Ed Sheeran’s UAE shows tipped to make history
Ed Sheeran’s forthcoming Dubai concerts could become the best-selling shows in UAE history, according to All Thing Live Middle East CEO Thomas Ovesen.
The British singer-songwriter brings his + – = ÷ x (Mathematics) Tour to The Sevens Stadium from 19-20 January 2024 in what are being called the largest open-air concerts ever to take place in Dubai.
The dates, which will see the 32-year-old perform “in the round”, will be Sheeran’s first in the Middle East since playing the city’s Autism Rocks Arena in November 2017, which attracted a sell-out 23,272 crowd.
“Not since 2017 has the Dubai market hosted such large scale outdoor concerts promoted on merits of ticket sales,” Ovesen tells IQ. “So it’s with great satisfaction we don’t just put on two Ed Sheeran concerts here in January, but again together with AEG Presents get to work with Ed and his management – this time showcasing his incredible 360° production for the first time in the Middle East.”
The events, which will feature support from Calum Scott, are backed by Dubai Calendar and Coca-Cola Arena, with tickets going on sale on Friday (9 November).
“It’s not only a massive event and achievement for Dubai, but one that hopefully reflects also a return to more large-scale outdoor shows”
“With a combined capacity of more than 60.000 tickets these shows could well break the record of the best-selling UAE concert ever. It’s not only a massive event and achievement for Dubai, but one that hopefully reflects also a return to more large-scale outdoor shows and an increased live entertainment offering in our market.”
European live entertainment group All Things Live launched in the Middle East earlier this year following successful collaborations with Ovesen’s TOP Entertainment. Ovesen had previously brought acts including Justin Bieber, The Eagles, Guns ‘N Roses, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John and Ed Sheeran to the region, and launched festivals such as RedFestDXB and Fiesta De Los Muertos.
The promoter’s recent highlights included a rare sell-out for last weekend’s Bryan Adams’ concert at Dubai’s 17,000-cap Coca-Cola Arena.
“I think the arena has had a few other sell-out shows this year including Hanz Zimmer and some Arabic and Indian artists,” Ovesen told IQ last month. “But the UAE is a relatively small market with less than 10 million residents and more than 200 nationalities, so it is hard to pick an event or artist that will pull from all the various communities and sell beyond 10,000 tickets.
“It’s rare that shows in the UAE sell out and, indeed, for large-scale shows in the few arenas here. So for an established touring artist who has visited the market many times in the past and played in smaller capacities, to completely sell out Coca-Cola Arena two months prior to the show date is unheard of. Our last sold-out show at the venue was with 50 Cent back in September 2022 and it only sold out the day before the show.”
The Mathematics Tour was the fifth highest-grossing worldwide in H1 2023
The Mathematics Tour was the fifth highest-grossing worldwide in Pollstar‘s H1 2023 rankings, selling just over one million tickets to earn $105.3 million. Back in June, Sheeran broke the attendance record at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in the USA, pulling in 89,106 people to surpass the 88,491 fans drawn by U2 for their 360° Tour in 2011.
He also broke his own attendance record at Melbourne Cricket Ground in March by playing to more than 100,000 fans on consecutive nights, and New Zealand’s Sky Stadium, where he drew 48,000 fans. He also set a new ticket sales record in Denmark, shifting 160,000 tickets to four shows in the capital city of Copenhagen last year.
Sheeran, who will tour Asia and Europe in 2024, will also headline Rock in Rio Lisbon’s 20th anniversary edition, and is also slated to appear at other festivals including Lucca Summer Festival (Italy), Hurricane & Southside (Germany) and Stavernfestivalen (Norway).
His previous 255 show ÷ (Divide) run from 2017-19 was the highest-grossing tour ever before, generating $776.2 million, before being surpassed by Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour earlier this year. Sheeran is represented by Marty Diamond of Wasserman Music in North America and Jon Ollier of One Fiinix Live for the rest of the world.
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All Things Live Middle East CEO on market’s evolution
All Things Live Middle East CEO Thomas Ovesen has spoken to IQ about the evolution of the region’s live music market.
