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Music Shows Las Vegas Love at 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival

The world’s biggest music event returned to Las Vegas this weekend at T-Mobile Arena as the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival delivered a star-studded lineup across a two-night, packed-house celebration filled with unforgettable performances from the industry’s hottest artists.

In its first return to the city since the Oct. 1 concert shooting that claimed 58 lives, the eighth annual iHeartRadio Music Festival lit up a still-healing but always-dazzling Las Vegas as headliners Jason Aldean and Imagine Dragons paid tribute to its first responders and the lives affected before launching into rallying sets that captured the spirit of our city: the bonding glue that is larger-than-life entertainment.

“I can tell you, this city means everything to me and to this band. We try every day to be honorable to it, to represent it in a way that is true to the Vegas that we love,” said Imagine Dragons frontman and Las Vegas native Dan Reynolds, raising a toast to heroes and a Las Vegas that has since rallied around 2018 Stanley Cup contenders the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

“We have come together in a way that I’ve always hoped since I was a little kid. I’ve never felt like we had the culture here. I knew the people were here, but it seemed like we just didn’t have something to connect us. And there’s been a lot that’s connected us in this last year.”

“And even though I’ve been overseas, to come home to the Las Vegas that I know and love, I love this city,” Reynolds said between deafening cheers. “And to all of those who we lost, we’re thinking of you. To the families affected, we love you. Vegas Strong.”

As the penultimate act of night two, preceding closer Logic, Imagine Dragons’ electrifying set — songs performed include “Radioactive,” “Thunder,” and just-released single “Zero” — was both a fitting nightcap and the ultimate fulfillment of the iHeartRadio Music Festival’s mission: connection through music across all genres, formats and walks of life.

In a show big enough only for a Las Vegas stage, iHeart assembled a diverse buffet of talent unlike anywhere else in the world with a best-ever lineup that included legendary rock bands Lynyrd Skynyrd, in their farewell tour, and Fleetwood Mac, who will close out November with a return to T-Mobile.

Across its two nights, the 16-shows-in-one concert featured powerful performances from a pregnant Carrie Underwood — who sang new cathartic anthem “Cry Pretty” and the topical “Love Wins,” with the rowdy “Last Name” earning approval in the form of a tummy-kick from Underwood’s baby — and Vegas’ resident diva Mariah Carey, whose rafter-reaching, high-pitched notes were rivaled only by the fast fingers of rock star guitarist Jack White, whose wall-shaking chords could hold off a seven nation army.

“Stay With Me” crooner Sam Smith was an unfortunate no-show — host Ryan Seacrest reported Smith was “extremely sorry” to disappoint, citing unforeseen circumstances for backing out — but the high-energy and crowd-pleasing antics of hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd more than made up for the loss before giving way to surprise guest Ludacris, who preceded squeals-inspiring Vegas native Brendon Urie and Panic! at the Disco.

Night one belonged to a characteristically-shirtless Childish Gambino, whose soulful, infectious performance launched with the groovy “Summertime Magic” before segueing into the statement-making “This is America.” Anchored by the elusive Donald Glover’s undeniable magnetism and star power, the all-too-brief Gambino church session was a highlight and a blessing — especially coming just weeks after Glover announced his current Gambino tour will be his last.

Night two saw Kelly Clarkson perform a stunning tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, belting out “Respect,” which Clarkson credits with starting her “whole life” on television.

The classic hit is “one of my all time favorites,” Clarkson said. “She’s the greatest.”

Coming for the throne is Justin Timberlake, who earns his place as one of the most eclectic, compelling and all-around talented live performers of all time. In his vigorous 40-something-minutes set, Timberlake wowed with “Filthy,” the everyone-knows-it “SexyBack,” “Cry Me a River,” and slowed down only to perform an acoustic duet of “What Goes Around… Comes Around” with Vine star-turned-superstar Shawn Mendes.

Signing off appropriately enough with the dares-you-not-to-move “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Timberlake’s bar-setting Saturday night opening act emerged as a can’t miss in an already must-see sold-out show.

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For all the chart-topping hits and the respective performers that comprised this year’s iHeartRadio Music Festival, T-Mobile Arena was never louder than when country superstar Jason Aldean, who performed at Route 91 when the concert came under fire, presented on stage Friday the Oct. 1 first responders to thunderous applause.

“On behalf of myself, my family, and my family in the country music community, I want to say thank you to the city of Las Vegas for your courage, strength, and kindness,” Aldean said. “Tonight, we are all proud to be Vegas Strong.”