Rock In Rio goes to Las Vegas

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Mr Roberto Medina, the Brazilian music impresario behind the huge Rock In Rio festival franchise, gazed through the floor-to-ceiling windows of his luxury Manhattan apartment one afternoon recently, looking west over the Hudson River in the direction of his next frontier: Las Vegas.

In May, 30 years after the first Rock In Rio drew 1.3 million people to Rio de Janeiro to watch Queen, Iron Maiden and AC/DC, the festival's inaugural American edition will open along the Las Vegas Strip.

At a projected cost of US$75 million (S$93 million), and with the involvement of partners such as MGM Resorts International, Cirque du Soleil and investor Ronald W. Burkle, Rock In Rio USA may be the biggest gamble of Mr Medina's festival empire, which has already expanded to Portugal and Spain.

"You're not big in the world unless you're big in America," said Mr Medina, 66, in a torrent of Portuguese-accented English.

In Brazil, where Rock In Rio has been presented five times since 1985, and in Spain and Portugal, where it has been done an additional nine times, the festival has enjoyed mega-event status.

Stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Guns N' Roses, Prince, Metallica and Beyonce have all appeared there and seemingly every statistic attached to the event is enormous.

In its first 13 editions, for example, the festival has entertained more than seven million people and sold 6.68 million sandwiches and 8.13 million litres of beer, according to the organisers.

They have not yet tabulated the sandwiches and beer from the most recent event, in Lisbon, Portugal, in May and last month.

But in the United States, Rock In Rio has little public profile and faces a vastly different competitive landscape.

Over the last decade, festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Electric Daisy Carnival have proliferated and now form a major part of the annual touring business.

Rock In Rio will take place over two weekends, May 8 and 9, and 15 and 16 - the first will be devoted to rock acts, the second to pop - at the City of Rock, an outdoor complex that MGM will build on 13 ha next to its MGM Grand hotel, at a cost of US$25 million. The space will hold up to 80,000 people each day.

As at other events, the Las Vegas version will feature multiple stages, carnival rides and themed "streets" featuring vendors and special performances, as well as a VIP section that Mr Medina insists will outshine all others. (One bonus for all festivalgoers: real bathrooms - no portable plastic outhouses here.)

To build up Rock In Rio's image, Mr Medina plans a year-long media drumbeat portraying the event as a family-friendly vacation that still has some sex appeal.

A teaser video that ran in movie theatres this spring, through a deal with NCM Media Networks, which places ads in cinemas, featured a young American woman cavorting her way through the festival and exclaiming, "Get ready to rock, America".

Whether Mr Medina will be able to succeed in the US, however, is yet to be seen.

He has signed up some supporting brands, but has not yet signed a title sponsor.

Music executives said the event's proximity to Coachella, which takes place in April in the California desert, could pose a challenge in booking acts.

But Mr Medina, expressing serene confidence, said he was not worried about competition.

Already planning his next move, he said that "my dream in 10 years is to have another festival in the Middle East and another in Asia".

"America," he added, "is the door."

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