Gwen Stefani literally stopped traffic on the Strip Friday morning by climbing off a firework-popping semi-trailer truck wearing a shiny black-and-white outfit straight out of Alice in Wonderland and sauntering up the steps of the Planet Hollywood resort, where she was greeted by dancers, a drumline and hundreds of fans welcoming her to her new Vegas residency.
The event wasn’t just a ticket sales kickoff for Gwen Stefani: Just a Girl, the new headlining production that opens June 27. It also marked a new era for one of the most successful concert venues in the country, the recently renamed Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood, formerly called the Axis but best known as the Vegas home of Britney Spears. Brit’s gone now, and the other pop queen in the building, Jennifer Lopez, wraps up her run in September. Stefani will share the room this year with the Backstreet Boys, Lionel Richie and Pitbull. Next year, who knows? The Zappos Theater will need to add more stars to keep up with the Joneses … and there are more and more Joneses. These are the major music resident headliners, in alphabetical order: Blink-182, Boyz II Men, Cher, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Elton John (until May 17), Bruno Mars, Ricky Martin, Reba McEntire with Brooks & Dunn, Donny and Marie Osmond, Santana and Rod Stewart.
Friday’s welcome party was something else—a reminder of just how big the Vegas experience has become. It wasn’t long ago that such a superstar arrival would keep Vegas abuzz for weeks. Remember when they shut down the Boulevard so Shania Twain could ride a horse to Caesars Palace? This one was merely a weekend kickoff. Friday night’s hot ticket was sold-out Stanley Cup playoff hockey at T-Mobile Arena, where Justin Timberlake took over for Strip-clogging back-to-back concerts Saturday and Sunday. Somehow, the annual Academy of Country Music Awards show and its many Party for a Cause events crammed into the weekend as well, extremely convenient for Stefani’s boyfriend. Blake Shelton showed up for her event at Planet Hollywood, and she joined him for her first ACMs Sunday at MGM Grand Garden Arena, singing along as he performed “I Lived It.”
All this epic Vegas activity demonstrates that shows like Stefani’s (and Lopez’s, which was also part of last weekend’s blowout and continues through April 21 at Zappos Theater) belong in an entertainment category apart from other recurring Strip productions. They aren’t traditional headliners, because they have greater potential for a larger audience. They create their own traffic. People didn’t come to Vegas for the weekend and happen to catch Britney; they came to see Britney in Vegas. They came from across the country and paid hundreds of dollars to see the ACM awards and/or Justin Timberlake last weekend.
Somehow the Strip has grown to the point where it has multiple bigger-than-Vegas events happening all the time, which is nothing short of mind-boggling.