SIN CITY GEM: The Pearl Concert Theater in Las Vegas reopened in September of 2022. (Courtesy Venue)
Robinson-Wesley: Reopening felt like a re-start
“It felt like we were part of a startup, to tell you the truth,” said Crystal Robinson-Wesley, vice president of entertainment and activations at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Specifically, she’s referring to the on-property Pearl Concert Theater, a 2,549-capacity venue she joined in December 2021, a venue that only reopened last September following the COVID pandemic.
“We really were starting from scratch. Although it was a reopening, it felt like a grand opening of a new building, not only with bringing in a completely new leadership team but new ownership group, new executive leadership team and just trying to figure out navigating a post-pandemic operation.” In May of 2021, the Palms was sold for $650 million to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, previously opened and owned by the Maloof family, primarily overseen by George Maloof.
Getting back up to speed led to 12 shows – sold out – in the remaining months of 2022, more than 40 shows in 2023 and up to 60 shows expected for 2024. Robinson-Wesley notes highlights including a Wednesday-night Robert Plant and Alison Krauss show, which she said was their highest-grossing ever, as well as gigs with classic rocker Sammy Hagar & The Circle, Latin comedians Adrian Uribe and Adal Ramones and Top Rank boxing productions.
Robinson-Wesley says a big part of a successful fresh start for The Pearl was, in fact, thanks in large part to some familiar faces.
“We were able to bring back two of our leaders from the technical side, our director of technical production (Bob Capucci) was returning and our director of theater operations (Kristen DeBenedetti) we were also able to bring back,” she said. “It starts with their heart and passion for the venue. They love it, and they brought that. We definitely want that type of energy. And then in the hires that we made, we’re a small team, but from our box office manager to our venue operations manager, you’ve just got people who care.”
Rather than residency or one-off shows like much of the theaters Las Vegas has become known for, The Pearl’s bread and butter is touring shows, with Live Nation as exclusive booking partner and bringing a variety of talent to the just-slightly-off-Strip property.
“We will also do some fly-in dates,” Robinson-Wesley said. “When there’s an artist that we really want and makes sense for us, we’re not afraid to go after them. The buying power and the brand identity that Live Nation has helped us to kind of get this property re-energized. We’re not against doing three-night stays or the more limited-type residency either, but it was intentional for the first two years to just focus on a variety of bookings and just try to get in a bunch of different acts and not necessarily pigeonhole ourselves into one type of genre or to go along with any particular act.”
With a booking strategy more akin to a standalone club or theater property, The Pearl, much like all Vegas properties, prides itself on hospitality, which comes in handy for touring parties living out of buses and traveling long distances.
“We’ll find that some artists, even though they’re touring and they may be doing 5,000- to 7,500-seaters, they’re open to playing a little and doing more of an intimate venue when they come to Vegas,” she said. “They know they’re going to get a nice night’s sleep, we will take care of them when they’re here. We tout that because we’re proud of our hospitality.”
In a city known for 24/7 entertainment of all kinds, competition is fierce. Robinson-Wesley says that means sticking to what you’re good at, knowing your place in the greater entertainment landscape and staying ambitious.
“We feel like with how The Pearl is with the remodel that was done around 10 years ago really set the building apart, from the, the screens, the, the video wall that’s on the back, it’s over 60 feet wide, 30 feet tall, and you’ve got, you know, flanking screens, new cushions, new insulation, new sound system, new video technology, all of that you know, really kind of, I believe, sets us apart from some of the other venues that we compete against in market,” she said of the $80 million venue that opened in 2007. “Then, you know, being the face of the venue, I want to make sure they understand we are here. The Palms is just beautiful. We’ve got some of the most amazing suites that I would put up against most trip properties. I’ve worked for almost all of the big brands in town, so I can say with confidence that what Palms offers from a suite and hospitality standpoint is really second to none.”