Thousands of fireworks exploded at midnight in Las Vegas, a kaleidoscope of colors painting the sky as revelers eager to put another pandemic year behind them braved blustery conditions Friday evening to welcome 2022 with the return of “America’s Party.”
This year’s celebration — themed “Deuces Wild” — was one of the few large New Year’s Eve events in the country to remain intact, drawing an estimated 300,000 people to the city, despite the recent uptick in cases since the emergence of the omicron variant.
“I think 2022 is going to be a better year than 2021,” said Jeff Banas, a resident from Orange County, California. “I’m very wishful, and you’ve got to stay positive in the whole situation.”
Under the persistent cloud of COVID-19, the familiar lure of a Las Vegas Strip celebration brought Banas, his wife and their toddler to Sin City this year.
“Just the excitement, the fun and the craziness,” Banas said. “All of the above.”
With gusts topping 50 mph at one point earlier in the night, the possibility of a delay or an all-out cancellation hung in the air even as the clock ticked close to midnight.
“One more minute!” a child yelled at 11:59 p.m., as the assembled crowd grew restless.
But when the clock struck 12, the Strip’s iconic eight-minute pyrotechnic show went off without a hitch.
Husband and wife Jake and Paula Yegen locked lips as the show began. People in all directions cheered, yelling “Happy new year!”
This year, more than 11,500 fireworks were launched from the rooftops of the Aria, Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, Treasure Island, The Strat, The Venetian and Resorts World Las Vegas, the newest property to join the show following its June opening.
Tourists and locals swayed together to hit songs like Taylor Swift’s “22” and Aerosmith’s “Deuces Are Wild.”
‘New year with fresh eyes’
As midnight neared, festivities on the Strip and on Fremont Street continued to ramp up throughout the night, even with the looming possibility of a disruption to America’s Party, which was canceled last year as the pandemic raged.
Two deadly armed robberies earlier Friday — one at Fashion Show mall and another just west of the Strip — did not appear to weigh heavily on the minds of revelers, either, although the suspects remained at large until about two hours before midnight.
Heavy winter coats covered sequined dresses and suit jackets as crowds of people walked down the sidewalks of the Strip, stopping only briefly to take pictures with showgirls, their feathers fluttering in the wind.
The south end of the Strip started opening up to foot traffic just before 8:30 p.m. Robert Gonzalez and his girlfriend, Riga Chow, were among the first to walk the empty stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard.
The couple lives in Los Angeles, but they decided to come to Las Vegas to ring in the new year at the last minute, because “why not?!”
“We’re vaccinated,” Gonzalez said, “and we wear masks.”
By about 10 p.m., with mere hours left of 2021, the wind and rain appeared to die down as action picked up on the south Strip, where more people started to flood into the street and dance to music trickling out from nearby New York New York.
Kim Jay was among those celebrating on the Strip. Dressed in a sparkling sequined jacket, with a sash draped across her chest, Jay declared that it was her birthday.
“Ah, 2021,” she said, noting that it had been “very, very challenging” for her family. The family suffered unexpected “tragedies” and “atrocities,” she said, noting that COVID-19 played a part.
But, since it was her 55th birthday, she was content.
“It’s like celebrating with the biggest party ever,” said Jay, a visitor from Chicago with her sister and nephew.
In 2022, she said, “I’m looking to the new year with fresh eyes.”
‘A raucous time’
A few miles north of the Strip, tourists and locals decked out in ’80s and ’90s costumes took over the Fremont Street Experience, which hosted a themed dance party that kicked off at 6 p.m.
Live performers under the canopy included Village People, Bobby Brown, Tone Loc and more.
Susan and Terry Eckstein from Appleton, Wisconsin, were the first two people in line to get into the party. First-timers to Las Vegas, they were eager to get in.
“It just seems like a raucous time,” Terry Eckstein said.
Near the stages, people held up their phones, danced and bounced along to the live music. Tone Loc began performing, and after one song, he invited some in the crowd to join him onstage.
Overhead, a two-lane zip line carried people four at time, just underneath the canopy’s big screen. Some screamed, others stretched their arms.
The downtown party, too, was punctuated by a fireworks spectacle put on by the Plaza at midnight.
Five minutes before the show began, Mayor Carolyn Goodman took the stage at the Fremont Street Experience with her husband, two showgirls, and two muscular men in tank tops and bow ties.
“We are the luckiest people on earth,” husband Oscar Goodman told the crowd.
After the crowds scattered, 22 street sweepers were set to clear away about 11 tons of trash left behind by partygoers on the Strip and in downtown before roads reopen Saturday morning.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian.
Contact Rio Lacanlale at email@example.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Mick Akers, Jonah Dylan, Shea Johnson, Katelyn Newberg, Ricky Torres-Cortez and David Wilson contributed to this report.