Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 | 6 p.m.
On the first sold-out weekend of 2014 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, there are remarkable lessons in counter-programming. As the Strip is filled with bobbing Stetsons, marching cowboy boots and country music stars in abundance, there stands blind popera phenomenon Andrea Bocelli, plus we have UFC 181 with the welterweight slug fest between Robbie Lawler and Johnny Hendricks.
Add in the top-chef trio of Emeril Lagasse, Buddy Valastro and Daniel Boulud at Ultimo in the Venetian and Holly Madison plus Rio headliners the Chippendales as grand marshals for the Opportunity Village Las Vegas Great Santa Run, and it truly is a Santa sack full of entertainment gems.
Flamingo headliner Olivia Newton-John, entertainment legend and Las Vegas resident Wayne Newton and Jaime Lynch of “Fantasy” at the Luxor are stopping by the Great Santa Run to wish walkers and runners Happy Holidays. Elsewhere, will the cowboys take to Andrea’s magical voice and Italian melodies? They must because this is at least a fourth-year return holiday visit by Andrea. A year ago this week, he thrilled fans here with his emotional and romantic songs, and I still remember my interview with him.
NASCAR Champion’s Week wraps up its five-day visit after Thursday’s Victory Lap on the Strip with tonight’s Sprint Cup Awards black-tie dinner at the Wynn and televised on Fox Sports.
Country fans have a smorgasbord of treats, including the final week of shows by songbird Shania Twain bringing to an end her two-year run at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace. She’s been invited back any time she wishes, but, as she told me in October, for now she wants to finish her next album and play dates on the road.
After a week of interviews and competition, the coronation for the new Miss Rodeo America is Saturday morning. With everybody from Lady Antebellum at Downtown Las Vegas Events Center to Hank Williams Jr. and Merle Haggard separately at Golden Nugget and Lee Greenwood at Westgate, country fans are in nirvana — our version of Nashville.
From nirvana to Ultimo, it’s the weekend-long festival of feasting at the Venetian and Palazzo with star chefs Emeril, “Cake Boss” Buddy and Daniel. Dom Perignon will be a nonstop pour as of tonight’s five-course dinner with wines for nearly 200 well-heeled guests at one long table. My story about Ultimo was posted Wednesday. As chef Mario Batali says: “There’s no grander meal than this.” Daniel says: “It’s a banquet fit for royalty.” At the end of dinner, one of the female figures on the Venetian lobby’s Golden Sphere will be cracked open to reveal paintings inside that were hidden by an artist during hotel-casino construction in 1999.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Robin Leach at Slotzilla
Saturday morning it’s an early start for our annual Great Santa Run, where for the 10th anniversary we hope to hold onto the Guinness World Record fighting teams in England, Ireland, Japan and Australia. Olivia and Wayne will wish everybody Happy Holidays, and then Holly accompanied by the Chippendales hunks will ride a Elvis Presley pink Cadillac to the Fremont Street Experience starting line to fire the pistol. Runners and supporters can follow in my footsteps and those of Mayor Carolyn Goodman to ride Slotzilla, as we did Tuesday morning downtown. One hundred percent of zipline ride tickets Saturday are being donated to Opportunity Village, too.
At UFC 181 at Mandalay Bay Events Center, it’s a comeback-kid story for Robbie, having tasted success and failure in his journey through Mixed Martial Arts. “Ruthless” returned from near obscurity to the UFC last year and to date has won five of his six matches. It’s a rematch; here’s a video of their last fight.
Once again, Las Vegas scores big with something for everybody this jam-packed weekend, and our Royal Robin Rundown covers it all from country to opera and knockdowns:
FRIDAY, DEC. 5
Lady Antebellum with guests David Nail and Maddie & Tae are at DLVEC; check out Senior Editor Don Chareunsy’s lively Q+A with Lady A singer Hillary Scott posted today.
Big & Rich and Cowboy Troy are at Brooklyn Bowl in the Linq Promenade for two nights.
Hank Williams Jr. is at the Grand in Golden Nugget for two more nights.
Easton Corbin is at the Mirage; Don’s Q+A with the singer-songwriter was posted Wednesday.
Burton Cummings is at the Orleans for two nights.
Sammy Kershaw is at Westgate for two nights.
Clint Holmes’ “For the Holidays” is at Cabaret Jazz in the Smith Center all weekend.
MIX 94.1 presents “Mark & Mercedes’ Not So Silent Night” featuring Train, Better Than Ezra, Matt Nathanson and Andy Grammer in the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Heart, with Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson, are at House of Blues all weekend.
Curtis Grimes is at South Point all weekend.
Nashville Unplugged features Caitlyn Smith at Club Madrid in Sunset Station.
Bobby Brooks Wilson is at Sam’s Town Live!
Austin Law is at Gilley’s Saloon in Treasure Island for two nights.
Bobby McClendon is at Cabo Wabo Cantina at Planet Hollywood for two nights.
Lucent Dossier’s “Unprohibited” is at Rose.Rabbit.Lie. in the Cosmopolitan for two nights and kicking off a monthlong entertainment series.
Tyler the Creator is at Hard Rock Live! on the Strip.
Ron White is at the Mirage for two nights.
Bill Engvall is at Treasure Island.
OF SPECIAL NOTE
Tickets are on sale for Barry Manilow’s “One Last Time Tour” stop at MGM Grand on April 10 and Amy Schumer at the Cosmopolitan on April 24.
The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards are at the Wynn.
UFC 181: Hendricks Vs. Lawler II is at Mandalay Bay.
Ultimo is at the Venetian and Palazzo through Sunday.
It’s Repeal Day, and the Mob Museum celebrates the lifting of the booze ban at its third-annual, six-hour party with former Mayor Oscar Goodman.
