The Las Vegas New Year’s Eve party used to be inside, and then it moved outdoors. Now technology and the dawn of a new decade bring the inside out, with a new sense of equality.
If you didn’t pony up $5,600 per couple to see Coldplay and Jay-Z when you still could buy in, clip a six-pack to your belt. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas will use its 65-foot digital sign to broadcast the night’s biggest show to the crowds who gather outdoors on the Strip.
"This is a really special moment for The Cosmopolitan, and I think we really want to celebrate that," says Lisa Marchese, who oversees brand marketing for the freshly minted hotel. "I think we have one opportunity to really introduce ourselves to Las Vegas."
This technological bridge is a fitting cap to a decade that charted the rise of the nightclubs in direct correlation to the fall of ticketed concerts and ballroom dinner-dance affairs, which were the Strip’s main attraction to the very end of the 1990s.
Today’s countdown also marks a full decade of the free fireworks that began in 2000, after Las Vegas came off as a big fizzle in worldwide coverage of the "millennium" celebrations of 1999.
It seemed to help. About 310,000 are expected this year, compared with 260,000 for the 1999 party (which, it must be noted, also was hampered by price gouging and "Y2K bug" concerns).
Once the free fireworks took over, concert headliners accustomed to being the center of attention for midnight countdowns were surprised to see people head for the exits as the midnight hour approached.
Even big stars who just might be in the neighborhood and willing to risk rejection — say, Jay-Z’s spouse Beyonce — have learned they’re more appreciated other times of the year.
"We didn’t need her New Year’s," Wynn Las Vegas chairman Steve Wynn says of his declining an offer by Beyonce’s management to perform today.
"I want Beyonce at an off-peak time, so I can make an event out of it," Wynn says. "When we had her in the summer (of 2009), I picked the worst week of the summer, and she blew the lid off the place. All my customers came, and we had huge casino activity."
Today, they are here anyway. And they always have been on Dec. 31, whatever the year. In the pre-fireworks era, Las Vegas specialized in arena concerts (including, presciently, both Cher and Bette Midler in 1999) and dinner-show combos for older customers: As late as 1999, it was Wayne Newton in the Stardust showroom and the Guy Lombardo Orchestra in the ballroom.
In the past decade, players club marketing has become so refined that shows in that realm mostly have become parties for invited customers.
Nightclubs still were an emerging force in 2000. Now they rule the roost and offer their own star power. Rihanna may or may not actually sing at Pure — club officials are giving her the option — while Kim Kardashian probably should be encouraged not to croon at Tao (see Sounds for a rundown on nightclub attractions).
Here’s how more of the madness breaks down:
"America’s Party 2011" is again a synchronized show by Fireworks By Grucci, offering 50,000 effects in eight minutes.
The launch points are the rooftops of the same casinos as last year: MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood Resort, Aria, Caesars Palace, The Venetian, Treasure Island and Stratosphere.
Las Vegas police announced Tuesday that the Strip, between Sahara Avenue and Russell Road, will close to vehicular traffic at 6:30 p.m. today.
Coldplay and Jay-Z
It seems an unlikely alliance, the American hip-hop mogul and the British soft-rock heartthrobs of suburban soccer moms. But these two have a history.
Coldplay singer Chris Martin guested on "Beach Chair" on Jay-Z’s "Kingdom Come" album. The band in turn hosted him on an alternate version of the song "Lost" in 2008, and they performed it together on the Grammy Awards the next year.
"Launching a new brand, opening a new property at the center of the Strip is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think John (Unwin, the hotel’s CEO) treats it as such," The Cosmopolitan’s Marchese said of an event mostly for invited guests, and therefore not expected to pencil out beyond its publicity value.
However, showing the concert to the huddled masses on the casino’s 65-foot digital marquee is something "I think you’ll see over the next year we’re going to do a lot. As much as possible really," she added.
Oddly enough, of the two celebrity spouses, it’s Martin’s wife, Gwyneth Paltrow — not Beyonce — who is rumored on the ever-reliable Internet to be joining the show.
Specifics were vague on the concert’s start time — maybe 10 p.m., maybe 10:30 p.m. — and whether it will include a New Year’s countdown from the Chelsea ballroom, which occasionally will be converted into a concert venue during the new year.
"New Year’s Eve Live" on Fox returns to Mandalay Bay’s pool area and outdoor stage, making it more visible to home couch potatoes than to the thundering herds on the Strip.
While other networks focus their late-night coverage on Times Square in New York City, Fox stays in Las Vegas except for about five minutes of the New York countdown.
"We don’t want to miss that, we just want to provide an alternative," producer Bob Bain says of the broadcast that instead offers performances by Plain White Ts, Travie McCoy, David Archuleta and Las Vegas’s own Jabbawockeez. Nancy O’Dell hosts, while Brandy serves as the correspondent in the street.
"A lot of people will claim that New Year’s Eve programming is wallpaper," Bain says. "That’s why we like it to be fairly heavy music-centric, so it doesn’t require quite as much focus" to serve as the background in house parties.
The show is timed for the East Coast, so it goes off at 8 p.m. here (though it will be tape-delayed to run at 11 p.m. on KVVU-TV, Channel 5). "That doesn’t seem to dampen the spirits of any of the participants," Bain notes.
Those who want to be part of the live audience can line up at 6 p.m. at the main beach entrance or the side entrance by the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Those who buy into Mandalay Bay’s $75 "Block Party" can use their drink tickets at the beach party.
Fremont Street faux
The canopy over Glitter Gulch hosts "Tribute Palooza," which also continues Saturday and Sunday for those who welcome a second chance to see impersonator bands including Fan Halen, Red Not Chili Peppers, Aeromyth, Led Zepagain and — ready for this? — Green Date. Tickets start at $20 and include both real and "virtual" fireworks.
Concerts haven’t completely abandoned the big night. The notables include rocking with 30 Seconds to Mars at the Palms (see The Last Word), or crunking it with Puerto Rican rapper Pitbull at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.
The thin lines between "performing" and "hosting" in the clubs can be confusing. The Crown Theater at the Rio, for example, guarantees that comedian Eddie Griffin will say some funny stuff, but not that co-host Ashanti will sing.
Of course, Vegas has shows every day. Some of the resident titles adapt with a twist, such as Cirque du Soleil offering 4 p.m. matinees of "Viva Elvis" at Aria, "O" at Bellagio, and 4:30 p.m. runs of "Mystere" at Treasure Island, "Ka" at the MGM Grand, "Believe" at Luxor and "Love" at The Mirage. The "Zumanity" cast will actually party with you at the "Bridge Bash" in front of New York-New York, but don’t expect it to break out into an orgy.
In the burbs
Youth might dominate the Strip, but the suburbs open the party to the young at heart, with the Society of Seven at the Cannery and Kool & the Gang leading the "Celebration" at the Eastside Cannery.
Station Casinos mostly holds sway with its year-round regulars. Lon Bronson’s All-Star Band is a guaranteed party in the Ovation club at Green Valley Ranch. Sin City Sinners at Sunset Station and Yellow Brick Road at Boulder Station also have loyal regulars happy to put on silly hats for just such an occasion.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Fireworks, parties and special performances highlight New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve fireworks (with map)