Last weekend, Friday July 9th and Saturday 10th 2021 marked the full tilt resumption of ticketed entertainment in Las Vegas. High demand events were everywhere, but tickets were gone. I was in town for the World Ticket Conference, where ticket markets, suppliers, and vendors were all stunned to see the degree to which demand had reappeared after a Covid-19 shutdown which had lasted nearly sixteen months.
Normally, this is a pretty well connected group who knows how to get into an event. However, demand was so high that folks who run mega-million ticket dollar companies were scrambling to find any ticket for Chappelle, Garth, Bruno or even Cirque du Soleil. The town was full, and everyone wanted to be in one of the rooms where the party was going off.
Bruno Mars returned to the Park MGM theater with his full production show: lasers, fireworks, confetti, and a surprisingly tight production which emphasized the quality of his band, the ways in which they joined Bruno in alternately hyping the crowd, participating in the dancing or building the layers of sound behind Bruno who brought all of his many skills back to a public audience. This was a pop music concert with all the whistles and bells, and it was exactly what the audience had missed while sequestered at home during the pandemic. Bruno Mars was in top form, with multiple solo dancing sequences which were spotlight highlights of his show in addition to his journey through the deep playlist of hits he has created over the years.
Dave Chappelle and Joe Rogan played the MGM Grand Arena on both Thursday and Friday night. Here, more than 12,000 people showed up for a comedy show where tickets seemed to start at $250.00 and move quickly up from there. Both Bruno and Chappelle/Rogan used Yonder pouches to lock away fans’ telephones. I’ve seen that before at smaller shows, but 12,000 people is a lot of folks to try to get into or out of an arena and the added time to lock and unlock pouches adds uncertainty to the timeline. However, it was refreshing to see people inside the venues interacting, rather spiraling every deeper into whichever siren calls flowed there way from deep inside some rabbit hole on the internet. It was also a credit to talent as an event which was insanely expensive had a production value that can be summed as this: a bare stage in the center of the floor with a stool and a microphone, some video screens so people on all sides of the stage could see and a DJ. I’d be willing the bet the cost of the Las Vegas Metropolitan police shutting down all access points to the MGM Grand Arena with police cars and two trucks was at least as much as the entire production set used by Chappelle and Rogan.
It was Saturday night, the 10th of July which had me most curious. That night, Bruno played to his usual full house at the Park Theater. There were at least 6,300 in the room. Just across the access road at the T-Mobile arena was the UFC 264 McGregor-Poirier fight with Donald Trump among the 19,000 or so in attendance. Across the street the MGM Grand Arena held a viewing party for those who were unable to attend the UFC fight in person. And, diagonally across the 15 freeway Garth Brooks was playing to 67,000 at Allegiant stadium, new home to the Raiders football team.
As an experienced attendee at live events, this seemed like a disaster in the making. Even the freeway signs for the two days flashed “plan your route” because so many people were going to be moving about in such a small area, in addition to everything else which was taking place in a sold out Las Vegas. But, Las Vegas has one job, and that’s keeping the people who frequent the strip area happy. Garth started at 7pm, Bruno started at 9 pm, and UFC was called for as early as 3:15pm with the early preliminary fights, then the preliminary fights set for 6:15pm prior to the main event which was to take place at 8pm.
I was then staying South of the main Strip area, with dinner reservations at a favorite sushi restaurant northwest of the Strip. I planned to take an eastern route avoiding the central section of the 15 freeway which ran alongside the core section of Strip casinos. As I left, I turned on Waze to see how it directed me to go. Unbelievably, at 7pm Waze directed me to travel the 15 freeway directly through the heart of the triangle of events, and it was right. Traffic flowed at normal speeds even as we saw lines of cars to the west of the freeway navigating the police presence to enter the Garth concert and traffic to the east of the freeway heading toward UFC and Bruno.
Those who planned traffic management did their job well. By staggering start times for the various major events, the city was able to absorb the movement of people in ways I rarely see. Typically, it only takes one major stadium event to lock up traffic in all directions. Las Vegas has to move people quickly, because time lost in the casinos is money lost.
The diversity of entertainment in the city has always been astonishing. This weekend it was amplified by the ways in which the various entertainers celebrated the return of full scale events. Justin Beiber played a show on Friday night at the Wynn hotel’s Encore theater. On Saturday he did a 10 song surprise drop-in at the Wynn’s new Delilah supper club. The night before Dave Chappelle did a drop-by comedy set at Delilah along with his performance to a full house at the MGM Grand Arena.
Hotels were sold out and the city was full. The city was teeming with visitors ready for fun. They didn’t mind the hour long taxi lines. They didn’t complain about the prices. You were hard pressed to get a dinner reservation anywhere. The laws of statistical probability continued to operate at all the gaming tables. Yet, everyone seemed to be elated to be out and ready for adventure. The world had reopened and everybody wanted to avoid that Dave Attell momentary realization of “you should’a been there.” Barring a resurgence of Covid, this year is going to be spectacularly fun.