Rialto-Tucson Demonstrates Difference in Vegas Theaters

Two years ago, I went to see the Big Blues Bender at the Plaza Hotel. In Rock Vegas, I write about it and its creator, AJ Gross. The Big Blues Bender, is as Gross describes it, a “land cruise,” just took place (September 7-10) Gross books over 16 bands that play all over the property in the three-day festival. Buddy Guy, BB King, Marvis Staples and Beth Hart have played the festival. In 2015, I was going to the festival on Saturday night, so I loaded up Spotify with the acts I’d be seeing. I was particularly drawn to Beth Hart.

Do you like rock? Do you like jazz? Blues? Tina Turner? Celine? Put them all together and that’s Beth Hart. Her performance at the Big Blues Bender “land cruise” did not disappoint.  Subsequently, I bought all her CD’s (used) at Zia records. She is now my favorite female artist.

Whenever I travel, I look for an opportunity to see a live show. On September 14th, I spoke at the International Festival and Event Association at their annual convention in Tucson. On September 13th, Beth Hart was playing the Rialto Theater.  The Rialto Theater is in downtown Tucson and a perfect contrast to Vegas theaters.

As the theater approaches its 100th anniversary in 2020, it hosts 200 events and draws over 100,000 fans annually. In 1930, in addition to “talkies” movies with sound, the theater hosted vaudeville – dance, comedy, and singing – interspersed with newsreels, cartoons, and short-subject silent films, as well as the occasional feature.


The theater was basically dormant until it was renovated in 1996 and began to book contemporary music, including The Band, Black Crowes, Maroon 5, Dave Chapelle, String Cheese Incident, White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Merle Haggard, and The Roots. It is one of the renowned concert venues in the Southwest and recently named #84 in the 100 Greatest American Music Venues by Consequence of Sound.images-1.jpeg

The Blues Magazine once dubbed Beth Hart “the ultimate female rock star”, and there’s no doubt that her two-decade career has been a thrill-ride. Born in Los Angeles, she released a fistful of hit albums through the ’90s, then reignited in the post-millennium as both a solo artist and a head-turning vocalist for guitar heroes like Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and Slash.

“Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit, yelling for help,” Mahalia Jackson once remarked. “Hart was an up-and-coming vocalist before drugs, alcohol and numerous trips to the psych ward derailed her career,” writes Mike Greenblatt, Gold Mine Magazine.  A second act is one of the hardest things to achieve in the music business, but Hart earned hers in fine style at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, where her show-stealing performance of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” had everyone asking, “Who’s that girl with Jeff Beck?” (If you haven’t seen her performance, you owe it to yourself to view it: http://bit.ly/14oE8QS.) His full article on Hart is below.

Beth Hart-Gold Mine Magazine

For Hart, the Rialto was setup for 900 with folding chairs on the floor. For $47, with a $3 service charge, I had a seat five rows from the stage. The historic theater is decorated with pictures from 25 years of concerts, has a bar in the main entry (it is too small to call a concourse), and one merchandise stand. A t-shirt was $20.IMG_8001.JPG

Harts three-piece band perfectly accented her strong vocals and piano. It is very hard to describe a Beth Hart Concert.  A highlight of the show was a heartfelt rendition of “Mama This One’s for You”, with her mother only two rows back.IMG_7995.JPG


Below is a video of one of her songs in a performance with Joe Bonamassa. You tell me!

Beth Hart-Joe Bonamassa- Strange Fruit




2017 Joshua Tree Tour First U2 Tour to Skip Vegas

April 12th, 1987 U2 play the first date of the Joshua Tree tour at Thomas and Mack Center, then go make the music video for “I still haven’t found what I am looking for” on Fremont Street.

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Bono-April 12, 1987-Thomas and Mack center

November 12th, 1992, U2’s first stadium show, the sensory overloaded Zoo Tour, plays Sam Boyd Stadium.

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Zoo Tour

April 25th, 1997, after a full week of rehearsing at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Pop Mart Tour opened in Las Vegas. The stars came out-Cameron Diaz, David Schwimmer, Trent Reznor and Michael Stipe to name a few.

November 18th, 2001, U2 return to the Thomas and Mack Center on its Elevation Tour. A runway shaped like a heart jutted out halfway onto the floor. It was filled with lucky fans.

Elevation Tour
Elevation Tour


November 4th, 2005, U2’s Vertigo tour, for the first time play a venue other than Thomas and Mack Center or Sam Boyd Stadium when they play MGM Grand Garden.

October 23rd, 2009, Daren Libonati convinces U2 to play the smallest stadium on the tour. The U2 360-degree tour, better known by its famous stage—the Claw, was the first major stadium tour to play in the round.

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360 Degree Tour

Which Vegas U2 show did you see?

2017 Joshua Tree Tour-Sam Boyd Stadium finally too small for U2 tour. 2020 cannot come soon enough. US Bank Stadium has done three shows already (Coldplay, Guns n’ Roses and U2).

