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Downtown backdrop for night of concerts

Gaming Wire,  Thursday, December 28, 2006 at 10:52:23 AM

Digital technology still can't transport a shrimp cocktail or a beer in a football cup to television viewers across the nation.

But on Sunday it will come closer than ever to bringing the experience of Las Vegas' Fremont Street to nearly 16 million American households. For the first time the lights and sights of downtown Las Vegas will be the backdrop for a continuous, live, nationally televised New Year's Eve concert party.

On Wednesday production crews were hanging light trusses and standing barricades in the Fremont Street Experience pedestrian mall in preparation for the event, dubbed America's Party.

"The canopy is going to make this one so spectacular," said Bart Peters, executive in charge of production for CDUSA, the company producing the party.

The company typically holds single televised concerts with about 300 audience members in its 14,000 square foot studio in Los Angeles. The event Sunday is expected to draw more than 15,000 people, include six bands on two stages, and incorporate the four blocks of Fremont Street as well as the overhead canopy of lights.

"That is our whole thing with music, to make you feel as if you're the one at the concert," Peters said.

Although Fremont Street is the home base for the event, which will be televised from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on DirecTV, it will also include jumps to New York; Austin, Texas; and Denver to capture celebrations there.

It will also incorporate live video from the event with graphics fed onto the overhead LED canopy.

The canopy operators used a similar effect during New Year's Eve last year, but this year it will be more elaborate, said Geoff Bickel, technology director for the Fremont Street Experience.

Video shot during the party will be sent to a production truck and coordinated with graphic elements for display on the canopy in seven complementary feeds, Bickle said.

A typical show on the canopy is prepared well in advance and played on cue.

The show is not only designed to look good on television but also to move back and forth in coordination with concerts at each end of the canopy.

"It is a lot more complex in the sense we are actually generating content live," Bickle said.

Since the telecast will be in high definition, the venue operators also have to pay closer attention to detail. For example, concert stages will be embellished with mirrors and decorative lighting instead of going black between bands.

"If you just have black on a stage you can see right through it," said Jeff Victor, president and general manager of the Fremont Street Experience.

The stagecraft won't be the only thing under the microscope. Downtown hotels, which continue to post stagnant gaming win totals, want to be seen in the best light possible by the national audience.

"The exposure is absolutely enormous for us," said Mark Fierro, spokesman for the Plaza. "It is a chance to show people what we are."

Since it was activated 11 years ago, the Fremont Street Experience has drawn steady crowds to downtown. But the hotels have failed to capitalize in the form of new rooms or increased gaming win. Hotel operators hope the nationally televised can help in turning foot traffic into new investment.

The Plaza, at Main and Fremont streets, will be the backdrop for one of the televised concert stages. Fierro said the hotel and casino will be staffed to capacity in the hopes of capitalizing on the unique exposure.

"If people have a great time they'll be back," he said.

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