As a giant of rock churned out “Bad Reputation” to open her Fremont Street Experience concert, a tiny female performer clung to the metal barricades separating the VIPs from the general-admission crowd. She’s known as Lil Miss Firefly, a 27-inch tall, sideshow burlesque performer and occasional Fremont Street busker, there to see Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
They come in all shapes and sizes at FSE. This was true the night of May 28, when a boisterous crowd of 12,000 turned out for the opening of the free-admission Rock of Vegas series. The title reminds, maybe not too coincidentally, of the Rock of Ages stage show at the Rio. Like that production, Rock of Vegas is primarily a celebration of throwback rock. The performance by Jett leads to the June 11 performance by 3 Doors Down. On July 2 it’s Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, followed by Robby Krieger of The Doors on July 23, Vertical Horizon on August 6, Melissa Etheridge on August 20 and Smash Mouth on Sept. 3.
The launch of the series was an unqualified success, as the turnout for Jett’s show approached the numbers for FSE's most successful free shows (Cheap Trick last year and REO Speedwagon in 2014), which included UFC president Dana White, The D co-owner Derek Stevens, former FSE president Jeff Victor (who in November joined Stevens’ operations as VP of operations) and FSE marketing director Tom Bruny.
Bruny has been instrumental in developing a robust entertainment program on Fremont Street since taking his post in 2008. He’s managed to find the right mix of proven acts okay with playing a free-admission concert outside during the Vegas summer. “It’s a challenge,” he says, “but when you see the results, you do know that there is no better value in town than to see these types of acts for free.”
Eight years ago, live performances were limited to Third Street Stage on the weekends. Today, three stages are active every night of the week. Brody Dolyniuk and his Zeppelin USA tribute band played to about 2,000 fans on May 29. Yellow Brick Road—founded by Dolyniuk and the city’s longest-running classic-rock band—performs Thursdays on the First Street Stage from 8-11 p.m., with Zowie Bowie hitting the stage at Third Street from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Good-time bands like Spandex Nation (a hair-metal tribute), Cash Presley (classic rock) and ’80s Station are all in rotation. And, of course, the Viva Vision LED show runs hourly each night on the FSE canopy.
This heavy measure of free entertainment is made possible through funding from Fremont Street’s “member” hotels, operating like a sort of homeowners’ association: the Fremont, California, Main Street Station, Golden Nugget, Four Queens, The D, Golden Gate and Binion’s all pay regular dues to finance the overall operation of FSE. “We work together as a marketing organization for this destination,” Bruny says. “FSE is really a sub-destination for Las Vegas, where we have 151,000 rooms, but less than five percent are Downtown. We’re trying to get some of the 95 percent staying elsewhere to enjoy entertainment along the FSE corridor.”
One who found such entertainment was Lil Miss Firefly, who by the end of Jett’s set had somehow navigated her way to the front. She was held aloft by a friend and waved at the ever-rocking Jett, who could only smile and nod in her direction. Only in Vegas, and only on Fremont Street.