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MGM Resorts, Cirque to build 33-acre, open-air venue to host Rock in Rio in Las Vegas

Rock City Vegas-Rendering


A rendering of City of Rock proposed for near Circus Circus and Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas.

Updated Monday, April 21, 2014 | 5:50 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Roberto Medina at Rock in Rio.

Rock in Rio USA virtual tour

Rock in Rio, one of the world’s largest music festivals, is set for Las Vegas in May 2015 and is a partnership among MGM Resorts International, Cirque du Soleil, billionaire Ron Burkle (who owns the Fresh & Easy grocery story chain here) and Roberto Medina, who founded the headliner concerts 30 years ago.

MGM plans to transform 33 acres of prime real estate near Sahara Avenue and its property Circus Circus into a permanent City of Rock open-air concert venue to host the first Rock in Rio USA with a daily capacity of 80,000 people to view five stages.

Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts International, said: “It will serve as a major tourism driver for Las Vegas expected to draw well over 300,000 people to our city over the four days of the concert.

“The entertainment scene has changed dramatically in recent years as has the way consumers want to experience their entertainment. With our innovative new partners at Rock in Rio and the creative geniuses at Cirque du Soleil, we will introduce Las Vegas to an unprecedented music festival in a setting that will never be replicated.”

Since Roberto started Rock in Rio in 1985, he has brought more than 1,120 performances of rock’s superstars to 1 billion fans worldwide, and that’s before next month’s uber-bash in Lisbon, Portugal, with The Rolling Stones, Justin Timberlake and Lorde, among many others.

By phone moments ago, he said: “Our first Rock in Rio USA will be unlike any festival anyone has ever experienced on the biggest stage in the world in the heart of Las Vegas. We are thrilled to welcome these entertainment giants as part of our USA family. It is a testament to our 30-year history and outstanding reputation.”

“The next Rock in Rio festival will be held here in 2017 and be expanded with two additional days for a total of six days,” Luis Justo, CEO of Rock in Rio, just told me.

MGM Resorts President Bill Hornbuckle told me: “This is as big as it gets. We’re investing $20 million to develop the infrastructure. It will be stripped down when Rock in Rio isn’t utilizing it. We could do soccer, boxing matches. It’s not an arena — it’s an entertainment venue. We’re building the infrastructure for the community and MGM, and we can easily have other major events there like a country music festival, a mega-food festival.

“Rock in Rio is a four-day festival every two years, so it doesn’t affect what we plan for MGM Grand Garden Arena or the new arena going in behind Monte Carlo and New York-New York. Rock in Rio will have a large number of many performers in shorter time performances, whereas our two arenas would have them as solo stars in two-hour shows.

“This is not an attempt to undermine the Electric Daisy Carnival. They are electronic music, and we value what it brings to Las Vegas. Our Rock in Rio will be live shows with live star performances.”

(Editor’s Note: EDC last June pumped an estimated $278 million into the Clark County economy, according to an economic impact report released by Beacon Economics LLC. With incredible growth since its premiere in Las Vegas in 2011, Insomniac, the parent company of EDC, has generated more than $621 million for the Las Vegas economy.)

Jerry Nadal, senior vice president, resident shows division, Cirque du Soleil, told me that Rock in Rio first approached Cirque to get involved and then they jointly pitched to MGM. “It was about a year from start to finish. We’re going to continue exploring ways for MGM and Cirque to use the venue space when Rock in Rio isn’t here.”

In addition to the stages of the City of Rock, there will be themed streets with the sights, sounds and foods of Brazil, Britain and America, plus other activities, shopping and restaurants and thrill rides, including a zip-line on the Strip.

IHeartRadio and NCM Network will support the countdown to Rock in Rio USA. Tickets go on sale to the public in January but currently can be reserved at

Jerry added, “As a creative live entertainment producer, Cirque du Soleil is uniquely suited to help bring an unforgettable mix of wonder, enjoyment and artistic excellence to Las Vegas with the first-ever Rock in Rio USA experience. Rock in Rio already is a cultural phenomenon around the globe, and we are excited to be part of the festival’s U.S. introduction.”

