(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)
The Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival is a brand new event that took place in early October on the Las Vegas Strip. It featured an impressive list of stars including Dierks
Bentley, Brantley Gilbert, Blake Shelton, his wife Miranda Lambert, and Jason Aldean. Organizers promise it will be an annual affair and took advantage of a new venue to give fans the combined down-home and on-the-strip experience.
The MGM Resorts Festival Grounds on the south end of the Vegas strip across from the Luxor and the Mandalay Bay provides 15 acres for music, sports and other special events. It has already hosted the Harvest Festival, the iHeart Radio Music Festival Village and Wine Amplified. Off-road vehicle and more music events are already scheduled for 2015.
Did this venue work for the Route 91 Harvest event? Absolutely. It had the feel of more traditional venues like Coachella, Calgary or Prairie du Chien, but no camping or RV living was necessary, because shuttle buses (or cabs or limos if you’re the ritzy type) delivered you to and from your hotel and the festival grounds. Sweet. The grounds also included a water slide, premium and VIP seating, and a foam tank. A foam tank is an above ground swimming pool full of suds where it is socially acceptable for ladies to take off their shirts and romp in the pool in their bras. They had special hours just for kids, too.
For a Vegas veteran – I can jump in my car and be there without stopping for gas or lunch – the only downside was that hotels near the resort grounds were way more restrictive with their parking than is normal in Sin City. In their defense, they didn’t want festival attendees leaving no room for their guests to park. I stayed at the Excalibur during the three days of the event and had no trouble getting to and from the grounds via shuttle. And some of the shuttle rides back to the hotel with people who had been partying all day were lots of fun.
The music took place on two stages, one for the bigger names and one called Next from Nashville for the up-and-comers. The smaller stage was also the location for special events such as late night dancing and it had its own bars.
The music was great. The sound systems were solid. You could hear the main stage all the way to the other side of Las Vegas Boulevard, yet when in the Next to Nashville area the speaker placement allowed you to enjoy those acts as well. Entertainment began in the early afternoon with the newer or oldie talent, like Dwight Yoakam or Neal McCoy, and built to the headliners in the evening.
Friday night the main man was Blake Shelton. I discovered several songs I had liked for years were recorded or written by Shelton, but I didn’t realize it. A particularly touching moment was when he gave the audience the backstory on a song he performed acoustically, sitting at the end of the runway. He said that when he first wrote the song, he and co-writer Lambert weren’t sure who would record it. He talked her into recording it because, he said, “I didn’t want to have to sing it every night.” The song, “Over You,” is about the death of his brother. I wasn’t the only one who teared up.
Saturday was accidentally Ashley Monroe day. Monroe is an established songwriter and member of the Pistol Annies. She opened at 3:00 p.m., but all day long other entertainers, such as Clare Bowen, Charles Esten and Lambert kept calling her out on to the stage to sing with them.
Saturday night was Lambert’s turn to shine. No glitz, no fireworks, just a hauntingly beautiful performance. She sang “Over You” as well. Darn her. This time I was ready and didn’t tear up as much.
Sunday had two highlights.
Lindsay Ell, with whom I was totally unfamiliar, opened. Although I think she still needs to develop her own unique sound – sometimes I thought I was listening to Dolly Parton, other times Carrie Underwood – this lady can play guitar. One of her segments was an instrumental made up entirely of guitar riffs from classic rock and country songs. Sounds strange, but she had the crowd cheering.
Sunday night was all Jason Aldean. His “Burn It Down Tour” roadies took control of the sound, video, and stage. Festival attendees were treated to some of the best onstage pyrotechnics and visuals I’ve ever seen. Special props go to Aldean because, unlike some other entertainers who like to hear themselves talk, his show was 90 percent music. It was an exciting, groundshaking, explosive conclusion to an awesome three days.
The name “Route 91” comes from the old name for Las Vegas Boulevard when it was only home to goats and scorpions. The Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival – is there an award for long festival names? – didn’t feel at all like a first year event. Everything ran smoothly, they never ran out of ice, beer or food, and I can still hear Miranda Lambert. It was a great first year. See the highlights in the video below.