Rock in Rio is not for the Coachella crowd, but it works for Vegas

Rock in Rio is not for the Coachella crowd, but it works for Vegas
The LaGrande Wheel Ferris Wheel lights up the night at Rock in Rio in Las Vegas on Friday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Nothing is sacred in Las Vegas, not even a serenade by the beloved Ed Sheeran, who played the main stage Friday night at the Rock in Rio festival.

His early moments on stage were meant to be tender ones: just the singer, his guitar and plenty of warm lighting on an otherwise chilly night.


As he delivered the first few lines of "I'm a Mess," rigs surrounding the large stage illuminated his ginger hair, creating an intimate glow around the folk-pop crooner.

Fans raised their arms to embrace the British artist, but instead were greeted by an interloper from above.

She came swooping in on a zipline, screaming the universal party greeting ("Whooo hooo! Yaaa!") as she flew between the crowd and the stage. She was one of many who rode one of three ziplines, a main attraction for the all-ages crowd at the two-weekend festival.

No matter who took the stage Friday – Sheeran or Taylor Swift – they had to share the spotlight with screaming thrill-seekers in helmets and harnesses.

It was one of many attractions at Rock in Rio that combined music festival culture with celebrated Vegas absurdity.

Acrobats on stilts, juggling leprechauns, dancing waters, a public wedding chapel, joyrides in a Mercedes SUV and plenty of sponsors set this music festival off the Strip apart from any other weekend destination festival. As for why there's an event called Rock in Rio in the Nevada desert? If you need to ask, then you don't belong here sipping $30 tropical drinks from a saxophone-shaped container.

The nearby Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival started out in the ‘90s championing indie acts. To do this, organizers picked out a low-rent spot in Indio, hoping to draw a few thousand fans to the desert. It’s since become a destination spot.

Rock in Rio, by contrast, debuted in the desert last week as a commercial venture that’s unabashedly part of the culture of the Strip. Slated to run every other year, the festival kicked off with Metallica and No Doubt and will close this weekend with Bruno Mars and John Legend.

Founded by Brazilian entrepreneur Roberto Medina, it's situated on 40 acres in the shadow of Circus Circus' faded big top and unnerving clown mascot. It's also walking distance from many of the hotels, and mere blocks from a shooting range where assault rifles appear to be the big draw.

Friday, the festival featured a non-sensible mix of on-stage acts and street performers – bagpipe players and EDM DJs, Angry Bird mascots and Brazilian jazz outfits – and sponsors such as 7-11 (free Slurpee samples if you download their app!).

Is Rock in Rio for the music snob? Absolutely not. And for those seeking some sort of generational Coachella cred, it's pointless.

But as part of the Vegas experience, it works. Gamble, see the sharks at Mandalay Bay, eat too much, sing along with Taylor Swift while ziplining. Rock in Rio delivers exactly what it promises -- a Vegas experience in a festival setting where the fun is never upstaged by those on stage.

Follow @PopHiss and @LorraineAli on Twitter for more music news.