Megan Rugar
Photography by Sabin Orr

Big Voice, Big Dream

Desert Companion

Nashville transplant Megan Rüger finds Las Vegas the ideal place the chase her rock ’n’ roll fantasy

Vinyl, the intimate club in the Hard Rock hotel-casino, is packed tighter than a sportsbook on Super Bowl Sunday. For nostalgia-driven fans of the star-studded tribute revue, Raiding the Rock Vault, it’s a special night. Popular Vault alum Todd Kerns returns after jaunting the globe as the bassist for Slash. But once a wide-eyed, mohawked female singer joins the fray for a couple of songs, Kerns isn’t the main attraction. That honor belongs Megan Rüger.

As the last notes of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” fade, the opening notes of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” provide a red carpet for her entrance. In a heartbeat, she’s channeling Stevie Nicks in tone and motion. When she’s done, the crowd roars and whistles as she disappears — perhaps some recognize her from her stint on season six of The Voice. She’s got two more spotlight numbers, Heart’s “These Dreams” and, in particular, Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” which reveals her true range and power. Clad in a skintight, gold-sequined gown and black spiked heels, she’s drop-dead glamorous, delivering the heart-breaking chorus with everything she can muster. More wild noise from the crowd.

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 Two hours later, back at her far-from-glamorous one-bedroom apartment near the UNLV campus, clad in sweats and a Ramones tee, she’s just Megan Elizabeth Pflueger, a tomboy from Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, one year removed from a decade playing the bars of Nashville, now checking her iPhone to see where the next gig and next dollar are coming from. (She’s never had a booking agent or manager; she’s handled the logistics of a freelance performer entirely on her own for almost 15 years.)

“In sheer numbers,” she says, “Nashville had more gigs for me to make money day-to-day. But Vegas has more diverse opportunities in line with my personality and style.” That’s not the only benefit of changing cities. “I also get to sing a lot less and make more money in Vegas.”

Segue to the Brooklyn Bridge outdoor stage at New York-New York a few days later. The Vegas Golden Knights have just beaten the Calgary Flames two-zip in a matinee contest, and thousands of ecstatic T-Mobile fans are clogging the nearby sidewalks and eateries. Some choose to extend the celebration with the Megan Rüger Band. This audience won’t get just a handful of solo verses from abbreviated hits, but a full-throated three sets of classics (and a couple originals) that really showcase her talent. This is Megan’s current happy place: surrounded by solid players, performing iconic songs for music lovers from all walks of life. At 7 p.m., when she and her bandmates — drummer Chris Reeve, bassist Victor Broden, and guitarist Eric Himmel — hit the stage, it’s 52 degrees. During her three 45-minute sets, the temps shrink as the crowd swells. Megan is anxious and excited because her folks, in town to visit their daughter, are sitting front and center.

“Mom always said she was a star; I wanted her to just be a kid,” Dad says. “When Megan was like 2 years old, I’d put on the Doors ‘Roadhouse Blues,’ and when Morrison sang, ‘roll, baby roll,’ I’d roll her around the living room with my foot. She’d laugh like crazy.”

The Bridge crowd is swirling when two small children drift from their parents toward the stage, magnetized by the woman busting out a rendition of AC/DC’s “TNT” that would make Bon Scott proud. Megan leans into the mic and tells them, “Don’t you guys move! I’m coming down there to dance with you!” When the song ends, the parents hand the youngsters two $10 bills, which they carefully deposit in the blue tip bucket at the foot of the stage. Megan and the guys — who drove in from L.A. for this gig — will net a modest $225 apiece, so the gratuities matter. “Hey, I’ve been here a year and still living off my credit cards,” she confesses. “Every bit helps!”

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