Femmes of Rock Photo by Mark Bickham

Back in early 2020, the Femmes of Rock were scheduled to appear at the Waterville Opera House where the quartet of electrified string players—led by Nina DiGregorio—were going to wow the audience with their special brand of rock via classical instrumentation. Well, we know how that turned out—or in this case didn’t—so when I learned that they were going to have another go at it, I requested an interview with Ms. DiGregorio (whom I had chatted with back in 2017 previous to a performance in Sidney). I reached the violinist/arranger at her home in Las Vegas on the 20th of July.

DiGregorio: So, what has it been — about three or four years?

Q: Yes, we first chatted in 2017 — so four years ago … my, my how time does fly.
DiGregorio: (Chuckle) Right.

Q: Well, my contact at the Waterville Opera House told me that the Femmes of Rock was the first act to be cancelled when the pandemic hit…
DiGregorio: Actually, it’s pretty funny because we got off the plane in Portland, Maine, we got picked up and as we were waiting for our baggage that’s when the phone call came in and said, “We’re not going to be able to do the show tomorrow!” It was our very first cancelled show during the pandemic, and the dominoes fell from there. So we went out for a nice steak and lobster dinner in Waterville, went to the hotel and changed all our flights, and turned around and went back home. We were supposed to have two shows after that, one in Rhode Island and one in Buffalo, and like I said, we waited for the calls to come in and the dominoes started to fall. We were thinking to ourselves, “How are we going to live without income for two weeks?! All these shows are cancelled!” We thought it would be a couple of weeks long and then here we are a year-and-a-half later. And this is one of our very first shows, we have one near the Chicago area Aug. 7th, which is actually our first, newly scheduled show, and that’s opening for Kansas there, our show in Maine is going to be our next newest show after that, so hopefully everything remains in a positive direction and the show happens. We’re looking forward to it. It was a rough year for us but we’re pretty excited to get back at it, and we know that people are starved for music and entertainment right now and we plan of delivering a quality performance for them.

Q: Now, will you be doing any other shows in the area after the Waterville gig?
DiGregorio: We’re doing Maine on the 27th and then New Hampshire on the 28th. And we’re hoping that we can just continue, even if it’s slow, on a safe tour recovery.

Q: Just out of curiosity, how do you go about putting a set list together for a show, like opening for Kansas, for instance?
DiGregorio: Well, first of all we have to make sure that we don’t play any Kansas songs, they might get really mad about that (laughter). We actually do “Carry on Wayward Son” in our show, so we won’t be doing that one when we open for Kansas, we’ll let them have their song. But usually I look at the area of the country that we’re in, and I create the set list accordingly. Obviously, if we’re playing somewhere down South to leave out “Devil Went Down To Georgia” out would be a sin, and a couple of years ago we played near Toronto and we made sure we did a tribute to Rush when we did that show … we always take that into account when making our set list.

Q: Are you constantly working on new material as far as your new covers go?
DiGregorio: Usually, yes, but it’s very time-consuming and calls for a lot of money to add even one new medley to our show, because it’s a production show we have everything synched to a click track and our videos synched to a click track, as well. So it’s usually at least $1,000 or $2,000 in production to get the backing track made because after I’ve written the arrangement for the strings and given it to the producer who will make the backing track and the video. We can’t afford a live orchestra to tour with us, it would be pretty expensive to have 30 musicians with us onstage and flying with us, so we have our girls’ record acoustic instruments. We play all of our electric stuff live but the stuff an orchestra would play we record that so that it sounds the way I hear it in my head when I write the arrangements. One day I’m hoping we get to do a tour with a live orchestra, which would be really, really nice, or at least bring our show to different orchestra in different cities, but all that stuff costs quite a bit of money and during the pandemic we didn’t have a lot of extra money so we added one new thing to our repertoire. It’s a special rock version of the theme to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” and we’re going to be adding that to our show now because it’s a really cool new arrangement.

Q: Now I believe you’ve played at the Waterville Opera House before, correct?
DiGregorio: We’ve played there, I believe, twice before, man, I hope it hasn’t been three times but I think it’s been twice (laughter), it’s hard to remember anything pre-pandemic, at this point.

Q: What can folks attending the show in Waterville expect?
DiGregorio: We’ve added some new tracks since the last time we’ve been there, we have, I believe, three new medleys from that last time, so they can expect different stuff there from us. And we know, pretty much, that people are so starved for entertainment that the energy in the room is going to be fantastic and we intend on giving everyone a really, really fun evening of rock music.

Q: And let’s face it, if you’ve got an enthusiastic audience, that energy gets pumped right back at you.
DiGregorio: Definitely! The audience feeds off of the performers and the performers feed off the audience, and that kind of reciprocal energy is really important and it’s something you can’t duplicate when you’re doing a streaming show online. It’s very difficult to replicate that because of the delay and you don’t really hear them, you don’t see them and even if you’re reading comments, it’s not quite the same thing.

Q: Well, Nina, is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
DiGregorio: I would just say, to let everybody know, that this is going to be a very high-energy rock show and that they’re going to see and hear some brand new material … we look forward to celebrating live music once again!

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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