Drums pound a hard rock beat as AC/DC’s “Back in Black” plays out to a crowd. But here’s the catch — there are no vocals, no bass and no guitar. Instead, four women command the front of the stage playing violins.
They are known as Bella Electric Strings and they star in the show “Violin Femmes,” which comes to the YMCA Boulton Center in Bay Shore on Thursday, delivering classic rock with a classical twist.
“If you close your eyes, you’re not going to be able to tell that you are not listening to a guitar,” says creator and lead violinist Nina DiGregorio. “We are carefully trained using wah-wah pedals with 6-inch stiletto heels.”
HOW IT BEGAN
DiGregorio’s fascination with translating rock music into violin arrangements began at age 12.
“My dad would strum Beatles guitar chords, and I’d pick up my violin and play the melodies of the song while my mom was cooking dinner,” she says.
When DiGregorio got her first electric violin, she had an idea.
“I plugged into my father’s effects pedal and amp, then started to play the notes to Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ ” says DiGregorio, who counts John Lennon, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page among her other influences.
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After spending years professionally backing stars like Richard Marx, Andrea Bocelli and Beyoncé, she started her own outfit.
STACKED SET LIST
The 90-minute show features the four violin players performing music from classic rock acts like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Queen, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Rush and The Who. They are backed only by a live drummer.
“They play like four Eddie Van Halens,” says drummer Michael Licata, who has performed with Ricky Martin, Savage Garden, Bang Tango, Ringo Starr and Rhino Bucket. “I hit just as hard in this group as I do when I play in a rock band.”
In the show, the Bellas rip through solos on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” plus they do a “Fallen Heroes Tribute” to late musicians David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles and Prince. DiGregorio even throws in an original tune, “Adagio,” in the style of Gustav Mahler, showing off their classical chops.
“There’s a lot of emotional moments,” says Licata. “At some points, you’ll be wiping your eyes. It’s quite a roller-coaster ride.”
During the show, the Bellas get interactive by venturing into the crowd.
“We will stand on a table, chair or simply sit down next to someone in the back of the room while playing,” DiGregorio says. “We get everyone up dancing or sometimes we will have a contest where we teach people how to play The Charlie Daniels Band’s ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’ ”
NO SINGER, NO PROBLEM
But how do you hold a rock concert without a lead singer? DiGregorio has the answer.
“I front the show like a lead singer,” she says. “There’s going to be talking and narration. Plus, there are hints of vocals here and there on the chorus. In fact on one song, all four of us sing harmony.”
Licata seconds that. “You don’t miss the vocals because the girls are so captivating to watch. Sometimes the audience will even sing along.”
The four ladies exude a sexy rock-and-roll vibe with their hair, makeup and clothing.
“We try and go for the Hollywood glam kind of look — curly hair and smoky-eyed makeup,” says DiGregorio. “We are very careful not to cross the line into trashy.”
MEET & GREET
At the end of each show, the Bellas greet fans at their merchandise booth to take photos, sell T-shirts and sign autographs.
“We see a lot of girls ages 7 to 9 that just started on violin in orchestra class who come to our concerts with their parents,” says DiGregorio. “We want to show them you don’t have to sit in the orchestra pit and back up singers your whole life. String players can be the stars of the show!”
‘Violin Femmes’ starring Bella Electric Strings
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m., Thursday, March 16, YMCA Boulton Center, 37 West Main St., Bay Shore
INFO 631-969-1101, boultoncenter.org