Music is vital to any thriving cultural scene, and longtime local promoter Roddy Belford is trying to make sure that the area around UNLV keeps the rhythm. His method: throwing the inaugural Maryland Parkway Music Festival. It’s a three-day event during Labor Day weekend celebrating the university district, which has fallen into decline in recent years.
“A lot of different areas in town have had a resurgence—downtown, most definitely, with East Fremont and the Arts District. And more power to them,” Belford says. “The more cultural venues there are in town, the better. That said, the whole UNLV district really hasn’t caught up with what everyone else is doing.”
About 40 bands are set to play the festival, with local acts making up about two-thirds of the roster. The Michigan-based folk-rock band Frontier Ruckus are headlining, and the lineup also includes the four-time Grammy-nominated Pine Leaf Boys, four-time Grammy nominee Cedric Watson and New Zealand-based rockers the Neo-Kalashnikovs. There will also be a fashion show of styles from area vintage clothing stores, spoken-word poets, artists, food and clothing vendors.
Belford is a 37-year Las Vegas resident and UNLV alumnus who used to live near the university. As such, he has a special connection to the area. But will a one-weekend event successfully jump-start a social scene? “I want it to become a mainstay, like Bumbershoot in Seattle,” he says. “This is our first year, so some things are going to be hit and miss. It gives us some license to make some mistakes along the way, but we definitely want this to be a yearly event.”
Belford is still finalizing details, but he first began forming the idea about 10 years ago when he read about developer Michael Saltman’s vision for Midtown UNLV, a private-public partnership that would turn the district into a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with improved housing, shopping outlets, restaurants, entertainment venues and mass transit.
Saltman is president of the Vista Group, which is one of the festival sponsors. He also owns the Promenade Center across the street from UNLV. While the recession delayed Saltman’s timetable for developing Midtown UNLV, his original concept remains intact.
“I would have told you in 2005 that it would take 10 years,” Saltman says. “I’m now going to push that to 2020.”
The key, according to Saltman, to turning UNLV into a cultural mecca is student housing. “There’s a few students in the dorms, and everybody else is scattered around the community,” he says. “If you look at the area code-student body mix, it’s amazing to me that students live every place in the community except for at and around UNLV.”
Considering that a building boom is likely far off, a music festival is not a bad substitute.
True to his vision, Belford has made sure to incorporate as much of Maryland Parkway as he can into the event. Bands will play the festival’s main stage at Maryland and Harmon Avenue, with a portion of Harmon closing for the event. Newly elected Councilman Bob Coffin even chipped in by helping turn Huntridge Circle Park into a temporary venue.
Belford, whose Diesel Rocket Promotions company also stages the annual Green Girl Music & Arts Festival (Oct. 14-16), became fascinated with music festivals after watching the documentary Woodstock as a child. The Maryland Parkway Music Festival is the most ambitious event he has organized, and while he has concerns about the financial viability of the festival, falling short of his goal will not deter him for the future.
“You ask if I’m worried, hell yeah, I’m worried,” Belford says. “I worry about it every day. I wake up thinking about it; I go to bed thinking about it. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Even if we fall flat on my face, I’m not going to lose my house, I’m not going to lose my car. It might put me in debt for a while, but I’m not going to lose my soul over this.”