Christenson’s ‘Rock Vegas’ a lively, entertaining historyBy John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsAugust 22, 2017 at 8:06 amBefore anything else, understand that Pat Christenson is a fan. A very big fan.That’s part of what makes Christenson’s new book, Rock Vegas: Live Music Explodes in the Neon Desert, such an entertaining read. As the director of the Thomas and Mack Center and the president of Las Vegas Events, he’s literally and metaphorically had a front-row seat during the dramatic evolution of Las Vegas from entertainment elephant graveyard to pop music vortex. When he enthuses that Las Vegas is the live-music capital of the world, it’s not just hype.He admits he’s an unlikely chronicler of the history of big-event shows on the Strip and beyond. Christenson was a Midwestern boy not far from home in the late 1970s when he won an NCAA wrestling championship at the University of Wisconsin. He was more likely to have a cauliflower ear than an ear for music. But it was about that time he was turned onto the rock scene after pretending to provide security for a Led Zeppelin concert.He came to UNLV as an assistant to wrestling coach Dennis Finfrock, who would remain his close friend and mentor. Christenson gravitated toward big events on the Strip with help from a Finfrock company that provided ushers and security for everything from championship fights to heavy metal concerts.If Christenson seemed an unlikely guide to the history of Las Vegas rock, Las Vegas itself at one time was a formidable underdog to shake its polyester suit image and enter the era of big venue concerts. That’s in part because Strip showrooms and entertainment directors were often trapped in the past.It’s also because Southern Nevada, still experiencing its growing pains, lacked venues large enough to truly handle world headliners. A lot of us local boys and girls watched their first rock concerts at the old Ice Palace in the Commercial Center, the Sahara Space Center, and the Las Vegas Convention Center.The opening of the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts in the late 1970s was a breakthrough, but the Las Vegas music scene changed for good when the Sam Boyd Stadium and Thomas and Mack opened their doors to mega-bands such as the Grateful Dead.For local readers, Rock Vegas will bring back a lot of (potentially foggy) memories. You’ll be reacquainted with music scene groundbreakers such as Gary Naseef and Danny Zelisko, reminded of that riot that happened when the lead singer of Deep Purple got sick before a 1973 concert, and of course get filled in on a lot of the back story about the dramatic growth of rock’s popularity from the Strip to the state line.The best part is, this is a history written by a fan. It’s accurate, but not academic. You’ll enjoy the anecdotes and appreciate Christenson’s knowledge of the modern venues (some of which I’ve yet to set foot in.)Those who imagine Las Vegas ever going back to its elephant graveyard days may find themselves waiting a long time.“By 2020, Las Vegas will have 11 live-music theaters and clubs ranging from 1,800 to 17,000 seats,” he writes. “Las Vegas already has five arenas with capacities between 8,000 and 18,000, four proven festival sites, and a 65,000-seat stadium. More and more venues opening means more competition, which will create more inventory, especially residencies. And it won’t just be today’s hit-makers. Another generation of artists is dreaming of ‘playing Vegas,’ and the audience is getting younger and younger all the time.”For a professional fan like Christenson, and millions like him, that’s Las Vegas history in the making.John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.