As We See It

Las Vegas’ music festival momentum keeps building with Rock in Rio

A rendering of the planned “City of Rock,” site for Rock in Rio USA, coming to the Las Vegas Strip May 2015.

Las Vegas is enduring one of the worst droughts in recent memory—except with regard to giant music gatherings. At the rate we’re going, a drizzle could soon become a downpour.

News that the first U.S. edition of Rock in Rio—a 29-year-old cultural institution in its native Brazil that expanded to Portugal and Spain—will hit the north end of the Strip over two consecutive weekends in May 2015 may not have galvanized the community just yet, but it holds promise that’s hard to ignore.

The official announcement—made by Rock in Rio and its North American partners, Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts International, on April 21—feels like a continuation of momentum started in 2011, when the first local Electric Daisy Carnival dance massive drew 230,000 to the Speedway and Clear Channel birthed the star-stacked iHeartRadio pop weekender at MGM Grand. That energy extended last year when Life Is Beautiful proved we could grow our own legit—and distinctively Vegas—festival in the most symbolic and metropolitan part of town. (This, to say nothing of the proliferation of big award shows, DJ arena parties and Hot Topic-rock marathons.)

Rock in Rio, which has featured music titans like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, David Guetta and Metallica, will also be staged in a distinctly urban area, as it has been in Rio de Janeiro, Lisbon and Madrid. Its eventual Las Vegas Boulevard home isn’t that far-fetched, seeing how most attendees will be shuttling in from all over the Strip. But MGM—with the help of businessman Ron Burkle—isn’t only building the event’s internationally themed City of Rock, comprising six stages (including one featuring local talent) and more than 70 food and shopping vendors. It’s also developing infrastructure for a permanent 33-acre venue just north of its Circus Circus property. Which means more giant concerts, right?

“From MGM’s perspective, we get [Rock in Rio] in ’15, ’17 and ’19 at minimum, and then we have this venue that can hold 80,000 people,” says Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts. “We can set ourselves up for other activities ... whether it’s a jazz festival, a country festival, a soccer match, an outdoor boxing match. The venue itself can be very [beneficial] to Las Vegas.”

And the city could return the favor to the music industry. “Las Vegas is a proper destination and the world capital of entertainment,” says Luis Justo, CEO of Rock in Rio. “The biggest music festival in the world needed to come here.”

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