U2 US Bank Stadium

County Commissioner/LVCVA Board member, Larry Brown and I took a one day trip to see Minneapolis’s new stadium, US Bank Stadium and U2.  We landed tickets on the floor. Unfortunately, everyone on the floor was standing (GA). Fortunately, these two 60 plus seniors, found two people who decided not to come and used their seats.

The first thing you notice about US Bank Stadium is there is no parking at the stadium. No parking!  We made the mile walk from our hotel and back. In as much as there is pressure to provide parking at our stadium, with on-site parking you have snail paced traffic. Give me less parking.

US Bank Stadium

During the concert, Bono played homage to Willie Williams by having the crowd sing happy birthday. Williams is the genius behind the sets, stages and production of U2’s show. He delivered again.

A curved, 200-by-45-foot screen, as bright as the one in your living room, towered across the back of U2’s stage, which featured a runway that ended in a Joshua Tree-shaped satellite stage. That screen didn’t light up until the band got into “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the opening track of “The Joshua Tree.” Moody, prerecorded footage filled the screen for “Streets” as well as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You.”


U2 ended strong with an encore of post- ”Joshua Tree” hits, including “Beautiful Day,” bits of several Prince songs, including “Let’s Go Crazy” in “Vertigo” and “Purple Rain” during the show-closing “One.” In the end, U2 offered enough transcendent moments to make the evening a memorable one,








YES—Marathon Songs—Classic Rock Symphony

My choices for my 2nd concert of August was either Australian Pink Floyd at Joint or YES at Smith Center. I saw APF last year, so I opted for YES. The August 31st show was the first time I’d seen them since April 24th, 1984. They were the fifth concert at TMC, so I really did not see much of them.

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YES-April 24, 1984-Thomas and Mack Center

Over the years, YES has played a dozen different Vegas venues.  In fact, YESFestival, including Carl Palmer (ELP) and Todd Rundgren played the same week at the Joint.

Smith Center is the most refined concert experience in Vegas. It opened in downtown Las Vegas’ 61-acre Symphony Park on March 10, 2012. The 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall features stunning balconies, a dramatic stage, and a full orchestra pit. Most venues on the Strip have carpeted aisles. The Smith Center has a reflective surface to create a more live room. The incredible acoustics and sound were immediately noticeable.

The older audience did not have all their phones out recording memories, but those that did, had their film time managed by the friendly ushers. The sound from the show followed you everywhere; even the restrooms.


       YES 1973

YES is “symphonic rock”. No song was shorter than eight minutes and the twelve they did averaged ten minutes a piece. At seventy-two, Jon Anderson has great range with his voice and was enthusiastic with the crowd. His unique voice and delivery coupled with the stunning guitar mastery of Rabin possessed elements of the transcendental. Trevor Rabin, uber-guitarist from Yes’ 1980’s mega-stardom, was firing on all cylinders. During “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, Wakeman and Rabin wandered up and down the aisles like latter day minstrels chugging out on a portable synth and guitar.

Wakeman was surrounded by an impressive fortress of keyboards, all of which he used at one point or another during the night. He delivered an astounding performance that was amazingly on point and consistent across the night.  He played close to flawless, and brought incredible energy to the stage, swaying and dancing to the music, alternating a variety of accessories, including his signature tambourine, acoustic guitar, bells and even a harp during “Awaken.” The rhythm section was also solid, with drummer Louis Molino III and bassist Lee Pomeroy adding expert performances as well as additional voices that helped complete the thick wall of vocal harmonies. Pomeroy, in particular, had the biggest shoes to fill, playing Squire’s classic parts who died in June, 2015.


YES 2016

YES played 12 songs in two hours. (That’s ten minutes a song).

  1. (Yes cover)

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  2. (Yes cover)

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  3. (Yes cover)

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  4. (Yes cover)

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  5. (Yes cover)

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  6. (Yes cover)

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  7. (Yes cover)

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  8. (Yes cover)

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  9. (Yes cover)

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  10. (Yes cover)

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  11. (Yes cover) (with snippet of Cream’s “more )

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YES-8-31-17-Smith Center


Vegas is #1 Destination for Live Music

Vegas On Pace To Break Last Year’s Ticket Sales Record

In 1991, Las Vegas sold 200,000 tickets to live music events. Then came the Grateful Dead, MGM Grand Garden, a swarm of theaters, festivals and T- Mobile Arena. In 2016,  Las Vegas sold over 3 million tickets to live music events. Pollstar magazine tracks sales of live music. Recently, it released mid-year ticket sales figures, reinforcing Vegas’ claim as the number one live music destination in the world.

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Rod Stewart-The Colosseum at Caesars Palace

2017 will be the first-year T-Mobile Arena reports a full year of concerts. They are off to a good start selling 161,096 tickets. MGM Grand Garden added another 84,899 and Thomas and Mack Center 35,760. That is over 300,000 tickets.

15001-venue-bb18-topline-billboard-1240.jpgLast year five of Las Vegas’s theaters we’re in the top 100 in the world. Then we added the Park Theater.  One of the reasons Las Vegas is so strong as a live music destination is the return of the residency. That trend shows no slowing down. The Axis at Planet Hollywood sold 305,545 tickets. The Colosseum at Caesars Palace sold 246,316 the Park Theater 119,176, the Smith Center hundred 111,072, and the Flamingo 38,970.


