“It sucks that Warped Tour and Ozzfest never come to Vegas,” Avenged Sevenfold singer M. Shadows said during his band’s headlining set on the first day of this past weekend’s 48 Hours Festival. He didn’t quite have his facts straight (the Warped Tour finally did stop here in July), but his sentiments were on target. It does suck that those hard-rock festival tours (almost) never play here, and the 20,000-plus fans who showed up over the course of two days at 48 Hours proved that there are plenty of people in town who are willing to support a multi-band outdoor concert devoted to heavy music. The jam-band/indie festival Vegoose petered out after three installments, and last year’s Matador Records anniversary festival received tons of press but could barely sell its allotment of tickets for locals. As attention-getting as the Downtown music scene might be, Vegas music fans are far more likely to be into Three Days Grace than whatever band played for 10 people at the Bunkhouse last week.
And the festival was a parade of hometown love, with nationally successful Vegas-based bands Adelitas Way, Escape the Fate (minus guitarist Bryan “Monte” Money and bassist Max Green) and Taking Dawn on the bill, plus local favorites Otherwise and transplanted Californians Five Finger Death Punch, who drew the biggest, most intense crowd on Saturday. Shadows was one of two singers who reminisced about playing the Huntridge (Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon also referenced the classic Vegas theater), and he even name-checked long-defunct local venue the Castle. I spotted at least two T-shirts for veteran Vegas metal act Hemlock, which would have been a great addition to the somewhat bland bill.
Playing it safe was probably the best way for the organizers to guarantee a successful show, though, and acts including Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch, Three Days Grace, Godsmack and Korn garnered enthusiastic audience response, with vigorous mosh pits and loud sing-alongs. Despite all the aggression on display in the music (not to mention all the free energy drinks being dispensed by event sponsor Rockstar), the vibe was celebratory and inclusive, with multiple bands dedicating songs to the members of the armed forces and to fallen musical comrades (there was an entire booth devoted to selling merchandise featuring late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell). Although Five Finger Death Punch singer Ivan Moody tried to drum up some (apparently fake) controversy by claiming that the band had been asked to cut its set short because of excessive audience rowdiness, the first large-scale event at the “Luxor Festival Grounds” (a parking lot across the street from the Luxor) seemed to go off without a hitch.
Maybe the key to mounting a successful music festival in Vegas is to stop worrying about what’s cool and just book what people want to see. There were strong sets at 48 Hours from a handful of bands (most notably East Coast hardcore veterans Hatebreed), but even with many of the acts coasting on familiar sounds (and Sunday-night headliner Korn barely playing for an hour), the audience response was overwhelmingly positive. It’ll be great if Warped and Ozzfest make it to town next year, but if not, 48 Hours could be a decent substitute.