Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The events surrounding the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo have a big-screen feel to them — go big or go home — and the music elements are certainly no exception. With two dozen star-powered rock and country concerts spread across the week, NFR practically has its own live soundtrack.
The festivities kick off tonight at the 26th annual Downtown Hoedown at the Fremont Street Experience, featuring performances by Clay Walker, Uncle Kracker, Jana Kramer and Dustin Lynch.
At the arena, a slate of country favorites will lead the national anthem nightly. “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks, who recently extended his headlining residency at Bally’s, will sing on opening night Thursday. Other top performers singing the anthem are Susie McEntire (Saturday), Karli Chayne (Tuesday), the U.S. Marine Band (Dec. 12), Bucky Covington (Dec. 13), Jack Ingram (Dec. 14) and Chris Cagle (Dec. 15). Regional winners of NFR’s national anthem contest also will perform, including Megan King of Rodeo Austin on Friday, Jason Eagle of the Northeast Arkansas District Fair and Rodeo (Sunday), and Terry Nettles of the Four States Fair and Rodeo (Sunday).
When the sun goes down, fans can partake in a number of free official NFR After Dark events, running nightly Thursday through Dec. 15:
• The Mirage Race & Sports Book will feature performances from country stars Craig Morgan (Saturday) and Cagle (Dec. 15); other acts include up-and-coming duo Miss Willie Brown (Thursday), Josh Thompson (Friday), Las Vegas mainstay Sam Riddle (Sunday, Dec. 12), former pro bull rider Justin McBride and Daryle Singletary (both Dec. 13 and 14).
• Stop by the Gold Coast’s Arizona Ballroom for Gary Leffew’s Legendary Buck’n Ball at 9 p.m. nightly during the rodeo for live music with the Texas Jamm Band, a group featuring members of George Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band and the Scotty Alexander Band.
Those looking for a more traditional Las Vegas show experience will find headliners aplenty taking the stage across town all week:
• Shania Twain is back, proving she’s “Still the One” at Caesars Palace, with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Dec. 12, 14 and 15; Tim McGraw and Faith Hill showcase their highly anticipated new residency at the Venetian on Friday, Saturday and Dec. 14 and 15.
• Other top-tier country acts include the legendary Merle Haggard Friday and Saturday at the Golden Nugget, Lonestar at the Orleans Showroom on Friday and Saturday, songstress Leann Rimes at LVH from Dec. 13-15 and chart-topper Randy Travis at the Golden Nugget on Dec. 13- 14.
The rock ’n’ roll-inclined can check out Journey at Planet Hollywood on Friday and ZZ Top at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues tonight and Friday.
• The stars will come out Monday for the American Country Awards at MGM Grand. The event, hosted by Trace Adkins and Kristin Chenoweth, will be broadcast live beginning at 5 p.m. and feature performances by some of the biggest names in country and pop, including Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert and Natasha Bedingfield.