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August 19, 2014

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MGM Resorts develops a Lot of potential for outdoor shows

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Steve Marcus

Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry performs in the Village during the iHeartRadio Music Festival Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

2013 iHeartRadio: The Village

Miley Cyrus dances in the Village across from the Luxor during the 2013 iHeartRadio Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Miley Cyrus performs for a crowd of about 23,000 at the Lot during the Village showcase for iHeartRadio Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

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A view of the Strip from the Lot during the Village showcase or the iHeartRadio Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

About noon Saturday, I spotted Rehan Choundhry at the 2013 iHeartRadio Music Festival’s outdoor-performance venue the Village. His gaze was fixed on one of the two stages constructed on what is formally otherwise known as the Lot across the Strip from the Luxor and Mandalay Bay.

Choundry had more than a passing interest in the iHeartRadio Music Festival, as in October in downtown Las Vegas, he is diving into his own humble little entertainment event: The first Life Is Beautiful food, music and arts happening that will overtake the city’s core for two days.

I stopped to ask Choundry what he thought of the layout at the Lot. Pretty quickly, the conversation became heated. Not in any sort of argumentative sense, but in a dang-my-feet-are-burning-up sense.

I made this known by saying, “Dang, my feet are burning up.”

We agreed that one problem with attending events at the Lot in the middle of September in VegasVille is that, similar to Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry, the asphalt retains and radiates heat. Offset this potential issue by wearing thick-soled footwear on hot afternoons, music fans.

Though a day later the temperatures in Las Vegas dipped considerably, there is no preventing high temperatures rising from that fresh, black surface covering the Lot’s 15 acres. There also is no way to effectively break the wind that blew through the Lot much of the afternoon, but that’s how outdoor venues are challenged in Las Vegas.

Those who remember JuneFest at the grassy field abutting Sam Boyd Stadium will recall the feeling of the furnace blast on that dusty expanse while grooving to such rock mainstays as The Knack, The Romantics and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.

Suddenly I am feeling a little nostalgic about JuneFest. But I digress.

Parking is always an issue at these larger-scale events, especially along the Strip. Proper planning, often a foreign concept to Vegas tourists, is always the best method to remedy that issue.

Do not try to access the parking lot at the Lot without researching where and how to enter. Seems a small thing, but guess who wound up parking at the Excalibur and walking all the way across the Strip to AM/PM mini-mart at Las Vegas Boulevard and Reno Avenue, then south to the Lot? Yes, Mr. Hotfoot.

You are permitted to park at the Excal for events at the Lot, but it’s better to park in the dirt lot on the east side of the Strip between the venue and Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer church and walk that relatively short distance to the entrance.

Having outlined all of that information anyone attending a show at the Lot will find valuable, I can say the Village festival Saturday was impressively organized and expertly staged (though, in hindsight, both stages could have been positioned with Mandalay Bay and Luxor in the background to maximize that photo op). Hired to help piece together the puzzle of stages, tented VIP hovels, portable potties and concessions was Daren Libonati, a veteran of Vegas events who has worked for MGM Grand, UNLV, Justice Entertainment Group and is now a solo operator in sports and entertainment production.

The Vision for the Lot is to make it a regular entertainment venue, as it has already hosted a couple of one-off events, the most prominent being the rocking 48 Hours Festival in 2011. The Lot makes a profitable use of otherwise latent territory on the Strip, a parcel with the sort of view of Vegas resorts some of us locals take for granted.

Why just across the street are two hotel-casinos — Mandalay Bay and Luxor — tourists know mostly from postcards and photos. The Lot sits practically in the shadow of those famous landmarks, and many fans Saturday trained their smart-phone cameras not at the stage but at those resorts.

MGM Resorts International Senior Vice President of Entertainment Chris Baldizan says the unique qualities of the Lot are that it is an open-air venue (not many of those in Vegas) and is near a lot of MGM Resorts hotels (cha-ching).

“The great thing about this particular site is that it is within walking distance from more than 30,000 hotel rooms or minutes away via taxi, limo or shuttle,” Baldizan said in an email, also noting that the resort company would like to book as many as a dozen events a year at the Lot.

Live music is clearly the most obvious use for the Lot, but Baldizan says such events as food festivals and sporting events will be pursued for the Lot.

The venue does help fill the void created, in part, when Stations Casinos ordered the bleachers and staging hauled away at Red Rock Amphitheater, which was similar in that it was located near a big resort (Red Rock) and could host shows for several thousand fans. The difference is the Lot is mostly a standing experience, and the fans who buy tickets are most likely to be visiting Las Vegas, not residents.

In other words, the type of ticket-holder who will look up and down the Strip and see something you can’t see anywhere else. This is true even when Kimberly Perry is not onstage.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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