What do Lady Gaga, Elton John, Dennis DeYoung and local showman Wes Winters have in common?
They all play piano, of course.
Oh, that and the New Year’s weekend thing.
Las Vegas always takes it over the top, but this one seems bigger than usual. For years, the Strip’s fireworks show sent ticketed entertainment on the run. But this year, more stars than not are here for one-off concerts that fall outside of a U.S. tour or recurring residency: Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, Wu-Tang Clan and Sting among them. (You can consider Sting’s Cosmopolitan show a preview of February’s “57th & 9th Tour,” but one that so far lacks a Las Vegas return date.)
You can partly thank the calendar for a Saturday night New Year’s Eve, which means Friday gets annexed to create a seamless party weekend with something for everyone. And while every new year brings change, this year’s firsts are especially prominent, and a couple of “lasts” deserve a special toast.
T-Mobile Arena and Park Theater opened this year, making this the first time it’s possible to say three sports arenas and three large concert halls on the Strip will be in business this weekend. That’s (conservatively) 60,000 people just for concerts, and as many as 19,000 more if you count Friday’s UFC Amanda Nunes-Ronda Rousey matchup at the T-Mobile Arena.
(Those concerts are: Luke Bryan at the MGM Grand Garden, Friday; Maroon 5 at Mandalay Bay Events Center, Friday and Saturday; Lionel Richie on Friday, Wu-Tang Clan Saturday at the Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood; Bruno Mars on Friday and Saturday at Park Theater; Elton John at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Saturday and Sunday; Snoop Dogg at the Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday; The Weeknd on Friday and Sting on Saturday in The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan.)
FOR EVERY BUDGET
The fireworks on the Strip always bring penthouse-view 1-percenters and street-level Joe Six Packs under the same exploding sky. The Strip starts closing off car access about 5 p.m.
But this year really drives home some contrasts. Face value is $1,090 for Lady Gaga’s one-off evening of standards at Wynn Las Vegas on Friday. And for Bruno Mars at The Park? Secondary sellers were asking $1,250 to $4,500 for floor seats, and $494 to $660 for the balcony.
But remember those other piano players: Former Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung is $175 at South Point, but that’s with a four-course dinner and open bar to ensure you’ll be in perfect pitch to sing “Babe” with him.
And away from the Strip, bargains multiply. Wes Winters’ New Year’s Eve party at Sam’s Town is $25 (before fees), with the first drink, party favors and midnight toast included.
LIGHT UP THE SKY
If it’s all about the fireworks? The big eight-minute display on the Strip goes off from the roofs of Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood Resort, MGM Grand, Aria, Treasure Island, The Venetian and Stratosphere. Those who tune in to radio stations KOMP-FM 92.3 or KXPT-FM 97.1 will hear the synced tributes to Prince, David Bowie and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Downtown, as usual, is the ticketed ($43.60) access to the Fremont Street Experience and live music on three stages, before fireworks from the roof of The Plaza and a new Viva Vision tribute to Green Day under the video canopy.
Locals can look to the skies above the Lake Las Vegas development for the annual fireworks in the southeastern valley.
THE HIGH LIFE
In November, Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana starting Jan 1. That means that come midnight, many Champagne toasts may well be accompanied by that first brazenly open New Year’s hit.
But it’s always midnight — or at least 4:20 p.m. — somewhere in the worlds of Snoop Dogg, who gets an early spark on things with a Friday show at the Hard Rock Hotel, and George Clinton, who spearheads the Parliament-Funkadelic jam on Saturday at the Brooklyn Bowl.
And while weed isn’t quite as synonymous with their “brand,” don’t be shocked like Claude Rains in “Casablanca” if you smell something in the air at the Wu-Tang Clan’s New Year’s Eve show at Planet Hollywood.
The New Year’s irony for most Las Vegas nightclubs is that midnight is still kind of early for them, and they will have to kick into high gear faster than on a typical Saturday.
A couple of stars moonlight after their concert duties: Bruno Mars rushes from the Park Theater to The Bank at Bellagio to “host” on Saturday. And Snoop turns into “DJ Snoopadelic” for his Friday night/Saturday morning concert after-party at Vanity inside the Hard Rock Hotel.
Big names found only in the clubs include Kendrick Lamar on Saturday at Cromwell (which typically hosts hourlong concert sets instead of brief “track dates”), Drake at Hakkasan on Saturday, Calvin Harris at Omnia on Saturday and Travis Barker on Saturday at the Hard Rock’s Vanity.
A FULL DAY
Start early and keep going, or get it done and get home. Older revelers can beat the rush with “New Year’s at Noon” at the South Point, featuring the doo-wop vocals of the Alley Cats (Jay Leno’s frequent opening act).
And the E-String Bar & Grill in Henderson will watch the British clock for a “New Year’s in London” celebration that starts at 1 p.m. and rings in the Brexit era at 4 p.m.
AULD LANG SYNE
It won’t be quite as crazy as the night Aerosmith inaugurated the Hard Rock Cafe on Paradise Road (in front of the Hard Rock Hotel) back in 1990. But the fine local band Moksha will send the place out in style with a New Year’s Eve show with no cover charge.
“Rock of Ages” takes the big night off, but you can bring down the curtain on Sunday with the fist-pumping ’80s musical’s last call. And “ShowStoppers” at Wynn Las Vegas gives Broadway babies one more “Razzle Dazzle” on New Year’s Eve.
Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @Mikeweatherford.