Vegas Strong Benefit Show Reminds Us Why We Love Las Vegas

The national spotlight—along with the news coverage and political “prayers” that come with it—is no longer on Las Vegas, leaving us on our own as we move forward following the 1 October shooting.

We’re still angry. We haven’t fully healed. We may never.

But we’re not turning our backs on each other, either. We’ve proven that Las Vegas is a community, just like any other, with friends and neighbors willing to lend a hand and lean on each other in the worst of times.

We just do it with a little more flare.

It helps to have the backing of globally recognized entertainers (there is no shortage in this town) and a shiny new arena to host a benefit concert for victims and their families.

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Penn Jillette, Wayne Newton, Brandon Flowers and Dan Reynolds.

We’ll say this about T-Mobile Arena: it’s really earning that “our house” reputation during events (and especially Golden Knights games), kind of like the Thomas & Mack Center during Rebels games. On December 1, it served as the perfect venue for us to scream our lungs out (so cathartic) as star after star took the stage for the Vegas Strong Benefit Concert.

There was Carrot Top, leading things off and introducing several Golden Knights players—our hometown sports heroes—who shared their stories about Las Vegas. Our city’s homegrown baseball superstar, Bryce Harper, even took the stage to thank the first responders who rushed to the shooting scene or treated the injured in hospitals citywide.

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Boyz II Men

Celine Dion, who surprised us all at Omnia Nightclub’s benefit show in November, appeared via video message, followed by NASCAR’s Kurt Busch and Mirage headliners Boyz II Men. At that point, we began to wonder, “Who’s recording this, besides everyone in the audience with their phones?” This was reminiscent of a Jerry Lewis telethon (another Las Vegas legend we lost this year) or one of HBO’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame specials.

When Jay Leno appeared it felt more like one of those old Comic Relief events, until Imagine Dragons followed, bringing us to our feet once again. With every performer sticking to abbreviated set lists, we were treated to hit after hit (after hit), and Dan Reynolds and company kept our spirits high heading into a video tribute from Jason Aldean, who was on stage at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when the shooting started.

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Penn & Teller

Aldean’s segment led us into the intermission, and we needed it. There’s no shame in saying the emotions of the evening were too much to handle at times. Looking around, seeing people’s eyes well up with tears—the wounds are still fresh, even if you weren’t there and didn’t know anyone who was there.

Longtime Strip resident David Copperfield kicked off the second half of the evening, followed by a video from T-Mobile headliner George Strait (he’s back in town December 8) and performances by Blue Man Group and members of Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere troupe. By the time Penn & Teller took the stage, we’d pulled our emotions back together, although we, understandably, still had that “This is freakin amazing!” look about us.

But first, and this is still crazy to process, Wayne Newton stepped out on stage. Even at 75, Mr. Las Vegas hasn’t lost a hint of the charisma that made him a civic treasure. The Midnight Idol (he has so many names) introduced a video from Caesars Palace headliner Elton John, and couldn’t have chosen a better time to lead us into “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.”

Denise Truscello

The Killers

At this point, you could have sent us home without The Killers and it still would have rivaled one of the best shows in Las Vegas history. It was up there with Jay-Z opening The Cosmopolitan on New Year’s Eve in 2010, until Brandon Flowers put it over the top.

We don’t know how to say this without it sounding weird or inappropriate, but The Killers belong to us. They have always been hometown ambassadors and have never let Las Vegas down. No one thought for a second that they wouldn’t have taken part in this—or any event—to help this city heal.

And when they wrapped their set, and Dan Reynolds and Penn Gillette and Mr. Entertainment (yes, Wayne has a lot of names!) returned to the stage to sing “Viva Las Vegas” with Brandon Flowers, it just turned on the water works.

We needed this. Even for just one night. We needed this so bad.

Dammit, we love this town.