The Nordic live entertainment firm launched its new Middle East operation earlier this year, following prior successful collaborations between ATL and Ovesen’s TOP entertainment.
Recent highlights have included an “unheard of” sell-out for Bryan Adams’s forthcoming concert at the 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, with ticket prices ranging between AED 199-549 (€51-141). And according to veteran promoter Ovesen, it “has been and will continue to be very exciting times” at ATL’s southernmost outpost.
“I think the arena has had a few other sell-out shows this year including Hanz Zimmer and some Arabic and Indian artists but the UAE is a relatively small market with less than 10 million residents and more than 200 nationalities, so it is hard to pick an event or artist that will pull from all the various communities and sell beyond 10,000 tickets,” explains Ovesen.
“It’s rare that shows in the UAE sell out and, indeed, for large-scale shows in the few arenas here”
“It’s rare that shows in the UAE sell out and, indeed, for large-scale shows in the few arenas here. So for an established touring artist who has visited the market many times in the past and played in smaller capacities, to completely sell out Coca-Cola Arena two months prior to the show date is unheard of.
“Our last sold-out show at the venue was with 50 Cent back in September 2022 and it only sold out the day before the show. In a market with many events being subject to last-minute sales having sold out the full arena almost two months prior to the event is proof of the artist’s significance and his great pull here.”
Bryan Adams’ last Dubai show, which was promoted by Ovesen at TOP, took place in an open-air venue with around 8,000 guests and was his biggest-ever show in the emirate.
“His fan base is of an age where disposal funds are available and with little entertainment programming targeting them specifically, so when the opportunity is there and it is an artist known for great material and an evening of reminiscence then it clearly works,” he says. “Word of mouth was the strongest marketing tool for us.”
Ovesen says ATL Middle East also has several major shows lined up for the remainder of the year, as well as some yet-to-be-announced “blockbuster outdoor mega shows” in Q1 2024.
“I am particularly excited about these shows as it has been approximately five years since we last had such events here in Dubai… it’ll mark the return of stadium/greenfield shows in the emirate and will serve to show the world we are finally back again and stronger than ever before,” he tells IQ.
“To run a feasible business [here], even if as part of a global operation, you have to think regionally”
But it’s not just the Dubai market that’s going from strength to strength. The potential of the wider Middle East region has been recognised by an increasing number of live entertainment behemoths who are making moves within the market.
Oak View Group recently expanded into the region through a joint venture with local event management and venue operator, Ethara, and Festival Republic’s Wireless debuted in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. ASM Global and Live Nation have long had a presence in the market.
“The success of the Middle East as a business hub and tourism destination is partly based on how at home the country and its business environment makes everyone feel and indeed the ease with which you can set up your business here,” adds Ovesen. “But to run a feasible business, even if as part of a global operation, you have to think regionally and having a regular if not permanent presence across the many very different Middle East markets, cities and business environments is costly.
“Plus, here as in most other places professionalism and quality will dictate your success hence many new players will no doubt find that also here you have to earn your wings and a long-term play requires a proper commitment and investment in the region.”
He continues: “I think the market, in dollars and cents, for live events and entertainment is still expanding faster than the influx of new events and entertainment organisers so to some degree there is still room for exciting opportunities and I haven’t yet seen such new players as being my main competition in any of the Middle East markets.
Concluding, the veteran promoter tells IQ he remains “committed”, and will partner with the “best-suited operators and industry peers”.
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Untold to be Dubai’s ‘biggest-ever’ festival
Dubai is set to gain its own edition of Untold, touted as the biggest festival the city has ever seen.
Launched in Romania in 2015, the 100,000-capacity event is one of the largest festivals in Europe and has seen performances from artists including Imagine Dragons, Robbie Williams, Major Lazer, J Balvin, The Script, Jason Derulo and Ellie Goulding.
DJs including David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, The Chainsmokers, Axwell and Hardwell have also delivered sets at previous editions.
The Dubai iteration is expected to take place in February 2024, welcoming 70,000 people each night to the sprawling grounds of Expo City Dubai.
So far, superstar DJ Armin van Buuren is the only confirmed artist but organisers say the festival will see more than 100 acts – including stars from across pop, techno, K-pop and Arabic music – perform across more than five stages.
