Weak Attendance, High Prices Mark Inaugural Rock In Rio Fest
Photos and story © Donna Balancia – LAS VEGAS – Gwen Stefani and No Doubt overcame a chilly reception from 30,000 attendees to open the inaugural Rock In Rio USA on a cold Las Vegas Friday night.
By the end of the first weekend performances Saturday night, Metallica warmed up a slightly larger crowd of about 50,000 and — like it or not — a new music festival was born.
Rock In Rio is 30 years old, but it’s new to the U.S. And despite top headliners — Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars will perform next weekend — it looks like profitability may be further away than originally anticipated.
It was the luck of the draw for No Doubt to be Rock In Rio’s opener in the U.S., but Stefani was perfect in the role as punk cheerleader for the new festival, keeping the crowd energized. No Doubt came on at midnight.
The 45-year-old beauty and mother of three has developed more stage charisma over the years and she has boundless energy, running from one side of the audience to the other. Her fans are devoted, wearing Stefani’s Harijuku Lovers brand clothing and perfume, and imitating her chic, mismatched clothing style.
The first day of Rock In Rio USA was not easy. Stefani’s style and energy helped offset some organizational problems related to ticketing, transportation and weak opening-day attendance.
“I got my tickets for free,” said Sandra Halper of San Francisco who owns a condo by the specially constructed, $75 million “City of Rock” festival grounds, near the new SLS Hotel. “They gave out a lot of free tickets to my condo association.”
Another festival-goer who was among the thin crowd on Friday at 4:30 p.m., said that she too, got her tickets for free. “I work in the hotel business and they gave us bunch of tickets at work.”
It’s a smart strategy to give away tickets to the opening day of a new event, but it was not welcome news to those young concert-goers who spent their hard-earned salary for a $169 single-day pass, or a two-day entry for upwards of $250.
Another issue had to do with putting money on the wristbands. Rock In Rio is a “cashless” event and food, beverage and souvenir items are paid with the scan of a wristband that the wearer “tops off” at City of Rock or on the web.
“It’s easy to overspend when you take money from your credit card and put it on the wristband,” said Ed Pruitt, a local Las Vegas resident. “The beer costs $12 for one can. So you’re bound to put more money on your wristband at the festival. You can get carried away.”
Food and beverage items were not cheap and it was better to have more money on the wristband than less. But there was concern among concert-goers about getting back the money they didn’t spend. Extra money left on the wristband after the event is finished is refunded for a small fee.
Then there was the will-call ticket debacle, as tickets were to be picked up at a will call window 1.7 miles from the festival grounds behind the Arco gas station near the Tropicana Hotel. Called the MGM Village, it’s a parking lot and it was not marked, there was no signage. A common theme was heard over and over again: “How come nobody at the hotels, or the taxi drivers or anyone knows where we’re supposed to pick up our tickets?”
For a festival that’s supposedly been more than a year in the planning stages, it seemed the local visitor board, hoteliers and transportation ambassadors were ill-informed on how to direct their concert-going guests.
Commercials aired for VIP tickets on local radio, and will-call people said that ticket buyers were encouraged to have the tickets mailed directly to them for an extra $18. Those who apparently didn’t pay the fee wound up lost and looking endlessly for the MGM Village parking lot, and then, its one entrance in the back. The VIP area is roughly 100 yards from the main stage.
But on a positive note, Stefani and No Doubt put on a great show, the cool 50-degree temperatures were a blessing in disguise as the crowd was packed in tight, and latin favorite Mana had the crowd pumped and singing along loudly. Pretty Reckless and Smallpools gave the fans at the main stage strong performances, and Foster The People kept the other side of the field cranking.
“With Coachella, you really have to run around to see the bands you like,” said Cindy of Westchester, in Los Angeles, who bought Rock In Rio USA tickets as a birthday present for her son. “But with this, I really liked that the bands don’t start until the other is finished.”
By alternating stages and staggering start times, festival-goers, in theory, can see all the bands playing during the day. But if you go from stage to stage you probably won’t get anywhere near the first 200 rows of fans.
Exiting after the event, after 1 a.m., was orderly. There was one entrance and that turned into the only exit. As for transportation, the Las Vegas Monorail increased its frequency and was smooth.
Crowds were expected to increase to more than 50,000 for Saturday night, as Metallica headlined, according to Las Vegas Police and that was confirmed. Metallica’s set was a typical high-energy show, and some fans were allowed to stand onstage during the performance.
So much for the rock weekend. Next weekend features the pop musicians with Swift and Mars.
Last March, SFX, the owner of Rock In Rio, showed disappointing fourth quarter and year-end earnings. In the fourth quarter, pro forma revenues declined to $95.9 million from $103.9 million. For the year, the Robert Sillerman majority-owned SFX lost $131 million on revenue of $354 million.
On April 30, The Street downgraded SFX to a “sell,” based on “deteriorating net income, poor profit margins, poor stock performance and high debt.”