Rock in Rio weekend one: a problem-free Vegas debut

Fans dance into the evening as the sun sets on Day 2 of Rock in Rio USA on Saturday, May 9, 2015.
Photo: L.E. Baskow

Reports of Rock in Rio’s early demise were greatly exaggerated. For all the slings and arrows about [insert inconvenience or uncool music act here] and armchair attendance projections for the first day of the festival’s rock weekend, the Brazilian import did just fine.

Rock in Rio: Day 2

While not a blockbuster debut, or likely a profitable one, the first weekend—dedicated to mostly rock acts—saw 37,000 walk through the gate on Friday, with 45,000 visiting on Saturday. Life Is Beautiful has yet to draw those single-day numbers. And with half of the attendees hailing from Southern California, and about a quarter visiting from somewhere else, that meant money was being spent both at the box office and at our casinos and businesses.

Which was the whole point of having Rock in Rio make its American debut here; we locals, while still lured, weren’t really the target demographic. Which is also why it largely looked like what a tourist thought a Vegas music festival should look like. Actually, it looked like the Vegas version of a county fair. It had rides (a zipline directly over the main-stage audience, a Ferris wheel and a bizarre exhibit where people boarded Mercedes Benz SUVs that went up and over a fake hill), a diverse offering of food from all over the place (including several local eateries and food trucks), old-fashioned facades, plenty of (fake) grass, a few animals (or people dressed up as them), magicians and a modern hoedown at the EDM stage.

Rock in Rio: Day 1

And then there were the main attractions: the bands, ranging from acts that tried way too hard (Hollywood Undead, The Pretty Reckless) and ones that didn’t try hard enough (No Doubt, Linkin Park) to ones that tried hard and nailed it (Sepultura, Maná).

It all went down pretty much as planned, which was good on the organizational side but didn’t facilitate buzz. A few surprises popped up, including how much the novelty acts and costumed entertainers added to the atmosphere of each Rock Street, the 150 fans that showed up onstage ahead of Metallica (and stayed there for the duration of the band’s performance) and the convenience with which one could top up and pay with the cashless RFID wristbands.

Speaking of surprises and receptions: Doomy hip-hop/indie DJ The Gaslamp Killer won over his audience despite the dyspepsia and dystopia in the music he played (Death Grips, Run the Jewels). And though its onlookers were few, big band SpokFrevo Orquestra—largely influenced by American jazz—was a revelation with its modern and enlivened take on the rhythmic Brazilian folk style known as frevo.

SpokFrevo Orquestra isn’t returning for this weekend’s pop program, but for those going, be sure to check out Bossacucanova, which infuses electronic music into bossa nova. Other things to keep in mind: Mayer Hawthorne has been added, but Sam Smith canceled due to impending vocal-cord surgery. And bring 1. earplugs, as the main and EDM stages can get loud, 2. money, because food and beer are pretty expensive, and 3. a coat. Rock in Rio continues this weekend, but to paraphrase the festival’s organizers, it’s not really rock and it won’t feel like Rio.

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