In an article about Vegas residencies, the infamous "Welcome to Las Vegas," sign stands in front of palm trees and several large hotels.

How Las Vegas Residencies Have Changed Live Music

After realizing the advantages of performing in Vegas, more performers are turning Sin City into the entertainment capital of the world.
September 5, 2023
8 mins read

Most know Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world. But to music lovers, the so-called Sin City has become a hub for entertainment, featuring some of the biggest names in the world. Las Vegas residencies used to indicate career death, but today they symbolize a chance at redemption and a less grueling opportunity for performing. 

A Las Vegas residency is defined by an extended run of performances by an artist over the course of weeks, months or years at one of the various casinos in the city. Vegas residencies got their start with Liberace’s larger-than-life performance style, which revolutionized entertainment in the city. 

A decade after his Las Vegas debut in 1944, Liberace moved his show to the Riviera Hotel and Casino. His onstage persona came to define much of the future of Vegas, in all its decadence and glory. He thought of his shows as performances rather than standard concerts, which was evidenced by his jaunty stage presence and lush costumes

Likely influenced by Liberace’s success, big names such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley made their way to Las Vegas for residencies of their own in the 1960s. Presley found his time in Vegas beneficial for reviving his career, which had been stuck in a commercial slump during the late ‘60s. From 1969 to 1976, he performed at the International Hotel, providing him with career stability in the midst of his increasing health issues and personal struggles. 

In the early 1980s, the nation was hit with an economic recession that impacted Las Vegas greatly. To make things worse, a sprawling fire at the MGM Grand killed 87 people and effectively scared people away from visiting the city for fear of their safety. At this point in the music industry, many of the popular bands and performers of the day were uninterested in performing in small, cabaret-like theaters, instead keeping exclusively to large arenas. Older stars of the generation, such as Wayne Newton and Barry Manilow, had residencies because that seemed to be their only option for career maintenance. To the A-listers of the ‘80s, regularly performing for crowds of 4,000 seemed inconsequential compared to selling out 15,000 arena seats for one night. 

Everything changed in 2003 when Céline Dion signed a contract for a concert residency at Caesars Palace. Dion was well within her prime, and a Vegas residency seemed like a guaranteed career-killer to some. Despite preconceived notions, Dion’s stay at Caesars Palace lasted for a total of 12 years and featured two shows, “A New Day…” and “Celine,” running from 2003 – 2007 and 2011 – 2019, respectively. Dion’s star-power revived the concept of residencies and proved that Las Vegas was not a place for careers to die, but rather for careers to gain stability. 

Since Dion’s trend-setting stay, artists such as Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Cher, Katy Perry and even Beyoncé have all come to Vegas for residencies of their own. The list of performers goes on and on, but one thing is clear: residencies have become more attractive to performers entering new phases of their career and life. 

By plane, Las Vegas is only one hour away from Los Angeles, where many stars live with their families. Performing in Vegas offers a kind of flexibility that just isn’t possible on a traditional world tour. Artists are able to be home with their families during the week and make the short trip to Vegas on the weekends for their shows. Touring is not for every artist, and many have chosen to do residencies because it beats long nights of traveling on a bus and getting dressed in locker rooms. 

Katy Perry, in particular, has been vocal about her decision to come to Vegas, explaining that her show provides a flexible schedule that allows her to remain a part of her young daughter’s upbringing while continuing to pursue her love of performing.

“This show is my favorite show I’ve ever created. I also get to be a really hands-on mother. I got to drop my daughter off at preschool this morning,” she told Good Morning America. Not to mention, performing in Vegas has undoubtedly exposed her to a wider array of casual listeners who might have been wondering what Perry has been up to in recent years. The ability to be involved in her home life and also play for audiences made a Las Vegas residency the perfect move for Perry. 

For songbird supreme Mariah Carey, her 2015 – 2017 residency “#1 to Infinity” at Caesars Palace provided her with an opportunity to redeem herself after the sub-par reception of her 2014 album, “Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse.” A year after her first residency concluded, she returned to Vegas for her new show, “The Butterfly Returns.” Where “#1 to Infinity” focused on covering her impressive collection of #1 hits, “The Butterfly Returns” catered more toward her deep cuts and fan-favorite songs. 

The crowds at Vegas residencies often feature superfans willing to travel across the world for their favorite artist. On a world tour, a performer is bound to attract locals who might only know one or two of the artist’s songs. While the same is true of a Las Vegas show, the likelihood of drawing in die-hard fans is higher because that’s often the only place an artist will perform for the duration of their contract. Fans from all around the world flock to the strip to see their favorite performers live. 

Though traveling to see a show is a substantial undertaking, Las Vegas offers so much more than just the concert. Not only do fans get to attend the show, but they can experience multiple concert residencies during their stay. Throughout the week, they might have the chance to catch several of the active residencies. This year alone, Shania Twain, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga and U2 have all announced residencies taking place through 2023 and into 2024. The future of Las Vegas residencies is bright, with more artists opting for Sin City than ever. Far from the place where careers go to die, Vegas has become the place for them to flourish. 

Avery Heeringa, Columbia College Chicago

Contributing Writer

Avery Heeringa

Columbia College Chicago

Communication, Minor in Journalism

"Avery Heeringa is a senior at Columbia College Chicago studying Communication and Journalism. He’s passionate about all things music and pop culture related, and enjoys frequenting local record stores when not writing."

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