“Hosting events like Untold at Expo City Dubai is the perfect way to demonstrate the city’s capability to host mega-events”
Like the Romania event, held in the north-western city of Cluj-Napoca, Untold Dubai will be a family and cultural affair. Entrance will be open to all ages with plenty of non-musical activities also held on the Expo City Dubai site.
“Hosting events like Untold at Expo City Dubai is the perfect way to demonstrate the city’s capability to host mega-events, further reinforcing its position as an international events hub in line with the ambition of our visionary leadership to make Dubai the best city in the world to visit, live and work in,” says Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), told The National.
Festival co-founder Edy Chereji added: “Dubai is one of the top tourism destinations in the world. We have an amazing site over there and by working with our stakeholders we hope to create something that will be the next big icon for Dubai and bring more tourists to this great city”.
“By getting visitors travelling into Romania from Western Europe we showed that we can build our own global brand and that was part of the reason why we came to Dubai.”
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‘The Middle East is an exciting place to be’
The live market in the Gulf, historically centred on Dubai and Abu Dhabi, toiled for years to achieve wider recognition and a spot on the schedules of passing artists. But there is a real momentum to the region now, with experienced promoters, world-class indoor arenas and, in Saudi Arabia, a neighbour with serious money to spend.
“Historically, the reliance on greenfield sites and their associated costs were a big limitation for commercially sustainable shows,” says James Craven, Live Nation president Middle East. “But as more purpose-built venues open-up across the region, the hard ticket business really becomes more viable.”
The opening up of Saudi, combined with the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel, are also big news for the UAE’s live business, given their implications for regional touring. But credit must go to promoters such as Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Flash Entertainment, Dubai’s T.O.P. Entertainment (stands for Thomas Ovesen Presents) and the local Live Nation branch for pulling the market through the lean years.
Ovesen recently returned to promoting across the region after a spell with Saudi’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority, and in addition to a sell-out with 50 Cent at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai in September, T.O.P. staged José Carreras in November, with Chinese star Jackson Wang coming up in February 2023.
“We had the biggest crowd at the Formula 1 we have ever had, and we are seeing a surge of interest in live events”
It is a fact of life in the Middle East that state buying power, rather than ticket-buying clout, is often a key factor in drawing talent to the region. “If you look at it from afar, it looks extremely busy with all the top artists, but a lot of it is driven by governments, whether that’s in Qatar, Saudi, or our friends down in Abu Dhabi,” says Ovesen.
Flash, which operates Etihad Park and the Etihad Arena on Yas Island, brought Usher, Dave, Swedish House Mafia, Kendrick Lamar, and Def Leppard out in November for its Yasalam After-Race Concert Series, tied to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Andrea Bocelli, Post Malone and the Mubadala World Tennis Championship hot on their heels.
“2022 was a strong year for us,” says Flash CEO John Lickrish. “We had the biggest crowd at the Formula 1 we have ever had, and we are seeing a surge of interest in live events. Probably not quite ’19 levels, but ’19 was obviously insane.”
Established since 2008, Flash has now added Dubai and Saudi offices to its Abu Dhabi base. “We are really focusing on that now,” says Lickrish. “We have always operated there, out of Abu Dhabi, but we just decided it was a good opportunity to get our branch offices staffed up.”
“The last few years we have diversified our live business into the Arabic music scene, which now accounts for a large percentage of our regional business”
Live Nation, meanwhile, has staged Maroon 5, OneRepublic, and Westlife in Abu Dhabi this year, with Imagine Dragons, Blackpink, and Sting incoming, as well as a growing line in non-western events.
“The Middle East is an exciting place to be right now,” says Craven. “The last few years we have diversified our live business into the Arabic music scene, which now accounts for a large percentage of our regional business. Comedy is also a key focus as we move into 2023,” he adds, noting the arrival of Pete Green, formerly of local promoters Done Events and GME Events, as head of comedy for the region.
