- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

LAS VEGAS —Elvis Presley. Frank Sinatra. Wayne Newton. Music on the Las Vegas Strip used to have its own sound, and it rarely included a twang. Country music was relegated to small, off-Strip venues.
Now, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and the Dixie Chicks grace the glittering marquees of the ritziest resorts in Vegas, alongside staples such as Folies Bergere and Siegfried & Roy.
"I think country music has seen a resurgence," says Glenn Medas of Mandalay Resort Group, owner of Mandalay Bay resort. Country-pop sensation Miss Hill and husband Mr. McGraw had double billing at its 8,500-seat arena last summer.
Mr. McGraw returned with Kenny Chesney in June for another sellout in the same arena, which also sold out for the kickoff of this summer's "Girls Night Out" tour featuring Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Sara Evans.
"The crowds are really awesome," Miss Evans says. She also was in town in April as part of George Strait's Country Music Festival.
"We play Vegas a lot, and when you play Vegas, it's not just the people who live here, they're from all over," she says. "You're playing to a blend of fans."
A VIP services representative for the upscale Mirage hotel-casino says that entertainment requests have changed in recent years.
"Guests have begun asking about tickets for concerts that will be in town when they are, rather than show tickets for acts like Siegfried & Roy that they may have already seen several times," Elizabeth Dicandilo says.
A decade ago, the city was home to only three large concert venues two of which belonged to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The only arena on the Strip was the Aladdin hotel-casino's Theatre of Performing Arts.
Today, besides the Aladdin, the Strip has the MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay's event center, which each can seat more than 10,000. Caesars Palace hotel-casino is building the $65 million Colosseum, a 4,000-seat arena scheduled to open in March 2003.
The Strip also is home to numerous intimate venues such as the House of Blues, and nearly every resort on or off the Strip has a showroom that frequently books country artists.
Lee Ann Womack, for example, packed them in for three nights in Mr. Newton's showroom at the Stardust hotel-casino while Mr. Las Vegas was on hiatus in November.
Mary Chapin Carpenter and folk singer Nanci Griffith are among the performers who have appeared at the Hard Rock hotel-casino's "The Joint," right off the Strip.
The recently opened Cox Pavilion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) featured Vince Gill for its debut, and John Michael Montgomery is the headliner for the October debut of the Stratosphere's outdoor amphitheater that seats nearly 4,000.
The increased number of venues makes Las Vegas an attractive tour stop between Phoenix and Los Angeles, says Rod Essig, a booking agent for Nashville's Creative Artist Agency.
"There's just a lot more places to play. Between MGM, Mandalay and Thomas & Mack (Center at UNLV), you have three different halls you can get in and out of," he says. "Before, Thomas & Mack was always full of conventions."
Mr. McGraw believes country music's increasing popularity led to its move to the Strip, which paralleled his own.
"Faith and I played here on our first tour in 1996 at MGM Grand, and last year we headlined Mandalay Bay," he says backstage at the Billboard Awards in December.
"The only time I'd ever played Vegas before that was two shows at Arizona Charlie's," he says, describing a hotel-casino far removed from the Strip that caters to locals and features up-and-coming country acts in a small lounge.
Juice Newton also had played at smaller, off-Strip venues until a show at the Stratosphere hotel-casino in February.
"Some of the big pop acts charge too much money," she says. "Parents don't want to come see toy boy bands or bellybutton bands, but parents and younger kids would come and see this show because it's a little more accessible."
Miss Carpenter says she hasn't gotten over seeing her name in lights on the Strip.
"I was thinking how hilarious it was that my name was on the marquee," she says, referring to playing at the Stardust five years ago. "It was so freaky. I took a picture of it."

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