Rock in Rio USA arrives in entertainment-filled Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — What's a music festival in Las Vegas without a jeweled-jumpsuit-wearing Elvis serenading a just-married couple with "Viva Las Vegas"?

Add a wedding chapel to the list of features at the first-ever Rock in Rio USA music festival, which is happening this weekend and next on a 37-acre lot on the Las Vegas Strip.

Cirque du Soleil's band of merry acrobats and tumblers — another Las Vegas fixture — started the show Friday on the main stage with flying stunts and explosions of sparks.

The festival has brought even more entertainment to this usual mecca of amusements, complete with a Ferris wheel and zip-line. Show sponsor Mercedes-Benz is giving rides in a G-Class SUV that takes a steep climb up and down a ramp, while an area mirroring global streets is the backdrop for dancers, magicians, cartoonists and fortune tellers.

"It becomes more a theme park of music," said Rock in Rio vice president Roberta Medina, the daughter of Roberto Medina who started the Rock in Rio brand of festivals.

Rock in Rio USA is the latest to join an expanding music festival scene in the United States.

In Las Vegas, festivals have become a regular feature. The Electric Daisy Carnival has been attracting electronic music fans for 19 years, the Route 91 Harvest Festival filled a lot across from the Luxor with country music stars last fall and returns in October, and Life is Beautiful has been turning downtown Las Vegas into a celebration of art and music. One of next weekend's headliners, Taylor Swift, appeared at the iHeartRadio music festival last year.

As the festival scene grows more cluttered, Rock in Rio USA will need to set itself apart, said Gary Bongiovanni, president and editor-in-chief of the concert industry trade publication Pollstar.

The festival sits in the large shadow of Coachella, the mega-music festival in the California desert that wrapped up a few weeks ago, and is surrounded by a full calendar of other summer festivals.

"At some point we're going to reach saturation," Bongiovanni said.

Officials say the transformation of the Las Vegas Strip lot into a festival site has cost about $75 million, including the $20 million land-owner MGM Resorts spent with partners Cirque du Soleil and The Yucaipa Cos. to install plumbing and electricity so it's ready for other events promising comforts not normally associated with outdoor concerts.

Organizers have promised real restrooms and fake grass — no dust or dirt. And there is no place for parking, with organizers urging festival-goers to find other means to get to the site.

Medina said about 130,000 tickets had been sold between the two weekends, "pretty good," especially considering it's the brand's first jaunt in the United States after hosting Rock in Rio in Brazil.

Medina said festival organizers met with Cirque du Soleil officials three years ago to discuss teaming up, and all agreed an event had to be staged in Las Vegas.

"And here we are," she said Thursday.

The festival starts Friday and Saturday with headliners No Doubt and Metallica, returning May 15 and 16 with Swift and Bruno Mars.

Tickets cost $169 each day or $298 for each weekend.

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