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Our Metropolis

[Our Metropolis]

A legacy owed to Celine

AEG Live’s John Nelson has watched the company’s presence in Vegas bloom, thanks largely to the Colosseum’s first resident

Audio Clip

Our Metropolis with John Nelson

This is an excerpt from the radio show Our Metropolis, a half-hour issues and affairs program that airs Tuesdays at 6 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM and is hosted by Greenspun Media Group’s John Katsilometes. Tune in next week to hear the rest of this interview with John Nelson, vice president of AEG Live, which produces top concerts and shows across the country, including Elton John, Cher and Bette Midler at the Colosseum at Caesars, and has partnered with Harrah’s for an arena project just east of the Strip near Bally’s:

AEG Live produces shows worldwide. You started here in Las Vegas with Céline Dion, and looking back how do you think it all shook out?

After five years of really unexpected and extraordinary success [Las Vegas] has become a far more important part of the company … Obviously we think the [Céline] deal shook out better than anybody ever expected. Everybody in the entertainment business and the music business and a lot of people here in the casino business thought this idea was crazy when it came about seven years ago. A touring artist like Céline Dion at that point in her career could have come to Las Vegas as a stop on her tour and maybe sold out the MGM Grand Garden one or two nights and sold 15,000 or 30,000 tickets. To go from there to the expectation that she could sell 800,000 tickets a year, 200 nights of 4,000 seats, was quite a leap of faith. A lot of people didn’t get the concept—especially people away from Las Vegas. People in Las Vegas get it more, because we see with firsthand experience 300,000 people new to the city every week, turning over. When you look at it that way, it makes more sense.

At what point during Céline’s run did you start to reach out to the headliners who would fill in for her when she left the Colosseum?

It happened in the first year of Céline’s run, with Elton [John], and he ultimately assumed 50 nights per year, about 10 weeks per year, just on the nights Céline was off. That was in Year 2 and Year 5 of Céline’s run. Elton continues now—he’s there until May of next year—and Bette and Cher started in February and May of this year … Cher was rumored for a long time, but we went after them both at about the same time, and the discussions with both occurred simultaneously. Bette announced first just through circumstances of timing, the first to be announced and the first to start performing. We’re friendly with each of them, just through the nature of the business we’re in—for example, Bette shares the same manager as Bon Jovi, and we produce his tours around the world. So we’re in touch with the same people throughout the year.

When you ask those types of entertainers about Las Vegas as a place for an extended residency, what is the response?

I think the most important thing Céline did for the legacy of entertainment in Las Vegas [was that] she made it okay, if not cool, again for an entertainer in their prime to come to Las Vegas. Before Céline came here, it didn’t seem to be a very popular idea for an entertainer to set up an extended residency here. People thought your career was over at that time, or in the waning years. But Céline was, and still is, in her prime and made people take a second look at Las Vegas … It became a more attractive prospect for more entertainers to get off the road and perform here over a period of time.

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