Live Music In The Neon Desert


Photo: Tom Donoghue

Most of us, when we buy a ticket to a concert, festival or big game don’t think about what it takes to create such an event. Why would we? We’re there to have fun and enjoy ourselves.

But doing those events, especially in Las Vegas, are huge challenges.: finances, ticket sales, crowd control, personalities, egos all come into play.

And yet that’s Nevada’s bread and butter.

A new book explores what it takes to make these events happen and how they've changed over the city's history. Pat Christenson wrote “Rock Vegas: Live Music Explodes in the Neon Desert.”

Las Vegas is now considered a vibrant place to  hear live music. But for awhile, perhaps in the 1980s, it had the reputation - fair or not - of being a place where old stars come to play their final shows.

“One of the things the book does is it takes you through from the beginning with Elvis and even before that with lounge acts how we evolved and how we killed that stigma,” Christenson said.

The opening of the Thomas & Mack provided a large venue for musicians to play. Following that, Christenson said the MGM Grand Garden Arena started bringing in all kinds of events.

“That’s where our biggest growth in live music happened, it started with MGM Grand Garden,” he said.

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While the Grand Garden became the place to play, Christenson said it was an unlikely and unwelcome band and its followers that showed some people the potential of live music.  

"What the Grateful Dead did is proved in 1991 that people would travel for live music," he said.

In 1991, the Grateful Dead tour stopped in Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Dead fans traveled with the band, often seeing several shows in a row. The fans were often unwanted because they camped and the tour stop was over three days.

Despite that, the stadium was full and promoters of live music like Christenson could show casino executives and music promoters a full stadium.

“The whole value of live music changed in the eyes of the people that were trying to get people to come here,” Christenson said.

That change continues to resonate today, he said.

“Before the Grateful Dead, we sold 200,000 tickets to live music events, since the Grateful Dead, in fact, this past year, we sold 3 million tickets to live music events,” he said. “Las Vegas is the number one live music destination in the world.“

While locals benefit from being able to see top acts just a few minutes from their homes, it is really tourists that fill the seats. In fact, Christenson said many people come to the city to specifically to see live music.

It's for that reason that Christenson is a firm believer in the new Raiders' Stadium.  “We have an opportunity to add another 25 event-oriented weekends with the Raiders,” he said.

He believes the games combined with the top talent who can fill a stadium, like U2, who bypassed Las Vegas during its latest tour because it didn't have a stadium big enough, will bring thousands of people into the city each year.


Pat Christenson, author, "Rock Vegas: Live Music in the Neon Desert" and president of Las Vegas Events

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