The Weekly Interview: Live Nation Las Vegas president Kurt Melien

Kurt Melien is president of Live Nation Las Vegas.
Photo: Anthony Mair

When we last connected with Kurt Melien, president of Live Nation Las Vegas, the topic at hand was the booming Vegas concert business and new venues rising up on the Strip. That was less than six months ago, and yet so much growth in the live entertainment scene has occurred. On the occasion of Weekly’s annual Fall Arts & Entertainment Guide, it was time to check in again to discuss how Las Vegas entertainment is changing with one of the people who is leading the charge.

We’ve already seen some new venues come online this year, including T-Mobile Arena, and yet more are on the way. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to how big live performance experiences are going to get on the Strip. How can we explain this? I think there are three pieces to this: the macro story, the artist story and the fan story. The macro is the concert business is just as strong as ever, and both Baby Boomers and Millennials have show an almost insatiable interest in live experiences. Both [audiences] continue to grow, and Millennials in particular, when in Vegas, want to see [live] shows more than ever.

The artist piece is that now, they have seen what others have done [in Vegas], and they like what they see. They like the success of these ongoing residencies, and their interest is piqued; they like the creative aspects, like what Britney has done at the Planet Hollywood theater, something dramatic and cool and exciting and big.

And then locally, for the regular Vegas visitor, you are seeing more people making music a part of their typical 2.5- or 3-day trip. That is a function of the product, of artist residencies that were not here before, and those shows have such strong word of mouth. And if you’re here on September 1 you have the opportunity to see Coldplay versus something else in the market. Ten years ago, folks would come to Vegas and see two or maybe even three Cirque [du Soleil] shows. Now they’ll probably see one and go to one concert event.

So the lack of change in the traditional Vegas production show also contributes to the rise of concerts? Cirque certainly continues to be dominant with its product, but there has been limited innovation beyond what we at Live Nation and our partners in the residency world have seen. There has been no new product out there that’s really interesting or cool, other than probably Absinthe, and that opened in 2011. People know now they can see great artists in beautiful shows, and frankly, that’s the most compelling content.

How big is it for her residency show when we see Britney returning to the MTV VMAs and releasing a new album now? It’s really significant. There hasn’t been another artist in the modern residency era who has consistently been putting out charting singles and albums, so congrats to Britney. It’s really exciting for everybody. It helps make the show new again and it’s a great story, really the biggest story of this residency world. What she’s done for [Las Vegas] has actually paved the way for a lot of artists.

You’re booking huge shows at MGM’s three Strip arenas, the Foundry, the House of Blues and the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, among others. What are your thoughts on the coming of the Monte Carlo’s new theater and then eventually the Las Vegas Sands/Madison Square Garden arena project? Monte Carlo is going to be absolutely awesome, and it’s a testament to the power of these other residencies [at Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood] that there’s enough of a demand from artists and fans to have a third Strip-side venue like that here. I give the guys at MGM a ton of credit for investing the capital and having the foresight on that project.

The Sands arena is supposed to seat 17,500, pretty close to T-Mobile. Is that too many venues around that size? There is continued demand and room, so I don’t believe we’ll be oversaturated with the building of another arena. Between the demands of music and convention events and now sports—the fact that hockey will occupy a large number of days at T-Mobile—I don’t believe it’s oversaturation.

Are you close to announcing any new resident artists at Planet Hollywood’s Axis, joining Britney and J. Lo and Lionel Richie? Yes. This fall we’ll announce a new resident, and the residents currently performing this year, you’ll likely see them in the future. Everybody is happy and doing great in that room and it’s exciting to know they’ll be with us and in Vegas for multiple years to come.

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An award-winning writer who has been living and working in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, Brock Radke covers ...

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