One of the biggest music festivals in the world is setting up shop on us soil for the first time, and Vegas is its perfect stage.
Gwen Stefani’s band No Doubt was among the first acts announced for Rock in Rio’s US debut, and they’ll perform on the fest’s first day, May 8.
Today, Roberta Medina is the executive vice president of Rock in Rio, one of the world’s largest music festivals, which is about to transform a prodigious chunk of the Strip into a musical version of Oz. But back in 1997, she was a student at UCLA, working on a group project for a marketing course, when one of her classmates suggested that perhaps Las Vegas would someday make a good home for Rock in Rio.
“I remember saying, ‘Ah, that’s crazy!’” she recalls with a laugh.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to crazy. Created in 1985 by Medina’s father, Brazilian businessman Roberto Medina, Rock in Rio has been staged in Lisbon, Madrid, and of course Rio de Janeiro, where it has drawn crowds of up to 1.5 million. But now, for the first time, the festival will take place in North America, and the booming international brand and Las Vegas are enjoying the heady early days of a love affair.
“My father decided eventually he wanted to go abroad and make Rock in Rio a global brand,” Medina explains. “When we thought about where to go, Las Vegas was the perfect place because it’s the heart of entertainment.”
In a weekend of chart toppers, Bruno Mars (above), Sam Smith, and John Legend will perform on May 16, with Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Jessie J on May 15.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Rock in Rio will take place over two weekends, May 8–9 (featuring rock acts) and May 15–16 (showcasing pop), on a roughly 40-acre parcel of land at Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue. The headliners include recent multiple Grammy winner Sam Smith, No Doubt, Metallica, Taylor Swift, Joss Stone, and Bruno Mars.
The festival’s main open-air venue is dubbed the City of Rock, with a Rock Street offering sections devoted to Brazil, the UK, and the US—not to mention a circus like atmosphere, with a zip line, a Ferris wheel, and street artists and performers. Which is fitting, given that a certain globally renowned, locally celebrated circus troupe is partly responsible for Rock in Rio landing in Vegas.
“Our partner Cirque du Soleil had been doing business in Brazil,” notes Chris Baldizan, senior vice president of entertainment for MGM Resorts International, which is now also partnered with Rock in Rio. “They talked to Roberto, who said he had always wanted to move the event to North America. Fortunately, our partners said, ‘Before you explore North America, your first meeting should be with MGM Resorts.’”
As a result, Rock in Rio committed to Vegas for 2015, as well as 2017 and 2019. “There are some great festivals in this country,” Baldizan says, “but there’s none where you’re walking across the street from your hotel room or hopping in a cab and taking a five-minute ride to this amazing site that we’re spending $20 million on.”
Rock in Rio can accommodate up to 85,000 music lovers per day, and its promoters hope to build its name recognition in the US to rival megafestivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo.
“Our idea is once we’re here, we don’t want to leave,” Medina says. “We’ve been doing this in Portugal for 10 years. What do I want to see in 10 years? Kids born around Rock in Rio in Vegas and this becoming part of their life.”