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New outdoor amphitheater previewing bigger things to come

It has an outfield, so no harm in aiming for the fences.

The new Craig Ranch Regional Park Amphitheater continues its soft opening this weekend with a pair of otherwise unrelated concerts: ’90s country star Sammy Kershaw on Friday and veteran comedian Paul Rodriguez on Saturday.

But the venue inside Craig Ranch Regional Park is likely to steal the show, based on opening-weekend turnout. The Beatles tribute Yesterday drew about 1,500 people Oct. 9 — about 600 more than expected — and funk veterans War drew about 850 people the following night.

Credit a new $8.7 million venue with balmy October nights and “that gorgeous park setting,” says Cass Palmer, who oversees the venue as director of neighborhood and leisure services for the city of North Las Vegas.

“You’re sitting on grass and, boom, your blood pressure goes down 10 notches,” he says. “That grass just sets us apart, and the size of the venue.”

The size, and location, means we may see bigger things there next year. Palmer sees the amphitheater as a valley-wide draw comparable to the San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, Calif.

Though it resembles the Henderson Pavilion in its band-shell stage design and rear lawn, the Craig Ranch venue is not immediately bordered by neighborhood houses or as limited in its parking as the Henderson venue.

Palmer is gearing up for concerts with a 10,000-person capacity and says the big promoters — including Live Nation, AEG Live and C3 Presents — are “all taking a look at us.”

“Our goal is to position North Las Vegas as the outdoor entertainment venue of the valley.”

When the venue ramps up to a full-time schedule in March, though, Palmer’s more modest target is to draw 3,000 to 5,000 people to monthly, multiday events with multiple artists.

On weeknights, the orchestra section with concrete tiers for about 800 people will be open to community events ranging from high-school plays to weddings.

Whether it’s sneak previews of first-run movies, Shakespearean troupes, bands from Nellis Air Force Base or orchestras who want to play a night in the Henderson Pavilion and then head north, Palmer says he is “open to any type of collaboration.”

Along with hits such as “Cadillac Style,” Kershaw is likely to give fans a taste of his first album in five years, “I Won’t Back Down” (Yes, it’s a cover of the Tom Petty favorite).

Rodriguez, 60, is the Mexican-born comedian who has worked Las Vegas since the early-’80s days of The Comedy Store at the Dunes.

Las Vegas is “the only place where you can have an audience that’s representative of every corner of America,” he noted five years ago.

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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