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Fremont Street freebies end as ACM goes benefit route

It’s hard to keep up with change in Las Vegas, but country fans will have the new High Roller observation wheel to steer them to this year’s events surrounding the Academy of Country Music awards.

They will need to show up with some cash. And not show up on Fremont Street, unless they are willing to settle for less-famous bands.

After seven years of free concerts on Fremont Street, the Academy is ending that tradition and instead building up its “Party for a Cause,” with benefit concerts headlined by Rascal Flatts on April 4 and Keith Urban on April 5.

Last year, the event was at The Orleans and divided into two areas: a free expo space and ticketed area for the concerts to benefit Outnumber Hunger and ACM Lifting Lives.

This year, the festival will be the first in a new space between The Linq and Koval Lane. The exhibits and live music on two stages are combined into a single event, with a two-day pass selling for $65 (before fees).

The Fremont Street Experience tried to hang on to the ACM-affiliated concerts, which included Lady Antebellum, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert when they were on the cusp of greater fame.

Last year, the Fremont Street party pushed back to a 9 p.m. start to give fans time to get from The Orleans to downtown. Too many of them apparently skipped one or the other and this year, Academy officials decided the events were spread out in too many places.

“We tried to come up with a plan that would fit what they wanted to do and we thought we did,” says Tom Bruny, marketing director for the Fremont Street Experience. Management offered to cordon off Fremont Street to charge admisson as it does on New Year’s Eve.

But the Academy chose the area near the new Linq development instead. “We’re disappointed but we wish them luck,” Bruny says.

The Fremont Street bands were paid for by Las Vegas Events and the Fremont Street Experience, but booked by the Academy, which was able to procure name acts tied to the annual awards.

Without that connection, Fremont Street will still have a country weekend, but with lower-profile acts such as Lo Cash Cowboys and Sam Riddle. They will be marketed as the All Country Music weekend, an in-joke/dig if you look at the initials. …

Carrying the theme of where to find stuff out to the suburbs, Station Casinos announced an outdoor series at Red Rock Resort: Lifehouse on May 3, Kansas on May 17 and a combo bill of Goo Goo Dolls, Daughtry and Plain White T’s on Aug. 1 (The Fray is expected in May as well, but was not quite ready to announce with the others).

Judy Alberti, who oversees entertainment for Station Casinos, said Red Rock will host more shows in the fall. But most of the summer will pass without concerts. The heat isn’t the issue as much as management wanting to get in front of the busy summer tour season, and figuring the pool area stays busy enough in the hot months.

As in recent years, Sunset Station will go another summer without hosting a series of outdoor shows. But Sunset will have a May 30 benefit, “Under the Stars &Stripes,” and a classic rock festival June 14.

“It really has to make sense for us to do it,” Alberti says of concerts at Sunset Station or Green Valley Ranch, which has a Gino Vannelli date in the works. Along with tribal casinos around the country driving up the price of guarantees, Alberti says production costs for a temporary setup make it hard to compete for touring acts with indoor Las Vegas venues such as the new Brooklyn Bowl or The Pearl at the Palms.

But custom-created events are a different story. “Under the Stars &Stripes” was the brainchild of UFC fighter-turned-actor Randy Couture, who is a fan of frequent Red Rock Resort band Elvis Monroe. The idea of that band playing a benefit for his Xtreme Couture G.I. Foundation gradually grew to involve two of his other friends, Gary Allan and Darryl Worley. …

Comedy promoter Joe Sanfelippo has previously explained in this column his strategy of packaging “comedy series” in found places instead of trying to create his own club from scratch.

The latest such venture to carry his Bonkerz brand is in the Mob Bar at the Downtown Grand on weekends. Fridays offer a full 90-minute comedy show — this weekend headlined by Chris Cope — while Saturdays bring a half-hour of comedy followed by dueling pianos. Both carry a two-drink minimum instead of a hard ticket. …

Aliante Casino also is venturing into headline comedy, after carving a niche for contemporary jazz when the sale by Station Casinos made it a stand-alone property. David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson offer a mini-reunion of TV’s “In Living Color” on March 21.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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