By Crystal Larsen
In Las Vegas, the phrase "go big or go home" can be applied to just about everything: big lights, big bets and the big dreams that bring artists far and wide to the city in the desert that has become one of the West Coast's biggest entertainment attractions. And with summer officially coming to a close, Las Vegas threw one last hoorah in the form of the iHeartRadio Music Festival.
"It’s like Woodstock with air conditioning," commented singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw backstage. "It's a symbol to the world that there really are no rules in music."
Taking place for the second year at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, this year's festival delivered something for everyone. There were powerful pop performances from Pink and Rihanna, whose sets were rocked by guitarists Justin Derrico and Nuno Bettencourt, respectively; country was represented by GRAMMY-nominated artist Jason Aldean and GRAMMY winners Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift; and Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull brought some Latin flavor.
"That's what tonight is about," said Usher during his Friday night set. "Bringing cultures from all over the world together."
Friday night kicked off with GRAMMY winners No Doubt, who powered through a set that included classics such as "Just A Girl," which featured guest vocals from second-night performer Pink, who bowed down onstage to Stefani, calling her the "raddest f***ing girl in the world." Pink's performance the following day was just as rad as she twirled through the air via suspension chords while tearing through "So What."
Lambert, who said she was excited to see No Doubt, the "ultimate rock stars," noted during her Friday performance that the Stefani/Pink team made her "glad to be a woman, ya'all." Laced in a Vegas-esque sparkly mini-dress, Lambert's set proved to be hell on three pairs of heels as she brought out the Pistol Annies for performances of the trio's "Hell On Heels" and "Takin' Pills."
Both nights were also packed with plenty of surprises. On Friday Keyshia Cole joined Lil Wayne for a performance of her new single, "Enough Of No Love." Green Day literally turned into a basket case onstage, grumbling that their short set was not indicative of the band's career. "I've been around since 1988 motherf***ers," screamed frontman Billie Joe Armstrong before he and bassist Mike Dirnt smashed their instruments and stormed offstage. Was that proof that punk rock is still alive? And on Saturday, a colorful Prince joined Mary J. Blige for a surprise performance that included covers of Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing" and Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." Prince's cameo caused jaws to drop, and not just because he was sporting yellow pants brighter than the sun.
As some of music's biggest names infiltrated Sin City for two nights of nonstop entertainment, the iHeartRadio Music Festival clearly belonged to two schools of music: old-school rock and new-school dance/electronica. Friday was owned by veteran rockers Bon Jovi and electronica trio Swedish House Mafia. Bon Jovi appeared happy to be together onstage again as guitarist Richie Sambora and frontman Jon Bon Jovi rarely left each other's side during their fast-paced set that included some of their biggest hits, including "Living On A Prayer," "You Give Love A Bad Name," "Wanted Dead Or Alive," and "Bad Medicine."
"It's so much fun," said Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan earlier backstage, proving the band isn't slowing down anytime soon.
Swedish House Mafia delivered their performance encased in a three-tiered LED-lit stage that was set up in the middle of the arena, and were joined by Usher for a performance of "Euphoria."
Saturday was highlighted by classic rockers Aerosmith and the mouse-headed DJ, Deadmau5. Driven by the dynamic duo of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Aerosmith led the crowd in a sing-along to hits including "Walk This Way," "Sweet Emotion" and "Dream On." Deadmau5 had a similar stage setup as Swedish House Mafia, and had the crowd in a frenzy, including those rabid fans who chose to bring their own mouse heads.
"[This is] the best festival in the world," said Iglesias during his set. The best and the biggest.
In the words of Elvis Presley: Viva Las Vegas.