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September 2, 2014

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MUSIC:

Freakin’ Frog swings with music that influenced rock ’n’ roll

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Sam Morris

A couple dance as the Swingin’ Pedestrians perform last month at the Freakin’ Frog. The band is a diverse group of musicians, some with ties to the Strip.

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The Swingin' Pedestrians perform at the Freakin' Frog Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009.

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The Swingin' Pedestrians perform at the Freakin' Frog Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009.

If You Go

  • Who: Swingin’ Pedestrians
  • When: 10 p.m. Wednesday and every other Wednesday
  • Where: Freakin’ Frog, 4700 S. Maryland Parkway
  • Admission: Free

Freakin’ Frog

The Freakin’ Frog is hoppin’ to heart-pounding performances by the Swingin’ Pedestrians.

Every other Wednesday the six-piece band, composed mostly of musicians who play in shows on the Strip, celebrates the roots of rock ’n’ roll. The group blows off the roof with rockabilly, boogie and swing that began to emerge in the ’50s about the time Elvis began to shake up the music world.

Then singer Tony Felicetta grabs the vintage “Elvis” microphone and slings the stand like Fred Astaire partnering with Ginger Rogers as he wails such classics as “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

The Pedestrians are anything but pedestrian.

Felicetta, the group’s founder, performed with various tribute bands in Los Angeles before moving to Las Vegas seven years ago to play Ringo Starr in “Fab Four Live” at the V Theatre.

But he always has been a fan of rockabilly and roots rock ’n’ roll, so he formed the Swingin’ Pedestrians about a year ago.

The other Pedestrians are:

Michael Bacich, keyboards — He performed with the rock group Oingo Boingo in the ’80s and now spends a lot of time in the studio. He moved to Las Vegas in 2001 and was music director for vocalist Diane Diaz at the Bellagio for a couple of years.

Richard Belgard, guitar — He left Seattle in 2001 to join the Blue Man Group band. He also performs with Christie Molasky’s Music Junkies.

Nick White, drums — A graduate of Berklee College of Music, he performed in Boston bands for 13 years before landing a gig with Blue Man Group.

Eric Tewalt, saxophone — After performing on cruise ships for several years, he moved to the desert 10 years ago and has played for the likes of Toni Braxton and Sheena Easton. He’s been with “Jersey Boys” since it opened in early 2008. He also plays with Jerry Lopez’s Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns on Mondays at the Palms.

Steve Koontz, bass — He was one of the founders of the Portland, Ore., band 5 Guys Named Moe. He moved to Las Vegas a couple of years ago to run Hollywood Event Design Group’s local branch. He also has an energy drink company, Screaming Zombie.

The musicians have eclectic backgrounds but share a love for the rootsy repertoire.

“Old ’50s rock ’n’ roll, Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis,” White says. “Wow, I love that stuff.”

Belgard expresses it more philosophically: “This is a bit of a departure for me; however the roots of rock ’n’ roll is the basis of a lot of modern music. There’s a surprising rawness to the early rock ’n’ roll.”

Felicetta explains what you’ll hear at a show.

“The old stuff like Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, some old Elvis,” he says. “We do a few newer rockabilly-type songs like from the Rev. Horton Heat, Wayne Hancock and the Stray Cats. Then we throw in a couple of swing-type tunes, like Louis Prima or my dad’s old favorite, Louis Jordan doing ‘Choo Choo Ch’Boogie.’ We try to mix it all up. Most of it’s fun music you’re not going to get anywhere else around here.”

Although Las Vegas offers about every style of music, Felicetta says, old rockabilly isn’t prominent.

“You might see a ‘psychobilly’ group, which is a faster punk version of rockabilly, but to get this old-style music you have to come see us,” he says. “I saw there was kind of a void in town to do this and to present it in a cool way and try to collect rockabilly fans and swing fans, just good time rock ’n’ roll people.”

The group performed at the Dive Bar, Beauty Bar, Aruba and other venues before settling on the Freakin’ Frog as its base a couple of months ago. “It’s a fun place,” Felicetta says of the bar, across South Maryland Parkway from UNLV.

The Frog, owned by adjunct professor Adam Carmer, is best known for serving 700 varieties of beer and 300 varieties of whiskey.

But lately the Frog has been more aggressive in booking bands. Barbara Kenig finds the local talent, and her husband, Howard, runs the sound system. They envision the club becoming a launchpad for groups such as the Swingin’ Pedestrians.

“There are no development joints in Vegas,” Howard Kenig says. “No place to develop, to move from just being talented to becoming professionals. We want to do for musicians what Budd Friedman did for comedians at his Improv comedy clubs. One night at the Frog in Las Vegas should be worth a weekend anywhere in the country.”

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