute to creating the platform, LiveandDirect702, and the series, "Today We Play"?
Renaldo: Just networking, really. That's the number one thing. I'd say everyone who's been on the show – I'd say 90% of them – have been people who we've known. And I can't take all the credit. I kind of sparked the idea, but there's a total of four of us who come together to make it work. Myself, and a friend of mine, Greg Mayeda (actually, the first band I played with in Vegas was a reggae band called, For Twenty Daze; he was the lead singer and we've been friends for almost twenty years now), Ryan Mappala (the person in charge of all the video and production), and Coco Jenkins (who was a base player in the band, RnR, and she has a really big reach on the marketing and she has a platform called, Nothing To Do LV). So, we all came together. Quite honestly, I just got tired of seeing bad Facebook videos of artists playing and the audio quality just being horrible. I thought, We gotta do something better. And I've seen other shows. So, I don't think we're the only ones doing it, but I think we're the only ones who do it the way we do it.
Me: Did Covid-19 also contribute to putting this platform out right now?
Renaldo: Yeah. I'm in the same boat as a lot of my friends. We went from playing and making a living making music (if they weren't playing and making a living, they were playing on a consistent basis), to not being able to perform at all, and that's a huge expression for all of us. And that's a huge platform (live music) that we take advantage of. So, having that taken up from under you – with the addition of not having money (because as musicians, you kind of go as you go) – so this has really taken a lot of musicians out, literally. And it got a lot of people into a depression mode. So, a lot of the people that you will see in these episodes, this is the first time they've played since this whole thing went down. They may have little things at their house or maybe do a Facebook Live, but this is the first performance that they've done (so, they were really grateful to do it and kind of in a rush to do it because it was something that they needed). That was the main thing of why we did it. We don't have any sponsors – as of yet – so all of this is being funded by us (it's not free). Obviously, the studio time and getting all of the crew taken care of... this is all a passion project that we did to give back to the community of artists to keep their spirits up and keep their names relevant. It's been a long time for a lot of people. Me, myself, I haven't played an actual set of music since March 15 (in oppose to me playing five or six nights a week); it's definitely different.
Me: What do you think distinguishes the Vegas music scene from other scenes across the country?
Renaldo: There are so many talented musicians here that don't really get attention. You obviously have your big ones like Imagine Dragons, Ne-Yo, Panic at the Disco; these are all people who have made it. But, they have to leave and then come back. Some of them don't really even claim Vegas anymore. So, Vegas is a hidden gem; there are so many good and different artists of all different genres. That's one thing I've gathered during my time of being here. You might get a lot of people from the music industry who come to visit, and they may be well-intentioned on going to see that next act at the show, but that kind of stops at the pool party or the club (wherever they're at). Or, they get too drunk to even go to the show; I've seen that happen a couple of times. So, the best bet for a lot of Vegas musicians or Vegas bands is going to LA, because it is so close and you can actually get noticed there. But there's a wealth of entertainment and a wealth of real talent here.
Me: What kind of artists are you seeking out for the "Today We Play" series?
Renaldo: Any genre. I didn't want to pigeonhole stuff that's just on my playlist. I really wanted to give everybody a shot as long as it's something that I would actually tune in to watch. I don't want to put on something that's just horrible (no disrespect to anybody). I appreciate all music – especially as a musician – so, country, rock, punk, of course, jazz, hip hop, funk, and soul and all of that; it's all great things that contribute to the scene and just contribute to music in general. So, I don't have any boundaries. That's kind of the beauty of bringing all four of us together because we all have different minds in music. So, we all help curate the show to help bring in different acts and different kinds of genres, so you're not listening to the same stuff every week.
Me: In the future, do you think you would look to book more "mainstream" artists? Or, do you think you will continue to primarily book lesser-known musicians?
Renaldo: A little bit of both. To be honest, there are favors I could ask for, but those favors are a lot easier when a lot of my friends are already coming through the city and already on tour. Let's say they're doing a show at Brooklyn Bowl or at another big venue, I could say, If you have an extra night or could you do a set for me after sound check... and most of them would do that. But, now it's flying in one of those major artists, putting them up in a hotel, paying for this and for that, and you got the whole Covid thing. So, right now, we're based around local talent. But, as the world begins to open up a little bit more and we can continue and fund what we're doing, we definitely have more connections to bring in more mainstream artists.
Me: Speaking of Covid-19, once we make it through this period of time, what are your plans for "Today We Play"? Would you continue the virtual shows, or would you aim to go with fully live performances someday?
Renaldo: We've been kind of toying with the idea of bringing in five to ten people to be the audience because, in the first couple of episodes, we learned that maybe we should clap with the song, so it's not so weird and awkward. So, this next month coming up, you'll see episodes with us actually clapping in the back. But, that's just us and the crew (just kind of clapping). I would love to take it to the situation – especially since the four of us have a good relationship with a lot of the venues out here – to be able to film it. I'm not against live streaming, but I feel like if you don't have a strong base of people yet, live streaming kind of doesn't make sense because you pigeonhole people to watch it "right now." As opposed to recording it, putting it on YouTube, and watching it as many times as you want at your own leisure. I feel like you'll reach a lot more people that way.
Me: Despite the many obstacles that musicians have faced because of the impact of Covid-19, do you see any benefits that may have come from any of this?
Renaldo: I think there have been a couple of things that have happened. To address your question directly: I think it's helped artists who are pushing to really reach out to their fans now or people who really listened to them before; you have to reach out and have more direct communication going on. It's not like, Hey, here's my show flyer: come to the show! Now, you see artists doing Facebook Lives and doing Instagram Lives, and they're having that conversation with their fans live. The second thing: With everything in American history, whenever there's something that's real messed up that's going on in our culture, the best music comes out. I feel like 2021 is going to be a great year for music because there's a lot of artists who are suffering right now and have to go back in grind-mode and actually have to write an album. A lot of people don't realize how much money is made on touring; so, you take out all the touring and all of the festivals, these people are in debt now (some are broke). If they choose to stay in music, the music that they're making is probably really hitting home. And I'm really looking forward to next year's music.
Thanks to Renaldo Elliott for his time, responses, and for his advocacy of the Las Vegas music scene. For more details about LiveandDirect702 or about "Today We Play," check out the following social and links: