Rock In Rio Heading To Las Vegas, Site Will Resemble An 'Amusement Park'

A giant roulette-like Ferris wheel. Themed streets boasting the sights and sounds of Brazil, U.S. and U.K. A 400-foot zip-line that zooms festival-goers across the crowd. A flying DJ booth and more than 100 musical acts on six stages.   

These are just a few things to expect from the U.S. debut of Rock In Rio, which will be held over two weekends in May 2015 inside a new 80,000-capacity open-air venue to be built on the Las Vegas Strip. 

“It’s like an amusement park with a lot of different attractions,” Rock In Rio CEO Luis Justo tells Billboard. “More than the talent itself, the experience that the crowd has at Rock In Rio is really different.” 

Rock in Rio's Roberto Medina Reveals Plan For Las Vegas Festival in 2015: Exclusive

Since being founded by Brazilian entrepreneur Roberto Medina in 1985, Rock in Rio -- which outs itself as the “World’s Biggest Music Festival” -- has been staged 13 times in Rio, Madrid and Lisbon to more than seven million music fans. Next month, the five-day Lisbon (Portugal) edition will boast sets by the Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran, Lorde, Arcade Fire, Justin Timberlake and Linkin Park. Other past events have featured such marquee acts as Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen and Iron Maiden.  

To help achieve a unique festival experience for its U.S. debut in 2015, Rock In Rio has partnered with Las Vegas entertainment giants MGM Resorts International, Cirque du Soleil and Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Companies, Billboard has learned. In separate agreements, MGM, Cirque and Yucaipa have teamed to build an outdoor concert venue that will host Rock In Rio Las Vegas, while the other deal sees Rock In Rio, Cirque and Yucaipa joining forces as equity partners in the U.S. market.

A formal announcement is expected later this week.

MGM, Cirque and Yucaipa will collectively invest $20 million for the construction of a permanent open-air venue, called City of Rock, on 33 acres of land located near the corner of Sahara Ave. Rock In Rio will not have an ownership stake in the new structure, but the festival has a long-term contract to host at least three future editions in the lot.

“Rock In Rio is every two years, so we have 2015, 2017 and 2019 guaranteed,” Justo says, declining to reveal financial details about the contract.   

Rock In Rio organizers played a significant role in designing the new outdoor venue to fit the festival’s needs. The layout of the structure will be similar to past Rock in Rio events, including five stages, city-themed streets, food courts, shopping outlets, and other activities. 

“We had our engineers design all the infrastructure, because we have the experience of premiere and world-class outdoor venues,” Justo says. “It’s all underground cabling, artificial grass, real toilets -- it’s a very premium festival experience.”

Construction of the venue begins in July and will continue for about seven months. Outside of Rock In Rio, the lot will be used for other festivals and sporting events, MGM Resorts International president and chief marketing officer Bill Hornbuckle tells Billboard. 

“The opportunity outside of the 45-day setup and 30-day teardown (for Rock In Rio) is that we have the venue for other like activities, whether it’s a country, jazz or food festival,” Hornbuckle says. “We could also envision doing outdoor boxing or UFC matches for 50,000 people, or we could set up a temporary environment for Major League Soccer.”

In a separate partnership, Cirque and Yucaipa have each acquired a 20% share of Rock In Rio USA. Rock In Rio maintains a 60% share in the stateside event. The overall production cost of the U.S. festival cost about $45 million, according to Justo. Last November, SFX Entertainment, led by chairman/CEO Robert Sillerman, acquired a 50% interest of the worldwide Rock In Rio festival franchise. 

Justo says the partnership between Rock In Rio and Cirque du Soleil is a natural fit because of their “same obsession for creating a close and emotional connection to big audiences.” But the famous acrobatics and otherworldly characters from such popular Las Vegas Cirque shows as “O” and “Ka” will not be found at the Rock In Rio Vegas, the CEO points out. Instead, Cirque has been brought on because of the company’s “deep knowledge of the market and consumer behavior,” he says.

To ensure that Rock In Rio Las Vegas gets proper exposure to stateside music fans who might not be aware of the brand, the festival is spending $30 million in a broad mix of radio, digital, mobile, print, cinema, cable TV, and trade and entertainment magazines. Additionally, Rock In Rio has partnered with Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio to promote the event to the digital platform’s millions of listeners. Rock In Rio has also teamed with NCM Network’s Regal, AMC and Cinemark U.S. movie theaters to promote the festival during film previews. 

Meanwhile, Rock In Rio USA bookers are in the beginning stages of securing talent for the Las Vegas edition. Justo says fans should expect similar big-name headliners as past events. The U.S. festival will take place over two weekends with up to 120 acts over four days. “It will be different lineups,” Justo says. “One weekend will be more pop oriented and the other will be more rock oriented.”

In addition to five traditional stages — including a main state, EDM stage and “indie” stage — during the afternoon, there will be a surprise at the end of each night that should please the dance music lovers.

Robert Sillerman on Rock In Rio Deal (Exclusive)

“At the end of the last headliner on the main stage, a DJ will literally come flying from the main stage to the middle of the crowd,” Justo says, noting there will be an EDM stage located in that area. “And Rock in Rio will transform into a 360-degree nightclub.” 

Rock In Rio USA tickets will go on sale in January 2015.