Other promoters operating in the UAE include Blu Blood, which has brought Atif Islam and Il Divo in recent years, and South Asian specialist PME Entertainment, which has showcased Indian singers Arijit Singh and Jubin Nautiyal in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
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Lost Nomads Festival set for Dubai debut
Electronic music festival Lost Nomads has announced details of its inaugural Dubai edition.
Staged by Farra World, the brand will make its UAE debut on the exclusive Soul Beach on 11 February.
Headlined by Dennis Cruz, Andrea Oliva, Apache, and Cuartero, ticket prices start at 200 dirhams (€50), with VIP options also available.
Organisers describe the festival as “a meeting point where those attending can expand their senses in some amazing locations around the world”.
The first edition of Lost Nomads took place in Morocco’s Agafay desert in June 2022
“It is one of the most exclusive beach clubs and restaurants… located on a paradisiacal beach bathed by crystal clear waters and white sand,” says a statement.
The first edition of Lost Nomads took place from 11-12 June last year in Morocco’s Agafay desert, 40 minutes from Marrakech.
Capacity was limited to 2,000 people per day, with the line-up including Black Coffee, Agoria, Themba, Angelos and Amine K, among others.
Sony Music expands live interests with Dubai move
Sony Music Masterworks has expanded its live music interests, announcing a majority investment in Dubai-based pan-regional promoter, talent management, events and production firm MAC Global.
Founded in 2014 by Rob McIntosh and Daniel Goldberg, MAC Global has brought international touring acts to the Middle East region such as Ed Sheeran, Michael Bublé, Drake and Sia.
The firm produces shows in venues across the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, India and Saudi Arabia, with clients including Dubai Opera, Saudi Aramco, Al Dana Amphitheatre and Coca-Cola Arena. It is about to kick off its new concert season with two sold-out shows by George Ezra and Tiesto, with Lewis Capaldi also set to perform in both Dubai and Bahrain in the coming weeks.
“We are thrilled to partner with Rob, Dan and the MAC Global team to bring the best in live entertainment to the Middle East and North Africa”
McIntosh and Goldberg will continue to lead day-to-day operations at MAC Global, working closely with Sony Music Masterworks president Mark Cavell, SVP of business development Josh Lerman and Senbla MD Ollie Rosenblatt.
“We are thrilled to partner with Rob, Dan and the MAC Global team to bring the best in live entertainment to the Middle East and North Africa,” says Cavell. “Their unrivalled experience in the MENA region combined with Sony Music’s wealth of expertise, resources, and broad portfolio of live entertainment properties will provide enhanced benefit to touring artists, productions, and audiences alike.”
The partnership is designed to create “new and synergistic experiential opportunities for audiences across the Middle East region”, and will see MAC Global’s remit expand to include comedy, sports, virtual events, orchestral events and immersive movie experiences.
“We’re excited to take our company to the next level of development and growth by joining the Sony Music Masterworks family”
McIntosh and Goldberg add: “Having established the MAC Global brand over many years, ensuring its position at the forefront of the live music industry in the Middle East, we’re excited to take our company to the next level of development and growth by joining the Sony Music Masterworks family.
“We are very much looking forward to working with Mark Cavell and the wider Masterworks team to develop new event intellectual properties alongside our core vision of bringing the biggest names in entertainment to the MENA region and beyond.”
The deal is the latest in a series of strategic partnerships and agreements “advancing Sony Music Masterworks’ growth as a multi-faceted worldwide entertainment business”. Recent investments include UK-based producer The Luna Cinema; theatrical production company Seaview; artist management and production firm Terrapin Station Entertainment, booking agency RoadCo Entertainment; experiential cinema event producer Backyard Cinema; Netherlands-based agent and promoter GEA Live; and UK-based promoters Senbla and Raymond Gubbay Ltd.
Sony Music Masterworks comprises Masterworks, Sony Classical, Milan Records, XXIM Records, and Masterworks Broadway imprints.
Thomas Ovesen reveals TOP Entertainment vision
Leading Middle East promoter Thomas Ovesen has spoken to IQ about his ambitions for his new Dubai-headquartered venture, TOP Entertainment.
TOP launched last week with a show by 50 Cent – the first post-pandemic sellout concert at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena – and was due to stage two sold-out nights with Justin Bieber in partnership with AEG and All Things Live at the venue this weekend, prior to the shows being cancelled due to the singer’s ongoing health issues.
