You can tell when Lydia Ansel walks into the Center Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. There is a gravitational shift. Lydia naturally garners attention, though it isn’t her goal. She is tall, beautiful, and always smiling. Focus just moves toward her, but today, she greets me, to the jealous looks of all others in the joint. I have known Lydia since she was a music student at Arizona State University and not the Vegas headliner she is today. We sit on a cushioned bench and talk about her career and life as a Las Vegas entertainer.
The Royal Tour: You are a classically trained violinist. What made you decide to come to Las Vegas, and how has that transition been?
Lydia Ansel: Well, I started classically, but from early on I had performed with all genres of music, from cover bands and pop to whatever, and I have always loved Vegas. Living in Arizona, it was so close, I would pop in regularly. I wanted the chance to come out here, so I decided to, basically on a whim.
TRT: And obviously it has worked out pretty well.
LA: I love it. It’s awesome here, and I am really grateful to be able to do what I love and perform at so many amazing venues, and to travel. It’s a great spot, and you can do anything here!
TRT: What was it like making that change when you first got here?
LA: In what way?
TRT: Just to acclimate to the Vegas culture from what you had been doing before.
LA: Well, I had to learn to do more of the Vegas style of makeup and hair, which I had never done before. I had pretty much just worn mascara and thought I was done. I’m still not hugely confident in it, but I’ve always loved playing dress-up so I am having fun with it.
TRT: Of all the places someone with your talent could go, why Vegas? Why is this the place you would want to spend your career?
LA: Vegas is the entertainment capital. There is so much going on here. And I’m not just in Vegas. I was actually just in Dallas.
TRT: Doing what?
LA: I had a corporate event there. I do a lot of corporate and private events. I get hired all over the world. Being able to jump to the airport and go anywhere you want is huge, and having the residency here in Vegas… everyone comes here. So many friends I haven’t seen in years (Editor’s Note: like me) come to Vegas and have seen me here. And there is so much draw for people to come, like shows and restaurants, and I get to see everyone who comes in.
TRT: Absolutely, there is so much here. Turning back to your career, you have been part of Bella Strings, performed with Zowie Bowie and Rod Stewart, now you have a residency here at Hard Rock, how has that evolution been for you as an artist and performer, and where do you see it going from here?
LA: Oh gosh. As any person, you always have to be changing and moving along with whatever comes your way. Right now, I have the DJ-Violin show at Hard Rock and Coyote Ugly, but I am still performing as a violinist or electric violin with bands or at private events. I also get hired now as a DJ, and that is kind of new to me.
TRT: Do you like being a DJ?
LA: It has been really interesting. When I first got to Vegas, I was constantly being paired up with DJs, and improv is kind of a specialty of mine, so at any club or event they would just tell me to go play. I have been lucky to be able to bring live music back to DJing, where it used to be much more prevalent. So to be hired as just a DJ was a bit mind-boggling for me at the start. It’s been really cool, though, and a huge growing experience for me. I didn’t know much about it beforehand, and I’ve come to realize there is a lot more art to it than what I had first thought. There are people out there who can really do masterpieces. There are amazing DJs out there that I am astounded by. It takes immense talent. They can make someone smile and move someone in some kind of way.
TRT: So where do you see yourself going from here? What does your career look like from now forward?
LA: I honestly don’t know. I am excited for my opportunities this year, traveling to do events in Asia and Switzerland, and throughout the country here. But I am so happy here at Hard Rock. They have been really amazing when I need to go somewhere or do something.
We are interrupted here as a fan (there are many already gathering at the bar in anticipation for Lydia to begin) greets her. As she does with everyone, she smiles warmly, says hi, and makes him feel like the only person in the room. It is a skill to be able to do that, and Lydia possesses that in spades.
LA: But yeah, I love it here at Hard Rock! It’s a feeling of family. And it’s a great feeling to have that, to have employees and regulars come and talk to me, and to have a spot where friends can always find me.
TRT: That is awesome to have!
