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Rock in Rio leaves town, but turf will get more footwear

T-Swizzle moves on, but the artificial turf stays. What happens next at the corner of Sahara and the Strip?

When MGM Resorts developed the area across from Mandalay Bay into a fairgrounds, it seemed reasonable to ask, “Why are they making people walk away from one of our four sports arenas to stand in a field for a concert?”

Then, when MGM Resorts started developing 40 acres for Rock in Rio USA at the other end of the Strip, it seemed reasonable to ask, “Why do we need two outdoor festival grounds plus five sports arenas?”

But after the first weekend of Rock in Rio? As Neil Diamond is likely to sing in one of those arenas today, “Now I’m a believer.”

I hear you if you really just wanted to see Taylor Swift, and had to buy a whole festival ticket. I hear you louder if you feel like you ended up watching her on TV. And next time, Rock in Rio organizers, do you think you can get the headliners on before 11 p.m.?

But, as the name suggests, festivals are more than their components. I was reminded on opening night, when there was an unseasonably crisp chill in the air and I could stroll back and forth between a slick, atmospheric set by Foster the People and the surprise delight of a Brazilian big band, the Spok Frevo Orquestra.

“It kind of goes back to the whole mindset of people in today’s world, younger and older, are looking for different experiences,” says Chris Baldizan, senior vice president of entertainment for MGM Resorts.

That includes both vacationers and conventioneers. While Rock in Rio was fine-tuning one site on May 7, the NAPA (auto parts) Expo hired Trace Adkins and Pat Monahan to serenade the 15-acre MGM Resorts Village at the other end.

Turns out “Conventions” is a big answer to those “Why do we need …” questions.

Rock in Rio will be back in 2017. But MGM paid more than $20 million to develop the 40-acre site now known as the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds. Clark County will allow 12 events per year there. Baldizan would be happy with one more this year and one in each quarter of 2016.

Already on sale is the “Party for a Cause” tied into the Academy of Country Music Awards April 1-3, 2016, with Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney as headliners.

But not every event has to be music.

“The great thing is it’s a blank slate so we can kind of get creative,” Baldizan says.

The smaller Village can host single-headliner, arena-sized shows, such as Slipknot on Aug. 28. (And who really wants to let those guys inside anyway?)

Even with soon-to-be-five arenas, Baldizan says he often hears himself saying, “I wish we had one more arena, we could do that show as well.” And now, he says, “We’re in that same boat with the festival sites.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at bestoflasvegas.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Mikeweatherford

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