Cymbals crash and guitar chords blaze as a man screams and howls into a mic. No, this isn’t a flashback. It’s a live show, in the flesh, with real instruments being played by actual people.
Prior to COVID-19, no one could have imagined Las Vegas without gambling, luxury hotels and, of course, live entertainment. While most restrictions have lifted three months into the pandemic, the live entertainment industry has yet to bounce back.
Since 1993, music and production company AV Vegas has provided staging, lighting, audio and backline to clients on the Strip and beyond, including the Wynn and the Venetian, Life Is Beautiful and Bite of Las Vegas.
Not long before the pandemic hit and all nonessential businesses were ordered closed by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, AV Vegas purchased a new $6 million warehouse on Arville Street.
“We threw all the gear in, closed the doors and went home for a month and a half,” says backline tech and local musician Mike McGuinness.
When AV Vegas finally got the green light to return to work, it was hardly business as usual. During the past three months, AV Vegas has hosted only a handful of live gigs, mostly small high school “drive-thru” graduation ceremonies.
Something had to change, and fast.
That’s when the idea to turn the warehouse into a multipurpose livestreaming facility came up. “We had to figure out a plan to stay in business,” McGuinness says. “Livestreaming was not part of what this company did at all before this started.”
General manager Chris Holloway, who has been with AV Vegas for more than 20 years, says he’s “never seen anything” like what the city is currently going through. “I have no idea how we’re going to recover from it if we don’t start adapting,” he explains.
For the past month, the AV Vegas staff has been learning how to do just that. Stagehands and backline techs have picked up new skills on the fly, working together to make livestreamed shows become a reality.
“This is a complete business model change for us,” Holloway says. “If it starts to take off in the way we’re hoping it does, we have no problem building bigger venues for bigger artists.”
The day the Weekly tours the warehouse is the same day AV Vegas is producing its debut livestream show. It’s been months since I’ve heard live music, and the caterwauling of local metal band Alligator Blood is oddly reassuring.
“This song is called ‘So Motherf*ckin’ Hollow,’” singer Tyler Lawson exclaims as Alligator Blood’s heavy guitars and drumbeats fill the room. A palpable excitement hangs in the air, even though there’s no traditional crowd to witness the set.
“How we doin’ out there, guys?” Lawson shouts to viewers watching from home.
“If this pandemic thing continues and we’re still not able to have live events, this is where it’s going to go,” Holloway says. “If Deadmau5 or Calvin Harris or Imagine Dragons wanted to do a livestream, we would drop everything and do it.”
And AV Vegas could. Alligator Blood is performing on just one of five stages the company has to offer inside its facility. From an outdoor stage that centers the sparkling Las Vegas Strip as its backdrop to an acoustic setup, a mobile stage and a private DJ room, the creative possibilities seem endless.
“Can you imagine getting your favorite artist onstage, and [being able to] physically talk one-on-one with any band member and have them respond to you between songs? Livestreaming offers you that,” Holloway says. “We’re in our infancy with our first few bands, but we want to get to the point where we can do that. We want the fans and the talent to be able to interact on a real stage, with real lights and real sound, in a setting that we can control.”
Inside AV Vegas’ building, an orange and white Route 91 banner hangs above the entrance, in remembrance.
AV Vegas provided equipment for the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on the Strip in 2017, an event that would become the site of the largest mass shooting in United States history, claiming the lives of 58 people and injuring hundreds more.
Following that horrific October 1 night, the company’s gear was locked up as part of the crime scene for more than a month. When AV Vegas employees were finally able to return to the site, “the flag was still hanging,” Holloway says. “It’ll always be with us.”
Continuing the tour of the facility, we move into the AV Vegas control room. There’s an energy that one might find in an esports arena—a row of guys hunched over, eyes locked on computer screens while speaking to one another through headsets. There’s a slushy machine in the corner, and the room glows a deep Crayola blue from the glare of various monitors. One tech toggles between the stage’s five camera angles, another runs the livestream feed through the band’s social media platforms and yet another controls the soundboard.
The room is a good 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the warehouse, so we stay there to discuss the trajectory of AV Vegas during the pandemic.
“People need entertainment,” says vice president of business development Ty Hansen. The son of CEO John Hansen, he was at AV Vegas’ last show before the state went into lockdown—a double-headliner bill featuring John Fogerty and Don Felder out in Laughlin.
“I knew after that night things were going to be different,” Hansen says. “So I went out to that show and got a room for the night. I wanted to see it. … We rode through two recessions before this one, and we managed to grow through each of them. I think this one’s going to be the hardest.”
So far, AV Vegas has featured Vegas acts like Mercy Music, Adelitas Way, Jesse Pino and Mojave Sun on its livestreams, with more artists to come. McGuinness says he’s been reaching out to every local band in town with more than 1,000 social media followers, offering to bring them in for a livestream session.
“We’re in a beta test,” Hansen says. “Right now, we’re just looking to bring in bands while we’re testing and finding our process. In order to keep paying our payrolls, we need to find a way to make this a business.”
Holloway chimes in, “You can livestream from your living room. [But] what we’re trying to do is bring back some of the Las Vegas feel into an entertainment scene that’s been completely obliterated, and to show that we can do it safely.”