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ACM weekend continues growth

If the annual Academy of Country Music Awards grow the way Academy head Bob Romeo envisions, the results could be very hard on Stephen Barker Liles’ liver.

Mind you, these dots were connected from two different conversations. But here’s how they meet.

This year’s ACM weekend continues the gradual expansion beyond Sunday’s awards show, which again airs on CBS from the MGM Grand Garden.

“In my mind, we have an awards show and we’re selling the awards show out. And that limits my ability to touch fans,” says Romeo, the Academy’s chief executive officer. “We sell out in 10 minutes, and we know there’s a lot more fans in town.

“Now we’re saying, ‘How do we supersize this festival? And at some point does the festival become our second TV property?”

This year sees more growth in that direction, with the annual free concerts on Fremont Street now joined by expanded peripheral events, both free and ticketed, in the Orleans Arena and its parking lot.

It’s possible to begin Saturday with Dustin Lynch at noon at The Orleans and wrap it up some time around 1 a.m. Sunday with Jake Owen on Fremont Street.

So that brings us to Liles and his liver. He is one half of the duo Love and Theft, which plays outdoors at The Orleans as part of the Party For A Cause festival on Saturday.

Liles loves to stay in close touch with fans and he loves Las Vegas, because it’s not one of the places where he has to worry about whether it’s OK “to bring a bottle of Jack onstage like I really want to.”

“We’re trying to do this for the rest of our lives. Why would you not want to make fans and connect with them on a personal level, to where you support them and they support you as long as you keep making music?” Liles asks.

So he and singing partner Eric Gunderson are “more open to fans than most other artists. Sometimes it backfires, but most of the time it’s good. We don’t put a cap on our meet-and-greet, which sometimes gets a little crazy.”

That’s because every third or fourth fan in line wants to do a shot with him.

“How can you not take a shot with someone when they’re spending their hard-earned money?” he asks. “It’s hard to be like, ‘I just want to make money off you I don’t want to do a shot with you.’ It’s like really hard, a weird place to be in.”

Love and Theft played the Fremont Street Experience last year, but this year Joe Nichols is one of the eight acts to keep the plastic footballs of beer in the air at Glitter Gulch.

“I know what beer does to people. We sound like Grammy winners when people are drunk. Or should I say, ACM winners,” says Nichols, the voice behind “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”

Music to the ears of Romeo, who envisions the day when this fun continues for the better part of a week.

Romeo is emboldened by a 10-year extension of CBS’ contract commitment to air the awards, as well as a second special that varies from year to year. On Monday, it’s “Tim McGraw’s Superstar Summer Night” that will amortize production costs and make use of the stars for a second night.

The ACMs did lock in a one-year deal to do the 2015 awards at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. “How do we come back to Vegas and make a bigger, better splash?” Romeo asks. He hopes the answer would be a four-day festival drawing 30,000 or more fans.

Even if Las Vegas builds a new 20,000-seat arena between now and then, “What’s that going to do for me coming back from Cowboys stadium selling 65,000 tickets?” he asks. But if the awards show itself was just the hub at the center of the wheel?

“The growth of the Academy, I think, will be around the festival and how we can (use) that for more TV content,” Romeo says. Already, GAC (Great American Country) and AXS will film some of this weekend’s performances.

If that trend could continue and multiply, “Now I’m showing 15 million viewers what the ACMs are about, which are not just an awards show but this big festival,” Romeo explains.

Las Vegas at one point seemed close to such a thing during National Finals Rodeo week in December. But rodeo week drifted to comedians and old-guard performers because most of the major acts are not on tour in December. The ACMs, on the other hand, serve as televised promotion for the launch of the concert tour season.

“So now that whole synergy’s coming together. Why can’t Vegas have a big festival like what they have (with rock) at Coachella?” Romeo asks.

That’s fine by Nichols, who gets this year’s party started today. “There’s only a couple of times of the year all the artists get together and all the fans come into town,” he says. “You can’t have enough of those moments.

“A lot of artists get to act like fans and fans get to hang with the artists. It’s a great mixture.”

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

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