LA: It really is.
TRT: When people think of Vegas, they think of gambling and partying, but they don’t think about the city itself. What is it like to actually live in Las Vegas?
LA: As you said, Vegas is pretty much known for the one mile Strip, but outside of that, it’s pretty similar to any suburban city. You have families here, and soccer moms, but one of the unique things is that everything is 24 hours. My favorite part is the restaurants. You don’t have to rely on Denny’s or Taco Bell – which are fine options sometimes – but rather can find the most amazing restaurants open all the time. Like across the street here there is sushi open until 6am!
TRT: With your schedule, you kind of have to have that, right?
LA: Besides just the schedule, everything here is really fresh and good. We have a lot of Asian food here, with everything from Korean to Thai and Japanese. To stay in business in Las Vegas, it has to be good. And it is good here, and open all night!
TRT: Some people aren’t sure if they should visit Las Vegas, because they think of it as this one big party where everyone is drunk all the time. How would you respond to that?
LA: That’s actually not my experience with what people find when they get here. So many of the people I talk to are here for the shows or the world-class restaurants. Of course there are those who want to have their bachelorette parties – or divorce parties, or girls’ night, or whatever. But I think the word has been getting out that Vegas is so much more than drinking and gambling. I heard that as of a couple years ago, hospitality [hotels, shows, restaurants, etc…] surpassed gambling in terms of revenue.
TRT: Do you think it’s a place for families?
LA: I don’t have a family so it’s hard for me to truly answer. I mean, I have my parents, and I love when they visit. But I do think there is something for every age. If you have kids, there is Circus Circus and other casinos that are geared toward that. You can go hiking in Red Rock Canyon, and other things like that, but I am by no means an expert on families with young kids.
TRT: Fair enough. Ok, so you have been here in Las Vegas for a while now and are really a Vegas insider in every sense of the word. What are your favorite spots? If you were just going to hang out, where would it be?
LA: I really like everything! I love the restaurants, for sure.
TRT: Any specific ones?
LA: Well, since we were just talking about Asian restaurants, Chada Thai is one of my favorites. Joe’s at Caesar’s for sure. A lot of New York restaurants have opened here now. Cosmo alone has a whole bunch. There are so many great places. If you aren’t good, you won’t stay open in Vegas. And then there are the shows. I love the shows! I have friends in pretty much all of them. For me, it is pretty much on a mood basis. Or when my parents come, trying to find something they haven’t seen yet. I really just have some favorite venues. Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesar’s, for instance, just has a really cool vibe. And of course everyone should come see me! And then Vegas is just amazing for the random live music scene. The first place I ever jammed in here was Rush Lounge at the Golden Nugget downtown. The band there is truly incredible, and it has great memories for me. House of Blues always has great bands. Anywhere you go in Vegas, you can just close your eyes and point and you’ll find something cool.
TRT: Great tips! My last question for you is: are there any hidden gems that you know about that you can tip our readers off to?
LA: There are hidden gems everywhere! There’s a place in Cosmo called Secret Pizza with just amazing food – a real hole in the wall. Rose Rabbit Lie at Cosmo also, there’s a singer there, Skye Miles, who is real powerhouse. Restaurant-wise, get off the Strip to Spring Mountain – that’s the little Asian town. A friend of mine has this place called The Space, and he brings in entertainers to benefit a different charity every month. There are just so many places. Explore and be open and you will find something you’ll love!
TRT: Anything else you want people to know?
LA: There are some great resources out there, like Vegas.com, that just put it all together for people to make things easier. And of course, blogs like this one. Or reach out to me at my website and ask me!
TRT: And come and see you here at the Hard Rock or Coyote Ugly. Or read your feature in Las Vegas Weekly!
LA: Yeah, that was super cool!
TRT: Congratulations on that. And as someone who has followed your career since the start, your success is truly well-deserved. Thank you so much for sitting down with me!
If you enjoyed this interview, check out the rest of our Royal Tour posts!