First Friday “Round Up” is in downtown Las Vegas.
Now for the NFR rundown, with competition at the Thomas & Mack Center:
* Cowboy Fan Fest hosts a chapel for couples wanting to renew vows or tie the knot at the Convention Center through Dec. 13.
* The 28th Annual Downtown Hoedown 12 Days of Country is at FSE with free nightly entertainment.
* Roper Cowboy Marketplace is at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center through Dec. 13.
* McKenzies Mill with brothers Justin Harris and Ryan Harris perform all weekend at Lagasse’s Stadium in Palazzo for Stetson’s Cowboyville.
* Nightly live viewing party of NFR hosted by trick roper Anthony Lucia at Cowboyville with entertainment is at Mandalay Bay through Dec. 13.
* Montana Silversmiths Go-Round Buckle Awards is at South Point Showroom through Dec. 12.
* NFR broadcasts and Ram Rodeo Tailgate Viewing Party is at South Point through Dec. 13.
* South Point Western Gift Show is at South Point Arena and Equestrian Center through Dec. 14.
* Benny Binion Bucking Horse and Bull Sale is at South Point Arena and Equestrian Center for two days.
* World Bronc Futurity Finale is at South Point Arena and Equestrian Center.
* Gary Leffew’s Legendary Buck’N Ball is at Gold Coast through Dec. 13.
Crazy Horse III hosts “Chicks ’N Chaps.”
CMT’s “Party Down South” stars Ryan Richards and Mattie Breaux host at Body English in the Hard Rock Hotel.
Chateau Nightclub at the Paris hosts the official Miss Nevada USA Celebration for newly crowned Brittany McGowan.
Arty debuts at XS in Steve Wynn’s Encore.
SATURDAY, DEC. 6
Andrea Bocelli returns to MGM Grand.
Pierce The Veil and Sleeping With Sirens is at the Hard Rock Hotel.
John Prine is at the Palms.
The Casey Donahew Band and Kevin Fowler are at the Mirage.
Las Vegas Philharmonic’s Pops II “Fa La La Las Vegas” is at the Smith Center.
Jay White is at Suncoast.
Amy Schumer and Mark Normand are at Chelsea in the Cosmopolitan.
OF SPECIAL NOTE
The Great Santa Run is at FSE.
School of Rock hosts its midseason scholarship fundraiser and concert at Hard Rock Live! on the Strip.
The Bob Tallman Celebrity Bowling Tournament to support Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund and our Speedway Children’s Charities is at Gold Coast.
King of the Cage is at Eastside Cannery.
Ian “Uncle Creepy” McCall hosts the UFC 181 Viewing Party at Crazy Horse III.
Chateau hosts the NFR After-Party with Cowboy Troy.
The Official UFC 181 After Party is at the Foundation Room in Mandalay Bay.
SUNDAY, DEC. 7
The 29th Annual “Merry Christmas Las Vegas” hosted by Tony Sacca with Zowie Bowie, The Coasters, Anthony Raise and more is at Boulder Station.
Blue October is at Brooklyn Bowl.
Totally ’80s Symphonic is at the Smith Center.
Merle Haggard is at Golden Nugget for two nights.
Lee Greenwood is at Westgate for two nights.
LoCash Cowboys is at Gilley’s Saloon through Thursday.
Warrant, Lita Ford and Kip Winger are at Vinyl in the Hard Rock Hotel.
The 11th Annual Toys for Tickets All-Star Jam with Big & Rich, David Nail, Maddie & Tae, Frankie Ballard, The Swon Brothers and Josh Thompson is at Sunset Station.
Emmure is at Hard Rock Live! on the Strip.
Rodney Carrington is at MGM Grand through Dec. 13.
OF SPECIAL NOTE
The Art of the American Cowboy Fine Art Show & Sale is at South Point Exhibit Hall through Dec. 14.
The World Series of Team Roping kicks off at the South Point Exhibit Hall through Dec. 14.
Sunday is National Cotton Candy Day — get your sugar fix with the Junk Food Platter at star chef Kerry Simon’s Simon in Palms Place.
Good luck to all the competitors in the NFR and Miss Rodeo America, and here’s hoping that our Great Santa Run holds onto our Guinness world title. We’ll be back Sunday with reports and photos, plus a lengthy interview with Cirque du Soleil officials about the highly dangerous Epic Battle Scene that returns to “Ka” this weekend after 18 months.
Next week, our interviews with Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Suzanne Somers’ favorite anti-aging miracle doctor John Salerno center stage at the 22nd annual world congress on anti-aging and regenerative medicine. He says soon we’ll be able to live to 120!
So let’s toast to a long life and even more Las Vegas weekend fun.
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.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
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Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
MGM Grand, a AAA Four Diamond resort, offers 5,044 rooms and suites.
MGM Grand features KÀ by Cirque du Soleil; Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club; and world-class entertainment at the Grand Garden Arena and Hollywood Theatre.
The resort offers signature restaurants by celebrity chefs including Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans Fish House, Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill and Michelin three star and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Joël Robuchon.
As part of its ongoing “Grand Renovation,” MGM Grand has remodeled all rooms and suites in its main tower and is adding several new experiences to its lineup including Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub, a new upscale dining/nightlife concept (coming in April 2013).
MGM Grand also features a state-of-the-art, non-smoking conference center, the Grand Spa, Cristophe Salon, "CSI: The Experience" and an inviting pool complex featuring the tantalizing daylife of Wet Republic.
Upscale accommodations include The Mansion, an exclusive hotel within the hotel; the luxurious two-story SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand; and The Signature at MGM Grand, a luxury all-suite, non-gaming hotel located adjacent to the main resort.