30,000 revelers celebrate the New Year on Fremont Street

For those who missed the "TributePalooza" on New Year's Eve, the bands will be playing all weekend!  Need show tickets?  Click here!

From the Sun:

The self-described "happiest mayor in the universe," Las Vegas' Oscar Goodman, saw a world of hurt in his city last year.

Unemployment spiked. Tourism was down. The ripple of economic woes affecting America touched many in the city so dependent on tourism.

But the last night of 2009 offered Goodman a chance to focus on better times ahead. As the clock ticked toward midnight, with a ceremonial wave of his martini glass, Goodman bid adieu to 2009.

"What I see tonight on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas is the end of the stupid recession," he told a crowd of thousands gathered to celebrate New Year's Eve. He said Las Vegas, "the greatest city in the world," is a place for people to have a good time and not to worry.

"America is coming back because what America needs is a party," he said as the clock inched closer to midnight. As he led the masses in a countdown, a roar erupted. Fireworks popped, couples kissed and dozens clinked plastic footballs filled with beer as 2009 disappeared.

Flanked by showgirls, Goodman kissed his wife, Carolyn, and waved to the crowd.

Under the canopy of lights that is the Fremont Street Experience, digital fireworks made their way across the 1,500-foot screen as real ones dazzled above the crowd.

"It was amazing, just awesome," said Robert Manjarrez, 30, an elementary school teacher from Clovis, Calif.

This was the second year in a row he had come to Fremont Street for New Year's Eve, saying he had such a good time last year he had to come back.

"Compared to last year, the whole experience was much better. Last year we couldn't really see the fireworks. This year was 10 times better."

As for what lies ahead, he echoed Goodman's sentiments.

"I just hope the economy and everything else gets better because last year was tough. This year has got to be an improvement," Manjarrez said.

For Las Vegans Jill and Joe Cuevas, 2009 was a rough year. They were eager to celebrate its demise and did so by sporting the outfits they got married in about a year ago.

In true Las Vegas fashion, the two were dressed in the Elvis-themed attire they wore Dec. 21, 2008, when they went down the aisle in a pink Cadillac at the Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel. Both were adorned with plastic wigs with lit-up "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" signs.

"Tonight we met Oscar Goodman and his wife, who told us that we look awesome. It made us feel good," 25-year-old Jill Cuevas said. "We had a rough year. We're just hoping for happiness."

Her husband chimed in: "And love." Then he kissed her.

Sally Piper, who came to Las Vegas from Mesquite with her fiancé, Mark Peterson, said she's been out of work since the town's Oasis casino closed.

But already, 2010 was full of hope — she got a job offer just before Christmas and the former cocktail waitress was ready to start work at a hospital.

"We actually came to Vegas to celebrate this year," Piper said. Fremont Street, with the fireworks, live music and rich history, was the perfect place to toast to better times. "You don't get all that on the Strip," she said.

Some came from much further away than the far reaches of Clark County: Dennis and Diana Bryson were visiting from North Pole, Alaska. It was their third trip this year to Las Vegas, this time to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary.

"This was a spontaneous trip. We just bought tickets last week," said Diana Bryson, wearing a purple hat with "2010" emblazoned across the front.

"It was so dead in July when we were here. This is just great. This is how it should be all the time," she said, gesturing at the crowd. As for 2010, "it's got to be better — it can't get any worse."

Earlier in the evening, anticipation for the midnight festivities was at the tip of everyone's tongue.

Larry Workman, 69, and his wife, Shirley, from Orange County, Calif., hoped New Year's Eve 2009 was a repeat of 2008.

"We were here last year, right here on Fremont. We had such a great time we decided to come back and we brought eight people with us," he said.

His sister came in from North Carolina. Two friends came in from Denver, two others from Costa Mesa, Calif.; his niece, an exchange student, came in from Glasgow, Scotland.

"I thought it was kind of a neat deal with all the lights, all the people in the streets and the fireworks up above," he said.

