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September 30, 2014

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Some country acts price themselves out of Vegas, even for rodeo week

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AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Metallica members James Hetfield, left, Lars Ulrich, Robert Trujillo and Kirk Hammett arrive on the red carpet for the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Saturday, April 4, 2009, in Cleveland. The heavy metal band will perform Saturday at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas as part of the acts brought in for National Finals Rodeo.

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Ice Cube is one of the non-country acts performing during the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. The West Coast rapper performs Dec. 12 at the House of Blues.

Beyond the Sun

Metallica, Megadeth and Ice Cube don’t exactly bring to mind images of bucking broncos, steer wrestling and wild-bull riding.

But times have changed since the National Finals Rodeo first arrived here in 1985.

Although showrooms and clubs will be packed with folks wearing Stetsons and sporting plate-sized belt buckles, not all of the fans will be listening to pure country this year.

Tastes and the economy have created a diversity in the entertainment landscape during the run of the rodeo, this year Thursday through Dec. 12.

In years past most venues imported country superstars along the lines of Kenny Chesney and George Strait.

This year Metallica will be at Mandalay Bay on Saturday — but don’t bother about tickets. The legendary heavy-metal band’s show is sold out.

Other distinctly non-country acts gracing the stages this year include Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds (Dec. 10-12 at Planet Hollywood); Ice Cube (Dec. 12 at House of Blues); Robin Williams (Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena); Andrea Bocelli (Dec. 12 at the Grand Garden Arena); Megadeath (Dec. 13 at the House of Blues) and Chickenfoot (Saturday at The Joint at the Hard Rock).

One booking agent said one of the main reasons country superstars aren’t around in abundance this year is the economy.

“A lot of the big country acts have priced themselves out of the business,” said the agent, who asked not to be named. “These guys come in, two or three at a time, with million-dollar budgets, and the resorts can’t afford them.”

Paul Davis, vice president of entertainment for the Hard Rock, agrees that many country acts “absolutely have priced themselves out of the market.” “We looked at some stuff a couple of months ago but they wanted New Year’s Eve pricing and so we passed,” he says.

“But to be fair to the talent, if they aren’t already routed through Vegas, if they have to fly in and rehearse their band and get their production done, it does cost them a lot more money to come out here and do the gigs, and the costs manifest themselves in terms of higher talent guarantees.”

Chesney was one of the headliners when the new Joint opened this year, but fans at the Hard Rock are more likely to find Alice in Chains, Muse, Chickenfoot and Morrissey — all of whom will perform during NFR week.

“For us it’s a matter of what bands are routed through Las Vegas,” Davis says. “If they’re available and coming through the market, that’s what we booked. If some good country-content talent was coming through and it was the right fit for our venue, we would have been happy to take a look at it.”

Ira David Sternberg, longtime public relations and entertainment executive in Las Vegas, says two things have affected NFR entertainment — the economy and changing tastes.

“Certainly many acts are overpriced, but I think part of it is the evolution of the event itself,” Sternberg says.

He’s been here for more than 30 years, arriving before the NFR moved here from Oklahoma City.

The rodeo and rodeo fans have changed over the past 25 years.

“NFR fans like country, but a lot of them like other kinds of entertainment as well,” he says. “There has been a diversification in tastes, a diffusion in the entertainment market. You’re not going to have strictly country music anymore.”

But there is still plenty to satisfy even the most die-hard country fan, with a couple of dozen country acts spread around town, from Fremont Street to South Point.

The superstar of all superstar country performers will be here — Garth Brooks will debut his headlining engagement at the Encore Theatre Dec. 11-13, returning for shows in January and February.

Other notable acts include Ray Price (Boulder Station, Friday); Willie Nelson (Planet Hollywood, Saturday); Lee Greenwood (The Orleans, Sunday); Dierks Bentley (House of Blues, Dec. 10-11); John Michael Montgomery (Golden Nugget, Dec. 10) and Brooks & Dunn (Las Vegas Hilton, Dec. Friday-Sunday).

There will be plenty of country humor in town for the rodeo, with Bill Engvall (TI, Thursday, Friday and Dec. 10-11); Rodney Carrington (MGM Grand Hollywood Theatre, Thursday-Dec. 12); Ron White (Mirage, Friday, Saturday and Dec. 11-12) and Larry the Cable Guy (Mandalay Bay, Dec. 12).

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