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Las Vegas musicians and artists poised to break out in 2022

Updated January 17, 2022 - 6:48 am

Michael Yo

Comedian

With a wag of an index finger and a corresponding shake of the head, he looks into the camera, purses his lips and becomes an Asian mom.

“Look, so stupid,” Michael Yo begins, adopting the accent of his Korean mother. “Me no under — st-a-a-a-nd,” he continues, stretching syllables like wet taffy.

The scene: Yo is watching is an NBA finals game featuring LeBron James with his buddies and his dad.

Enter mom, who doesn’t quite see the point in James’ inked-up torso.

“Why he have tattoo?” she wonders, as voiced by Yo. “He too black. You can’t see.”

“Mom, that is racist,” Yo whisper-responds with embarrassment.

But ma’s not having it.

“OK, since you not racist,” mom counters, “tell me what tattoo say?”

Yo then mimes himself and his friends and father, who’s African-American, squinting at the TV.

“We couldn’t tell what this (expletive) said, either,” he confesses to a roar of laughter from the audience.

The bit is one of the stand-out moments from Yo’s 2018 stand-up special “Blasian,” one that encapsulates Yo’s family-centric, storytelling-based comedy. It doesn’t matter if your family looks like his — Yo’s well aware that it most likely doesn’t — his skill is in mining the hilarity, the absurdity inherent in everyday life to the extent that his highly personal comedy has a universal resonance.

“I just came back from Lexington, Kentucky probably a month ago,” says Yo, who moved to Vegas in 2020, “and let me tell ya, that was an all-white crowd, but they related to my story. Even though they don’t have an Asian mom who speaks her mind and that doesn’t have a filter, guess what? Somebody in their family is like that, and they can relate to that story.”

“They can relate my story being confused as a kid,” he continues. “I was confused about my race, but as kids, it translates to just being confused. A lot of people are confused about who they are growing up, and you don’t really realize that until later in life.”

Yo’s path to comedy was a circuitous one. He began his career as a show host, covering celebrity news on “The Insider,” “Extra” and “E! News,” while also appearing “Kourtney & Khloé Take Miami,” CBS’ “The Talk” and “Chelsea Lately.”

It was on the latter show that he befriended comedian Jo Koy, who took Yo under his wing.

“He kind of became my mentor and took me all across the country, really showed me the ropes of comedy,” Yo says. “His thing was, it took him 10 years before he started talking about his mom, his family on stage, and I started with that because he encouraged that. He said, ‘This is where you need to start.’

“The advice he gave me was — for us — never sit down to write a joke; sit down to write a real story and find the funny parts in that story.”

This month Yo’s taping his new special, “I Never Thought,” which will be released on March 17, two years to the day after he was hospitalized for COVID-19, spending eight days in the intensive care unit.

“I tell a story about me almost dying in the hospital from COVID; I talk about my family life after COVID,” Yo says of his forthcoming special, “but it’s not depressing. I take the toughest moment of my life and make it funny.”

Yo is self-producing “I Never Thought,” which he plans to release on his YouTube channel in what looks to be a busy year for him. In addition to hosting his own podcast, “The Yo Show,” where he’s interviewed such big-name comics as Dane Cook and Jim Jefferies, the occasional show hosting gig — he co-helmed KLAS’ New Year’s Eve coverage — and near-constant touring as a comedian, he also has a role in upcoming Apple TV series “Amber Brown,” which is directed and written by Bonnie Hunt and premieres in April.

The funniest thing about it all?

Yo doesn’t consider himself all that funny — at least not in real life.

“I’m not a joke writer,” he says. “Those people that can write, say, 10 jokes in a minute, I’m not that guy. You’re going to hear about my life.” — Jason Bracelin

Zoe Camper

Artist, clothing maker

“She’s delightful,” said the source who advised us that artist and clothing designer Zoe Camper would be ideal for this roundup — and so she is. And it’s not merely the fizzy effect a proper British accent has on us Yanks, either. It’s her artwork, her ethics and her evident zest for both, and for Las Vegas.

“I’ve always drawn fantasy-style stuff, and I thought, what better place?” says Camper, who’s lived here with her husband for five years. Her drawings, in pencil and detail-packed, exude an energetic, lowbrow whimsy. Right now she’s working on images of Strip casinos with joyous monsters erupting up from underneath them. There’s a whole backstory at work here, one that would take more column inches than we have to summarize, but trust us, it, too, is delightful. The gist: “The monsters are really happy people,” Camper says, “and they want us to know that the world is a precious place.” Where better for them to frolic than here?

What sets her apart is what she does next: Imprints her work on clothing — see zoecamper.com — and sells it in accordance with a “slow fashion” ethos. That is, she will only create an item once someone’s ordered it, and only works with providers who meet her sustainability and fair-pay standards. These are important aspects of her practice: “I want to be my philosophy,” she says.