Denise Bostic has lived in Las Vegas for more than a decade but never spent a New Year's Eve on Fremont Street — at least, not until Dec. 31, 2009. Friend Ed Arens talked her into coming downtown and celebrating the holiday, which is also his birthday.

"I have been on the Strip before but I'm way too old for that," she said with a laugh outside the Fremont Hotel & Casino.

As for the new year, Arens said he hadn't thought of a resolution, but Bostic quickly offered, "If you make them, you break them, so why bother?"

Throughout the night, tribute bands paid homage to Aerosmith, Depeche Mode, Guns N' Roses, INXS, Led Zeppelin, No Doubt, U2 and Van Halen at the stages along Fremont as part of the second-annual TributePalooza.

The five-block area in front of the 10 casinos that line the street closed at 5 p.m. to those under 21 so the celebration could begin.

As Blasphemous Rumors, the Depeche Mode tribute band, got the crowd grooving, Jeremy Nelson, 27, of Palm Springs, Calif., and friend Brent Weiand, 27, of Arlington, Va., stood back, taking in the scene from in front of La Bayou casino.

Nelson, originally from Indiana, recently moved to California and the two decided to meet up in Las Vegas for the "wild party" on Fremont Street and, of course, some gambling.

"We're just here to have a good time and maybe win some money," Nelson said.

He said this year was his first time celebrating the holiday in Las Vegas. He usually spends the holiday at a local bar, he said.

"He drove over, I flew in — we were just thinking Vegas would be something different this year," Weiand said. He added that he had doubled his money since he'd gotten to town.

While the New Year's Eve celebrations are a big deal in Las Vegas, they're rivaled by those in New York City.

Jodie Wright and her boyfriend, Mike Lopez, hail from the Big Apple, where partiers have been ringing in the new year at Times Square for more than 100 years. As the sun was setting on the last day of 2009, the two said they had high expectations for their evening of revelry under the glow of Las Vegas' neon lights.

Despite the history of their hometown, both said they were expecting their evening in downtown Las Vegas to be more enjoyable than New York.

"I did Times Square in 2001 — we were in a hotel overlooking it. But unless you're really down there, it's not great," Lopez said. "And in Times Square, you're stuffed together. You can't move. It's terrible."

Wright said she was looking forward to a more relaxed atmosphere.

"I'm expecting it not to be as packed as Times Square, which makes me happy," she said. "We picked celebrating here over New York because fireworks are fireworks wherever you go, but we think this will be a little more lively and more festive."

As the day progressed, dozens of people streamed through an area near the Neonopolis, where a booth was set up to sell wristbands. The wristbands, which went on sale at 10 a.m., cost $10 for those with a Nevada identification card and $20 for out-of-state revelers.

Wristbands were also available at gates leading to the Fremont Street Experience.

New Year's Eve is the only day a ticket is required for entry into the Fremont Street Experience. Last year, the 30,000 tickets available were gone by about 11:15 p.m., said Fremont Street Experience marketing director Thomas Bruny. This year, capacity was increased to 35,000, he said.

The event didn't sell out but Bruny said attendance was "great," estimating that numbers were similar to last year.

Booths selling 2010-themed garb, like novelty sunglasses, hats, beads and T-shirts, were set up throughout the area. Before the festivities kicked off, near one of the booths was Brajesh Piwanji, 24. Pinwanji said he didn't drink, but that wouldn't stop him from having an enjoyable evening.

"I'm expecting fun and a lot of fun things to do," he said. Piwanji, who lives in San Jose, Calif., recently moved from India. This was his first New Year's Eve in the United States.

Not everyone milling around Fremont Street on Thursday planned to stay 'til the clock struck 12. Before the area was closed off, plenty of families with strollers were spotted taking in the sights.

Although the celebration technically drew to a close in the early morning hours Friday, the entertainment was to continue through the weekend. The musical acts pick up again Friday and Saturday nights starting at 8 p.m. with free "Rock 'N' Recovery" concerts.