“This has been the single-greatest experience of my life,” says the man whose music program has brought Adele, The Black Keys, Lauryn Hill and The Flaming Lips to the center of the Strip. Yeah, it’s been a good year to be Rehan Choudhry, entertainment director at the Cosmopolitan. The Weekly caught up with him between shows to look back on 2011—and ahead to 2012.
How would you evaluate Year 1, musically?
The Cosmopolitan came in saying we were gonna do things differently, try new things and stay true to our brand and our indie spirit. And it was amazing being allowed to do that to the degree that we did and to see such an amazing response not just from visitors but from the Las Vegas community. The local audience really embraced the entire program.
Were you expecting that local response?
Seeing locals come through the property wasn’t necessarily as much of a surprise as seeing them make some of our frequency performance venues their home. The notion that there are regulars at a bar on a casino floor is really counterintuitive, [but] I spent the vast majority of my nights at Book & Stage or at Bond, and it was like coming to your local bar in any other city. You got to see the same people, and you got to hear them comment on the new bands and the new DJs that were coming through.
And then, part of the excitement around it was seeing so many of our frequency musicians grow really quickly in the past year. Foster the People is a great example, doing eight shows over four nights for free in March at Book & Stage to coming back and headlining the Boulevard Pool in October to now being nominated for two Grammys. It’s a great story.
Who were a few standout Cosmopolitan acts for you personally?
Jay-Z and Coldplay was the single-greatest concert I’ve ever seen. And then moving from there right into The Black Keys for two nights was unreal. Those two shows were killer.
I think I had the most personal fun at Girl Talk—it was just one big outdoor dance party. That was the first show we did at the Boulevard Pool, so it was like a another grand opening. Mumford & Sons and Foster the People were the two greatest groups of guys I’ve met working in this field. They were just really down-to-earth. And to see people who are now full-blown, A-list musicians really get excited and bright-eyed about being in Vegas and being on the property was one of the coolest things to be a part of it.
Did the booking philosophy change much throughout the year?
We stayed very focused on what we called indie music. We had a very critical ear for the artists that we were bringing in and making sure we were bringing in great musicians.
What you’ll see in 2012 is that our vision can be widened a little bit more—to bring in some people who are probably in different genres, but who share the same indie spirit or the same creative approach as a lot of the more grassroots indie bands that we brought in.
Does that mean we’re gonna bring in country next year? I don’t know. What I can tell you is the same audience that came through the property this year to enjoy our shows will have an equal if not far greater time next year.
How does the band-selection process work, logistically?
Two groups impact booking decisions the most. One’s [Cosmopolitan CEO] John Unwin. He’s extremely hands-on, to the point where, for artists that he knows, he wants to sit down and actually talk through their background, their style, what they mean. And then for artists that he doesn’t know, he makes sure that I load up iPods for him.
Then the other group is C3 Presents in Austin. They are a phenomenal booking partner. Given their booking reach in Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits ... they’re on the ground listening to all of these artists. And they have a very clear vision of what our brand stands for from a music perspective.
So basically, acts go from that level to our booking team locally. I’ve got a killer team here that sits down and looks at videos of the bands, looks at the tours, actually flies out to see some of the artists in other markets to really get a handle on whether they’ll work here.
How receptive have bands and booking agents been to Book & Stage’s mini-residency concept?
What’s been interesting is how strong the response has been on the agents side, since a lot of the acts that we’ve booked at Book & Stage have blown up. When you have a track record over the course of 2011 of Foster the People, Young the Giant, KT Tunstall, Ellie Goulding, Christina Perri ... all of a sudden there’s renewed interest by agents and bands on the rise that had previously written off Vegas because of a lack of the right venue.
I think next year, what we’re gonna end up seeing is more of an interest in placing local acts on that stage. Now that Book & Stage has made a name for itself within the music industry, it’s time to start showcasing some Vegas bands.
How does a local band get on a stage at the Cosmopolitan?
Literally just invite us out to a show. I’ve got a group of people who are extremely passionate about music and events and lifestyle programming, and any chance that we get to see—be it an established band that’s playing a bar Downtown or a guitarist playing at DW Bistro on a Sunday for brunch—we wanna go see it. [Bands are invited to contact the Cosmo staff at [email protected].]
Considering how much focus the Cosmopolitan places on music, I’m surprised there’s not a full-on dedicated music venue on property ...
Going into the opening year, we just really needed to establish ourself and see what the right focus was for our entertainment, for our lifestyle program, etcetera. And then we were gonna try to figure out the venues.
I can tell you without revealing too much we’re working on a pretty killer concept that’ll satisfy some of the needs you were talking about.
Something we might see in 2012?
I honestly don’t know. I’m not privy to the development details.
But among other things—the phenomenal hotel rooms, the pools, our identity gaming program, our restaurants—we are an entertainment destination, and we are gonna have an experience for every type of customer, every type of guest. You wanna come here and see a festival-style concert in a nontraditional space outdoors, you’ve got the Boulevard Pool. You wanna see great, new music for free? You’ve got Book & Stage. You wanna do a wine-tasting in a nontraditional space, you can come to the Vintage event that we kicked off this year that we’re gonna bring back in our parking garage. And then to your point, if you wanna see something more established, right now we’ve got the Chelsea Ballroom; we’re still fine-tuning how shows are presented there so it’s really doing right by the listener. And we’re still rounding out our program.
What specific new goals do you have for 2012?
We’re going bigger next year. You’re gonna see our music program become more eclectic but stay very true to the audience we’ve built. You’re gonna see some very interesting ways that we program the casino floor with music in total—weekend programming or week-long series-type formats. And you’re gonna see a lot more headliners come through next year.
The food event, All-Star Cochon, that we had this last year, was a breakout success. You’re gonna see us get into more food, film, fashion, more health and wellness.
But music’s our home. That’s what our world revolves around. The greatest experience that I have in any given year is when I get a chance to sit on a balcony at Boulevard or on the top riser at Chelsea and see 4,000 people go nuts when the band goes out onstage. That level of excitement and enthusiasm—seeing people having the greatest night of their year—is something that we have to re-create. We’ll accept no less.