The New Las Vegas Music Market

Artists Are Trading Touring for Residencies to Improve the Quality of Their Lives

Britney Spears
Britney Spears Marco Piraccini\Mondadori via Getty Images

Headlining in Vegas is no longer about exhaustion. It’s about renewal.

Wayne Newton first came to Las Vegas 62 years ago, in 1958. He was 16, and he and his older brother had scored a two-week booking — six shows a day — that grew into five years of nonstop work. “When I first went into main showrooms, we were doing two shows a night, seven nights a week,” he says. “They would give the band a night off, but not the performers. I think I went 35 weeks without a day off.”

Like a lot of things in Las Vegas, that pace has changed. Headlining in Vegas is no longer about exhaustion. It’s about renewal. It’s a chance to trade the grueling endless overnights of an arena tour for the elevator ride down from a penthouse suite.

Vegas residencies flip the script on touring: It’s the audience that travels, not the artist. Manager Larry Rudolph has brought three of his artists —Britney Spears, Pitbull and Aerosmith — to Vegas for residencies in the last decade, starting with Spears at Planet Hollywood in 2013. She was skeptical initially. “When I first spoke to Britney about it, her reaction was, ‘Vegas?’” recalls Rudolph. “I said, ‘Here’s the way you need to look at it: You’ve done all these tours. All of those tours, all of those years, you went to the world. Now you’re asking the world to come to you.” Initially set for two years, Spears’s Piece of Me residency at Planet Hollywood ran for four, with 248 shows.

Spears, Pitbull and Aerosmith all came to their Vegas residencies at very different points in their careers, but they all found the same thing once they got there: swank living quarters, state-of-the-art theaters they can spend more than a night in and a far more humane schedule than they would on the road.

“The best part of playing Vegas is quality of life,” says Steve Dixon, the producer of Aerosmith’s Deuces Are Wild residency at MGM’s Park Theater. “When you’re 20 or 30, you figure out how you manage the schlep. When you’re later in life, your time becomes precious.” The legs of Aerosmith’s residency run about nine shows each, spaced out over two weeks — allowing Steven Tyler, 71, and Joe Perry, 69, plenty of that precious commodity. “If they are having a better quality of life, it allows them to put on a better show,” says Dixon.

Jason Gastwirth, the president of Caesars Entertainment, calls Vegas residencies “a more lifestyle-friendly approach” that attracts “more and more artists.” Between the Colosseum and Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace, the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood and the theater at the Flamingo, Caesars Entertainment commands a large swath of the residency landscape, with Keith Urban, Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart playing the Colosseum in the first three months of 2020, and Shania Twain returning to Zappos. “The more enjoyment they have off the stage, the more is going to come through on the stage,” says Gastwirth. “The model is, they’ll come here three to four weeks, and a new artist will rotate in. Every time a new artist will come in, it should feel like, ‘Welcome home. You’re comfortable. Here is your stage.’ You don’t get that when you travel from arena to arena.”

For Lady Gaga, Vegas was a solution to not being able to travel from arena to arena. A longtime sufferer of fibromyalgia, she had to cut her Joanne world tour short in 2018 to treat her chronic pain. She and manager Bobby Campbell saw the potential in a stationary, long-term gig at the Park Theater with a flexible schedule — though in Gaga fashion she pushed the idea of a residency into new territory with back-to-back nights that feature her pop extravaganza Enigma and her standards-focused Jazz & Piano. “She has been very open about her struggles with physical health and mental health,” says Campbell. “Having a certain routine and structure is important to managing both of those things. The Vegas residencies have really allowed that.”

In November, Gaga had to cancel a few shows due to a double whammy of bronchitis and a sinus infection, but free of the stress of moving from one city to another she was able to recuperate quickly. By the end of that week the regenerative power of the Vegas residency had worked its magic, and she was back to crawling on the bar during her friend and collaborator Brian Newman’s residency at the NoMad, the neighboring venue to the Park Theater.

 

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