Rock in Rio is marking its 30th anniversary in spectacular fashion, with the debut Rock in Rio USA in Las Vegas on May 8 and 9 and May 15 and 16. In September, the Brazilian edition of the megafest is returning to its birthplace of Rio de Janeiro.
Held at the City of Rock — a custom built, permanent open-air venue located on the Las Vegas Strip — Rock in Rio USA will include performances from Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, No Doubt, Metallica, Maná, Linkin Park, Sam Smith and John Legend among many others.
“The American challenge is bigger to us — and because it’s bigger, it’s even more interesting to us,” said Roberto Medina, who founded Rock in Rio in 1985, speaking through an interpreter.
“I wouldn’t come to America before testing everything. We’ve had, so far, 14 editions of Rock in Rio, and thankfully we’ve had good success.”
Medina’s dream to bring a major rock festival to his native Brazil was initially met with skepticism within the music industry. But with help from Frank Sinatra, for whom Medina had created a record-breaking concert at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium in 1980, he was able to secure a top-tier lineup for the first Rock in Rio, including Queen, Rod Stewart, George Benson and AC/DC.
Although around 1.4 million people attended that initial event, ticket prices had to be kept low in what was then a poor country. With much of the festival’s infrastructure — sound equipment, stages, lighting — having to be imported into a region unused to such scale and production values, ticket revenue alone could not cover the cost of staging Rock in Rio. So Medina, whose background is in advertising and communications, launched a campaign that raised $25 million in sponsorships.
Along with the five Brazilian editions of Rock in Rio to date, there have been six in Portugal and three in Spain. Headliners have included a who’s who of music royalty, including The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, Sting, Prince, Coldplay, Metallica, Shakira, Beyoncé, Paul McCartney and Rihanna. Over three decades, Rock in Rio has brought 1,274 performances to 7.4 million fans.
A vast, spontaneous audience sing-along to Queen’s “Love of My Life” at the first Rock in Rio in 1985 set the tone for the event’s legendary level of audience participation. Rock in Rio created a lighting system that focuses on the crowd, and headliners including Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi have invited star-struck fans to join them on the stage, creating an intimate relationship between artist and audience.
It all goes back to Medina’s dream of creating something more than a music festival.
“Rock in Rio had to be more than just a concert,” he recalled. “It had to be a party.”
Named after the festival’s original home in Brazil, the Las Vegas City of Rock is a 40-acre, 85,000-capacity venue for which Rock in Rio has partnered with MGM Resorts International, Cirque du Soleil and Yucaipa Group.
Medina said Rock in Rio is investing $75 million and MGM Resorts is investing more than $20 million. Construction for the open-air venue — the first of its kind in Las Vegas — started in Oct. 2014 and will be complete before the opening weekend.
Medina compares the City of Rock to a “music theme park,” with careful attention to landscaping, hospitality (including a lavish VIP area) and human touches such as floral arrangements throughout.
Inspired by the “party” atmosphere of the New Orleans streets, three regionally themed Rock Streets filled with shops, restaurants and performance spaces will allow audience members and artists — including musicians, street dance crews and festival-style acts — to revel in the pageantry.
Medina said an agreement is already in place for Rock in Rio to return to Vegas in 2017 and 2019. In between Rock in Rio USA editions, MGM Resorts has plans to use the City of Rock infrastructure for festivals (pop and rock excluded), concerts and sporting events.
Back in Brazil, Rock in Rio in September will include returning headliners Katy Perry, System of a Down, John Legend, Queens of the Stone Age, Slipknot, Hollywood Vampires and A-ha.
Medina’s impeccable execution for his tour de force will keep the party marching on.
Only question is: Are you going to miss it?
-Paul Rogers, Brand Publishing Writer