Las Vegas had three venues in the top 100 of club venues.  Brooklyn Bowl sold 58,824 tickets, the Joint 33,622 tickets and Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan sold 12, 257. House of Blues did not report ticket sales.

The live music industry continues to grow, up 3.4% to a record 23.4 million and good news, the ticket price dropped 3.5%. According to Pollstar, “The industry took in more money and sold more tickets than ever before with a slightly lower ticket price”. Live Nation and AEG are again the top promoters in the world


There are two categories Las Vegas  appear in. We do not have a major Amphitheater and Sam Boyd Stadium no longer competes for stadium tours. This will be the first U2 tour that has not played Las Vegas. 2020 and the new stadium cannot come soon enough. Met Life Stadium-New York, sold 157,583 tickets the first six months of 2017.

*Post note-the three tables are from Billboard Magazine. They show different perspectives on ticket grosses.


Hall of Fame Bands Use Park Theaters Tools To Provide Vegas One-Of-A Kind Show

Dan Bernbach knows good sound. He studied music at Indiana University and is a lyric baritone. He vasilated between teaching and performing, sometimes on cruise ships before getting an MBA and joining MGM’s Executive Associate program. Two years later. at 34,  he is opening Vegas’ newest theater-The Park.

Dan Bernbach
Dan Bernbach

The June 9th Doobie Brothers-Chicago billing sounded like a lot of fun. I had not seen either in ten years, but what I remembered was both being great live. The first thing my wife Vicki noticed, when the Doobie Brothers opened at the Park Theater was the staggered seating.  We missed it at the opening, but it is subtle. Each seat is facing the space between the seat in front of you. How many times have you gone to a concert, only to have a six foot seven guy sitting in front of you (ugh!). No problem here!


Over the past fifty years, I have seen a dozen iterations of Chicago and Doobie Brothers.   In the seventies and eighties, both appeared regularly at Summerfest or the Wisconsin State Fair.  Most of my early live music experiences were at outdoor events. While, rock was still developing, the quality of the live experience was more about seeing the band than the quality of the production. Things have changed…

I often surf YouTube for old memories and new music.  I came across a 1970 recording of Chicago performing 25 or 6 to 4 . We remember the hits, but this band could (and still can) jam!  Its live performance is more than a trip down memory lane. They are great nine-piece band with new and old influences.


7/11/76: Aladdin Marquee with Chicago

Those left from the original Chicago were Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow Walt Parazaider. The last time I saw the band, with Cetera, was in April 21st, 1985 when they played Thomas and Mack Center. After that tour, Cetara left the band and so began Chicago’s transition.

Chicago-Thomas and Mack Center-April 21, 1985

Chicago has a great live show. Nine people on stage, seeming to play four instruments each, an incredible horn section and great singers singing great songs. These band members legitimately enjoy what they do. They are engaging and fun, especially James Pankow who’s energy is infectious.  “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration” demonstrated the power of the Park’s LED video system. There is no bigger or better in theater.  “The wall is 80 feet wide by 40 feet tall. It’s five point two millimeter pixel pitch makes it the largest and highest resolution LED wall in a theatrical venue”, says Bernbach. “It’s like you are watching HD TV. The show left the traveling screens in the truck.  Both bands mixed songs with clips of heartfelt videos of the past.

Chicago Set-list

  1.  Ballet for a Girl From Buchannon
  2. Encore:

The band’s production created a wall of sound The show was a mix of deeper cuts and hits played by a band (setlist clip) that sounds better now than fifty years ago.

The Doobie Brothers opened. After a respite in the early eighties, they played Thomas and Mack Center for the first time September 9th, 1989. Tonight, three original members, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee were joined by four other great musicians, including Billy Payne-Little Feat. The Doobie Brothers Legacy has been built upon not just kick hit records, but an unrivaled commitment to musical integrity and a steadfast allegiance to their enthusiastic fans. The band evolved in a constantly changing industry and have connected to generations of new fans.

Doobie Brothers Set List

  1. Sweet Maxine

The 5,000 in the sold-out Park Theater ranged in age from thirty to seventy-five. Simmons talks about their fans, “We have a hard-core fan base that has handed our music down through the years to their children and their children’s children. Repeatedly people go to work concerts in come up to us and say, ‘my dad turned me onto you guy’s years ago and I love you guys all this time and my kids are listening to you now”.

 “We are basically an American band-we cover a lot of areas” says Johnston. “We cover blues R&B Country bluegrass and rock’n roll it’s based on rhythms rhythm structures picking and harmonies”. After the audience and band got to know each other, the Doobies rocked “Clear as the Driven Snow,” complete with a drum solo by Ed Toth and Bill Payne. “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “Without You” and “China Grove” vamped up the set. I am more of a fan of the Tom Johnston era. That was who the Doobie Brothers were that night.

A great sound, incredible video display and two of the greatest bands in the world made for one memorable evening.