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Clark County special events director knows how to draw a crowd

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

If not for a few keggers back in the day, there might never have been a Reggae in the Desert.

Or Jazz in the Park.

Or Extreme Thing.

Or Age of Chivalry Renaissance Fair.

These are but a few of the festivals created by Clark County Special Events Director Brian Saliba.

In addition to launching those events, Saliba has booked hundreds of shows at dozens of venues around town since the early 1990s. He also founded the Vegas Music Summit, which over the course of 10 years has helped bring then-unsigned Vegas bands such as Imagine Dragons and Otherwise to the attention of the industry. And he’s long been a crucial advocate for the local all-ages music scene.

Where did it all start?

Grab a red Solo cup and find out.

Review-Journal: What was your entree into booking shows?

Saliba: I was the guy in high school doing the keg parties. I moved into college and started adding DJs and grew through that real quick, so I decided to start adding bands.

My first real show was at the Huntridge Theater in 1992. It was a benefit show for AIDS of Nevada. The headliner was The Skeletones.

We raised a good amount of money, donated $5,000.

And then my first real show that kind of got me hooked on everything was when I was doing all the entertainment at UNLV for student government. We did Carrot Top at Artemus Ham Hall. That was my first big show I ever tried. We sold it out. Did 1,000 paid (admission).

When did you realize that you could make a career out of this?

I kind of saw that when we started Extreme Thing. I took a job with Clark County as their special events director. We were challenged with creating a community programming structure.

We started Extreme Thing as a little neighborhood event at a community center with a bunch of bands, some portable skate ramps, and the first time out, it did 3,000 kids.

Then they started opening all these concrete skateboard parks. Desert Breeze was brand new, so we figured, ‘Let’s move Extreme Thing there and see if it develops.’ Right out of the gate, year one, we did 5,000 people.

Year two was 8,000 people. By year three, we were hitting 10,000 kids. At that point I realized, ‘We’re on to something.’ I’d worked with Kevin Lyman and the Warped Tour, saw what he was doing, and was like ‘If Warped Tour isn’t going to come to this market, I can build this here.’

That’s kind of how it started, and it just kept spiraling.

That event ran 20, 21 years, and we peaked out at about 25,000 paid.

How have you seen Vegas evolve as a music market?

It’s developed quite a bit. We went from not even being on the map 15 years ago to all of a sudden being an incredible hotbed, which is why we started Vegas Music Summit. We had all this good talent in town, and nobody was taking notice.

So rather than play the label game and travel to L.A., bring all these bands with us and do these showcases, let’s bring (the music industry) to Vegas.

We curated a lineup of panelists — A&R guys, publishers, lawyers, managers, etc. — and fast-forward 10 years, now we actually have an established little music conference that we’ve been able to showcase bands like Imagine Dragons and Otherwise and help Parade of Lights or Ekoh.

We have a good, solid track record, so when we come to people and say, ‘Hey, there’s great talent in Vegas, you need to look at X, Y and Z,’ they actually take a look at them.

What do you think helped Vegas turn that corner and become a stronger market?

When you get one band that really sets that bar, a lot of people try to follow, they try to compete or at least maintain that level.

The bar was set fairly high early on when The Killers broke, and then it was followed up with bands like Escape the Fate, The Cab, Panic! at the Disco, all these bands that originated in Vegas.

All of a sudden, there was this kind of music mecca going on here, so a lot of people were really taking notice.

It certainly helps when you have two very successful acts like Imagine Dragons and The Killers representing Vegas every time they go out on the road. They’re helping push it.

Is there a booking that you’re especially fond of over the years?

When I first started, I was heavily influenced by punk bands, and one of the coolest bookings was when I had Blink-182 play UNLV’s campus on the quad.

I was so excited to have that band play, and 35 minutes into the show, the president of the university at the time, Carol Harter, shut the band down, said it was too loud.

I was so excited to finally get them, and it got pulled out right from beneath me. That’s the one thing I learned early on: There’s a lot of uncontrollables in this industry, and you’ve got to learn how to be flexible. If you can’t adapt, it’s hard to have a career doing this.

Getting to know Brian Saliba

Place you always take visitors

I always take them downtown. I think what’s going on downtown is relevant, and I think it paints a different picture for our community as a whole, that there is life outside of the Strip.

Favorite indulgence

Camping with my family or spending as much family time as I can, because work tends to overshadow that quite often.

Favorite vacation destination

Napa. Love wine country.

Favorite movie

“Black Panther” was really good, as far as what’s out currently. I don’t get out to movies often, but that one is at the top of my list right now.

Secret talent

Graphic design. I’ve got a pretty crazy portfolio. I’ve done quite a bit of art, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that’s what I went to college for, that’s how I got my start.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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