That means minimizing waste, for one thing. “If I cut a piece of fabric, the leftovers become pockets, the leftovers from that become the inserts, the leftovers from that become the size labels, and the leftovers from that become the stuffing.” For another, it means only serving customers who really want a piece. “I cannot get you something for say, two to four weeks, and someone has to be able to commit to that.”

She recalls her aha! moment, buying a piece of clothing, seeing the label common to so much fast fashion — “Made in China” (“I have no issue with that,” she adds) — and being struck by a thought: Where does everything come from? How do people get paid, how do things end up where they end up? Consequently, her system is built on blockchain, which allows the documentation and verification of every aspect of the piece’s production. She began her company last year, took a hiatus for health reasons, and has only recently been able to give it a full go.

This probably isn’t how Camper saw her life turning out when she first visited Las Vegas in 2002 with her eventual husband. “I didn’t really like it, actually,” she recalls. “I thought it was the nuttiest place on Earth, and I was not comfortable.” Funny thing, though: “We started coming back. I just fell in love with Vegas.”

And even though they live in Vegas now, they haven’t stopped visiting it — they staycation once a month. “I’ve stayed at 51 hotel and casinos,” she says, burbling with laughter. “We didn’t want to lose the buzz of being in Las Vegas.” See, delightful! — Scott Dickensheets

Sebastian Reynoso

Singer

Amidst the sobs of Eagles fans came a sound even more pleasing to the ear.

It was a Thursday night in mid-October, and Tampa Bay was slapping around Philadelphia in the first game of the NFL’s week six slate.

During the broadcast, which was watched by an average of over 9 million viewers on Fox, an up-and-coming Vegas singer got a break as sizeable as the audience in question.

As part of the NFL’s “Songs of the Season” campaign in support of its “Inspire Change” movement, local artist Sebastian Reynoso’s single with Vegas production due The Audibles, “Outrageous,” was played on air.

“We all sat around the TV and lost our minds,” Reynoso recalls, voice still reverberating with excitement months later.

The song, a breathy vocal strip tease punctuated with tendrils of guitar and a clapping beat, was among a number of singles Reynoso dropped in 2021, setting the stage for his debut E.P. “Human,” which came out in late November.

Though the E.P. was self-released, the meticulously produced, five-song effort sounds like it could have come out on a major label, with Reynoso’s preternaturally smooth, upper register lilt sounding destined for the airwaves.

Though he’s but 21 years old, Reynoso is already a grizzled, 10-year vet of the music biz. He began DJing at 11; two years later, he was for performing at the artist compound at Coachella for the likes of Diplo, Katy Perry and Skrillex.

When he was 18, he cut a track with DJ Carnage, which caught the ear of The Audibles, who’ve worked with big names like Usher, Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith and are perhaps best known for their collaborations with Justin Bieber.

“We spend more time hanging out than we do working on music,” Reynoso says of his relationship with The Audibles. “That’s what makes the best music, working with your friends.”

The entertainment industry is in Reynoso’s blood. His father worked for California-based concert promoter Golden Voice, before relocating to Vegas to join the team at AEG Live when Reynoso was 4 years old.

His parents let him build a studio in their house when he was a teenager. “I would have a bunch of different local artists come to my house and I’d record them, write for them and produce for them,” he says. “Basically, it allowed me to get a lot of time behind production, time behind writing and time behind mixing.”

That well-rounded skill set manifests itself on “Human,” which Reynoso wrote and helped produce. In 2022, he plans to issue a deluxe version of the E.P. as well a new full-length album.

He’s also launching his own nonprofit, Kids Need Water — named after the closing track on “Human” — aimed at doing community events. (Reynoso put on a free show in October).

“Kids need water’ is a metaphor, that they need more light, they need more opportunities to do better things,” Reynoso explains. “We’re basically going to try to give back our time to the community that raised us, the city that raised us. It’s a helluva lot deeper than getting famous.” — Jason Bracelin

Omar Shelly

Violist

It was his second choice, the instrument that’d change his life.

Flashback to the sixth grade. An 11-year-old Omar Shelly was filling out the form to select what he wanted to play in school band. “I actually wanted to play trumpet,” recalls Shelly. “I think they were over-booked with other kids who wanted to play trumpet as well.”

And so he got the viola instead.

“The viola gets a little bit neglected, because a lot of times kids just really don’t know what it is,” Shelly says. “They see violin, ‘OK, I know that;’ cello, ‘cool;’ bass, ‘OK;’ viola? What’s that?

“That’s kind of what I was thinking,” he continues. “Then I ended up getting assigned it. And here I am 20 years later, still playing it.”

