There are few moments more iconic in music-festival history than Freddie Mercury signing in unison with 250,000 fans to “Love of My Life,” during Rock in Rio 1985 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, event producers are hoping to strike gold with equally magical sound bites when they bring the Rock in Rio stateside, to Las Vegas, for the first time on May 8-9 and 15-16, 2015.
Music tourism will boom in Sin City as an expected 300,000 people visit the City of Rock, erected on a permanent open-air concert venue to be built across from SLS Las Vegas. RIR USA is a partnership between powerhouses such as Cirque du Soleil, MGM Resorts, Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Companies and festival founder Roberto Medina.
Rated previewed Rock in Rio from both the perspective of an audience member and a backstage insider when it converged on Lisbon, Portugal May 29 to June 1. Performers included Lorde, Arcade Fire, Linkin Park, Queens of the Stone Age, Jessie J and Ed Sheeran, a sample of the types of entertainment that could be part of the Vegas festival as well. Here’s what we found makes Rock in Rio USA a not-to-miss live-music spectacle.
You never know what is going to happen
During the first night of Rock in Rio Lisbon, not only did the Rolling Stones perform but Bruce Springsteen later joined them for a jam session while Bill Clinton looked on from the audience. Backstage there was just as much fervor as a VIP campus was erected for the Stones, which included a running track as well as other palatial desires. On subsequent nights, other headliners were able to use the space, including Justin Timberlake, who closed the festival.
It is as much about marketing as it is about music.
Festival founder Roberto Medina, also known as “The Wizard of Rock,” started his career in advertising. And sponsorship opportunities are one of the driving factors of Rock in Rio. Everything is up for grabs, from hosted VIP tents surrounding the stages to branding rights on mountains of swag. Popular items in Lisbon included inflatable sofas from which festivalgoers watched the concert and red curly light-up wigs that created a firefly-like swarm after sunset, all courtesy of principal sponsor, telecommunications company Vodafone. Jets from partner airline TAP even periodically flew over the grounds.
Musicians love to play RIR because the size, reach and energy of the crowd are unmatched.
Backstage in Lisbon, Jessie J, a veteran of the event and Ed Sheeran, a newbie, could barely contain their preshow enthusiasm. Jessie J recounted her first Rock in Rio appearance opening, as she did in Lisbon, for Justin Timberlake. “It was the biggest stage I’ve ever seen. And the energy was just unreal. Literally from the front to the back, I’ve never seen a festival where everyone was participating. I couldn’t see a gap,” she said of her debut at RIR 2013 in Brazil. Capitalizing on the reach, Sheeran used his Lisbon performance to debut the single “Sing” to the European audience.
The positioning of Rock in Rio USA in Las Vegas is an indicator that the music scene in the city is thriving.
RIR follows Electric Daisy Carnival (produced by Insomniac Event yearly in June) and Life Is Beautiful (Oct 24-26), along with imported music venues such as the Sayers Club from Los Angeles and Brooklyn Bowl from New York. On any given day in Las Vegas, A-list “residents,” indie bands and about-to-break up-and-comers can find a warm audience and an available stage.
Festival producers are banking that as endless throngs of tourists pour into the city at a rate on par with the pre-recession era, Vegas is in no fear of reaching an entertainment saturation point before May 2015.