If there was any question just how beloved Gary Wright had been, Monday night’s celebration at Backstage Bar and Billiards answered it—loudly. Friends, family and fans turned out to pay tribute to the local multi-instrumentalist, who died last week following a battle with lung cancer, and it seemed everyone had the same sentiments: Wright was one of the nicest people they’d known, and he was a brilliant musician.
This night was as much about his music as anything else. The Fremonts and The Nines played a hybrid set, showcasing the fun rockabilly of the former and the swank lounge vibe of the latter. And it marked the final set The Nines will ever play, featuring a particularly stirring moment when Gary’s father, Dick Wright, brought his trumpet onstage for a beautiful version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.”
Gary Wright’s most famous band—and one of Las Vegas’ all-time most beloved groups—12 Volt Sex took the stage with Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci sitting in for his comrade. “I met Gary when I was 15, I think,” Vannucci said. “I was bagging groceries at a Smith’s, and Gary was sort of like the man on the scene. We looked up to these guys that were sort of angels on the scene.”
The 12 Volt set was so emotional, at one point lead singer Matt Gucu turned away from the crowd and slapped his own face, in an apparent attempt to hold it together. Guitarist Michael Stratton called the night “a mixture of complete sadness and a reunion of a bunch of people who haven’t seen each other in a long time. It’s a strange but beautiful thing.”
Of Wright’s musical contribution to Las Vegas, Stratton added, “He made good songwriters incredible, and he was himself a great songwriter. I don’t think my old band would have been nearly what it was without Gary.”
Vannucci summed up Wright’s place in the Las Vegas music scene like this: “I love Gary and think he’s one of the Las Vegas greats. Everybody f*cking knows it. I’m sure he didn’t know it, but that’s cool.”
And Gucu, before leaving the stage, offered three simple words: “We’ll never forget.”