Rock in Rio, MGM Resorts and Cirque du Soleil plan to offer hospitality packages for visitors that guarantees festival-goers a seamless experience not only at Rock in Rio USA but also throughout their stay in Las Vegas.

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My Q+A with Luis:

This looks to be the most ambitious undertaking — far bigger in scope than Rio and Lisbon?

We are celebrating 30 years of Rock in Rio next year, and I think that we deserve this gift of creating something even more amazing. We’re coming to the United States, to the biggest city of entertainment in the world, and we really want to have something different and really more impressive than what we’ve been doing the past 30 years.

What made you come first of all to Las Vegas, and then decide to pitch to Cirque du Soleil and then together to MGM?

Las Vegas was very important to Rock in Rio to develop our event, to have a place where we can be fun, safe and have a remarkable experience with the environment you have here in Las Vegas. We’ll have 140,000 hotel rooms and all just a walk to the City of Rock.

It’s a major city that’s close to Los Angeles and other important major cities that are already a popular destination to tourists from all over America and Brazil — all over the world. I think that the biggest music festival in the world should be in the biggest Entertainment Capital of the World.

MGM came in as a natural partner, first because it’s a premier entertainment company in the world. It’s experienced in developing world-class infrastructure; we’re laying groundwork to transform 33 acres of prime Las Vegas real estate.

Sahara by Circus Circus, right?

Exactly. It’s on the Strip close to Circus Circus. MGM is our natural partner to develop the groundwork to transform it into the magic of the City of Rock. That’s what we looked for. We invited MGM this past September to our event in Rio, and they figured out that we really have a cool fit. That’s the premium; Las Vegas deserves to have that kind of premium outdoor experience here.

What happens to the space after your four days? Do you know?

It will be a permanent outdoor venue. With MGM, we will have other events there, so it’s their responsibility to have other components there, but for our music festivals and rock performances, it will be exclusive to Rock in Rio.

How often are you going to return? Every year? And will it always be four days or would you expand it to five days? Could you expand it to twice a year?

We do Rock in Rio every two years, but we definitely plan in the next edition, which will be 2017, to expand probably for two or more days. That’s already part of our plan, but Rock In Rio is every other year. That’s not changing — at least for now.

You must be excited beyond words to bring this to America and Las Vegas.

Yes, we are extremely excited! I think we’re with the perfect partners to enhance even more what Rock in Rio is. MGM is the perfect partner, and also Cirque. They have added a whole set of resident shows for more than 20 years in Las Vegas, so they’ll bring the knowledge of the market and consumer behavior to our partnership.

But more than that, I think that Rock in Rio and Cirque du Soleil have in common the same commitment and obsession of delivering a very close and emotional connection with our public. We share the same vision, and we are very excited to share that.

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Vegas DeLuxe first reported the possible arrival of Rock in Rio last September when I noted that an MGM security team had flown to Rio to see what would be required here on the Strip.

In my interview with MGM Resorts head honcho Bill, he confirmed our first story:

This is an absolutely extraordinary partnership, yes?

We are all very, very excited. This is as big as it gets. We’re going to be bringing hundreds of thousands of folks to town over time, and I think it’s great for the town; good for Las Vegas, obviously great for the company. It’s kind of the peak in entertainment here.

How long did it take you and MGM to make this all happen from start to finish?

A little over a year. We started on this the early part of last year. We ultimately had the team down in Rio last year. Originally, Cirque brought it and the relationship to us. We fell in love with it quickly and moved forward from there. We needed to understand it because the scale and size is something that Las Vegas has not seen before. We now understand the scale of how it might fit here, how it might work here, all critical elements including not just short term, but long term, as well.

Rock in Rio sticks to its format of every two years in a specific country, but here in Las Vegas it will be a permanent open-air concert venue. Do you say stadium? Do you say arena?