In the two decades since he first picked up the instrument, Shelly has performed at the Sydney Opera House, The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, one of the world’s most exclusive concert halls, and Carnegie Hall on multiple occasions, to name but a few of the storied venue he’s played in.

Currently a member of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, where he’s among the orchestra’s most accomplished up-and-coming young players, Shelly’s curating the Philharmonic’s upcoming “Spotlight on Piazolla” performance, the latest in its intimate chamber concert series at Troesh Studio Theater at The Smith Center.

The show, which was originally scheduled for January but has been postponed to a date to be announced later in the year due to coronavirus concerns, will be centered on the works of Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla.

“I wanted to come up with a program that featured the string players in the orchestra in a different light than the audience members are used to seeing us in,” Shelly explains. “With that in mind, I got the idea of focusing on the music of Astor Piazzolla, because a lot of the pieces that we have available to us for string playing — at least by him — are just so interesting and so cool and multifaceted. You don’t really have the opportunity to hear that side of our playing when we’re in the full orchestra.”

A graduate of the Las Vegas Academy of Performing and Visual Arts, Shelly attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for undergraduate studies and then got his master’s degree at the University of Michigan. Shelly’s also a founding member of The Orchestra Now, a training orchestra program at Bard College in New York. He joined he Philharmonic in 2014.

What has it taken for him to get to this point?

Three-to-five hours a day of practice, steadily turning a second choice into a first love.

“To be great at anything, really, you’ve got to have that ability to be able to focus and hone in on what’s the key thing that’s holding you back from getting to that next step,” Shelly explains, “and then work on what that thing is to build it up to where you’re able to take that next step. And then you just keep going.” — Jason Bracelin

Ash DelGrego

Poet

Las Vegas poet Ash DelGrego’s work work can be seen in his recently published first collection of poetry, “Chrysalis”($15, Zeitgeist Press), heard at readings and even perused as an inscription on a sidewalk on South Third Street in Las Vegas’ Arts District.

But DelGrego’s influence extends further, through The Campfire Open Mic, a reading he founded in 2016 that gives voice to area poets and, he hopes, helps to build a sense of community.

Community is important to DelGrego, a trans poet who has written that his childhood was unpredictable and that growing up in a military household meant moving somewhere else almost every other year. He began writing poetry at a young age.

“When friends left, poetry arrived,” he writes. “When heartache came, poetry consoled. When life was just too damn much, poetry made manifest.”

But he never had gone to an open mic event until moving to Las Vegas in 2015. “I wrote a poem and performed it for the first time, and I’ve never looked back since then,” he said.

Seeking to create a supportive open mic gathering, he created what eventually would become The Campfire to “provide the community, underprivileged individuals, local artists and everyday individuals to have the same opportunity, the same space (and) to eat at the same table,” all in a safe space where “you won’t be judged or hurt as to what you’re expressing.”

Today, his inclination toward inclusion and creating community also takes the form of a foundation DelGrego is creating to help marginalized Southern Nevadans. He takes poetry into classrooms through the organization Poetry Promise and also creates visual art (stardustessentials.com).

“If I’m going to be excelling, I’d like to offer my hand back,” he said. “I just feel if we continue to empower people, we’re going to see a lot more beautiful of a world.”

The Campfire (facebook.com/thecampfirelv) runs on odd Wednesdays — the first, third and fifth of the month — at Davy’s, 1221 S. Main St. at 7:30 p.m. — John Przybys

UNLV Jazz

Band

It’s not easy to steal the spotlight in Las Vegas. But even while pretty much everybody was focusing mostly on musical offerings along the Strip, UNLV’s Division of Jazz and Commercial Music has been forging an enviable national reputation as one of the best college jazz programs in the country.

Ensembles from the school have won numerous honors during the past decade or so. And, in April, UNLV’s will be one of 10 university programs competing in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s second annual Jack Rudin Jazz Championship. The two-day competition — which had been scheduled for this month but was postponed because of COVID — invites only what are considered to be the country’s best university jazz programs.

According to Todd Stoll, Jazz at Lincoln Center vice president of education, the 10 bands invited to compete “represent the highest level of achievement in our music by young people.”

Dave Loeb, director of the Division of Jazz and Commercial Music in UNLV’s School of Music, said Rudin organizers “heard about our band, and a lot of people have for a long time. We’ve gotten 33 international student musical awards since 2010. We’ve developed a pretty strong track record at this point.”

UNLV’s contingent at the Rudin competition will include about two dozen students and several faculty members. “The students are phenomenal. I can’t say enough about them,” Loeb said.

And while it might sound like a cliche, Loeb said simply being invited to compete in such a prestigious event is “pretty exciting.”

“We’re going to give it our best,” he said, but it’s an honor “just being part of this incredible (competition), whether we win, place or show.” — John Przybys

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