No, it’s a venue. They build the community and little villages; there will be five stages. So the scale is unprecedented, and they try to replicate Spain, the U.S., Britain, Brazil and some other places, so there’s culture tied to it. It obviously goes beyond just music. There’s other entertainment; there’s a lot of food that’s tied to it, so it truly becomes a festival.

The site itself is right next to Circus Circus; it’s convertible, too. We’re going to invest about $20 million in the site itself and make it highly accessible. They obviously own it during Rock in Rio and the period surrounding it and leading up to it, but then the site itself strips itself down, and the community and we can use it for other venues and opportunities.

You have any idea yet what you will have there?

It could be a country music festival, jazz festival, food festivals. We might be able to have a soccer game, we could do an outside boxing match. There are many, many things that can be done there, but it’s still not an arena because it’s still a temporary facility.

So any staging, if you will, would have to be brought to the facility. We’re building the infrastructure for it, we’re building the grounds out for it, then each particular event would have to come in with its stages.

How does this affect the new arena that MGM is building behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo?

Rock in Rio is a festival that lasts over four days; it would accommodate up to 80,000 people. The arena is 20,000 seats made basically for singular events with a full-on solo concert. Rock in Rio is many, many artists each day for four days with full-on presentations.

Is this meant to be competitive with EDC at Las Vegas Motor Speedway?

No, not at all. That’s electronic music, and this is live music. There’s no assault on EDC; we enjoy EDC. Believe me, we’re the biggest beneficiary of it. Theirs is electronic music; Rock in Rio is about live music and performances.

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Jerry talked with me about Cirque’s new partnership:

I guess you’re charged with the extraordinary logistics of this?

When this comes in, we’re going to be helping from consumer-segment standpoints to marketing standpoints and just working with Rock in Rio on the overall experience.

Do I describe Cirque as the manager of the enterprise?

No, I think we each have our roles to play; certainly with MGM, and we’re investing, as well, with the venue. I think we all bring our piece of

expertise to the pie.

Will Cirque have a position within this magic City of Rock?

I don’t know that you’re going to see Cirque performances, per se. Really it’s going to be Rock in Rio from the music-festival standpoint. We’re going to look at working with them on the customer experience. They certainly have the layout of the site. The way the site will work with the five stages and what the experience is.

We may be involved with some of the experiential pieces of it, but

certainly we’re just going be looking for now at how we can fill the site 80,000 people a day for the four days of the festival.

In dealing with the minutiae of the marketing, do you use the Cirque ticketing system at MGM for this event?

We’ll probably be on the MGM platform for the ticketing when that goes live in January when we start selling.

Will Cirque have performers there as part of the entertainment?

At this point, no, there will be no Cirque performers on the site. We’re working with Rock in Rio to get them understanding where the entertainment is coming from, what people are looking for, how we’re going to sell tickets going forward, helping them with their sales.

Personally, what do Cirque and you think about Rock in Rio?

I think they’re great. You look at their track record; they’re just about as old as Cirque du Soleil. They came out of the game with the very first festival at almost 1.4 million people, and I think what they do and the size of the scale they do it at, is completely complementary with us from looking at how you continually change what people think.

We’ve been part of the landscape here for 21 years now, and this is revolutionary for us. We’re in the nightclubs now, we’ve changed the shows over the years where our audience tastes are going. We think that certainly audiences are looking for an experience. They want to participate, they want to be involved, they don’t just want a standard show. I think the whole music festival experience puts us in the same big scale.

Might Cirque use this space of the venue at other times of the year when it’s not Rock in Rio?

Well, I think that when Rock in Rio is not on the site, then that definitely leaves some opportunities for other things to go on the site. I’m sure we’ll be in discussion with MGM about what else we might bring there.

Have Cirque people been to Brazil to see Rock in Rio?

Yes, Cirque people have. We’ve had our creative people going to all the festivals that they’ve had over the last couple of years. This is a win win for everybody involved, especially a win win for rock fans.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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