Ovesen served as COO and VP of programming of the 17,000-cap Dubai arena project before returning to promoting independently in 2019, going on to join Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) as director of entertainment later that year.
“It was always a matter of when and not if I was going to continue my 20-plus years of regional show and entertainment promotions and production,” Ovesen tells IQ. “It wasn’t necessarily a given that I would be promoting under my own brand this time, but that’s how it ended up being. With several global industry operators supporting or wanting to partner on events the regional structure for my business is still developing, but will be one focused on maximising the regional opportunities for domestic and touring artists.”
“I will promote and produce shows regionally and look to be the go-to promoter for agents and artist managers”
Ovesen, who was previously CEO of Dubai-based promoter 117 Live after defecting from rival outfit Done Events in late 2015, describes his ethos at TOP as “go big or go home”.
“The region is big geographically and indeed very diverse when you consider the particular market conditions in each of the territories, but that is both a challenge and opportunity,” he says. “Considering I have promoted and produced shows across the Middle East since 1999, I should know a thing or two about how to work the region – and indeed who to work with when not doing the events as my own promotions.
“So with a base in Dubai and already established partnerships in Saudi, Kuwait, Egypt and the GCC countries, I will promote and produce shows regionally and look to be the go-to promoter for agents and artist managers wanting to look at playing one or more shows regionally.”
Upcoming TOP promotions include an already sold-out Disney Princess Concert season and two Jose Carreras shows in this autumn, and UAE stops in 2023 with Jackson Wang and Snoop Dogg, plus “many more pending events across the region Q1 and Q2, including co-promotions, programming and producer formatted partnerships”.
Ovesen stresses that each market in the Middle East is unique, but predicts the swell of live events in Saudi Arabia will have positive knock-on effects for the region as a whole.
“The market is likely to expand faster than the current market players can grow their business”
“With Saudi Arabia representing a massive event budget and show programming capability, the spillover will help all the other markets,” he says. “To best navigate the region from an artist point of view agents and managers need ground level intelligence and so experienced industry operators like myself that will also take on risk on own promotions should be well positioned for real growth.
“Eventually domestic artists and talents will pick up real market shares and many new event IPs will be launched, creating even more demand for and appreciation of programming and touring artist pipeline supply. The market is likely to expand faster than the current market players can grow their business, so international partnerships and new market entries by global operators should also be expected to continue.”
However, Ovesen raises concerns about market saturation coming out of Covid-19, accelerated by new promoters entering the game and the increased number of purpose-built venues.
“Many events will be put on that will cannibalise each other’s ticket sales and drive up artist fees,” he warns. “Not unlike any other established market, I am sure, but new challenges here, in addition to the new ability to leverage premium fees being offered out of Saudi. But it’s all a refection of a post pandemic opening of the markets and the inclusion of what must be one of the strongest global buyer’s market in form of Saudi Arabia.”
Anghami unveils Dubai concert series Beat the Heat
Music streaming giant Anghami has announced details of new UAE indoor concert series Beat the Heat following its recent acquisition of Spotlight Events.
The seven-concert festival, organised by Dubai-headquartered Spotlight in collaboration with the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing – Dubai, launches this Saturday (16 July) with an alternative rap night headlined by Cairokee and Afroto. Tickets are priced 100-200 AED (€27-55).
Beat the Heat will continue each Saturday up to 27 August and will focus on a different musical genre each week. The series forms part of this year’s Dubai Summer Surprises, with all shows held at the Dubai World Trade Center’s 7,210-cap Sheikh Rashid Hall.
“Beat the Heat is about enriching music fans’ summer with live performances from top Arab talent in a unqiue setup”
“Beat the Heat is about enriching music fans’ summer with live performances from top Arab talent in a unique setup,” Anghami co-founder and CEO Eddy Maroun tells Arab News. “It’s also a celebration of the region’s vibrant music culture and a stage for top trending artists on Anghami to go on stage, perform and interact with their audiences offline.
“Anghami’s main purpose is to empower young Arab talent to create and connect with the world. Beat the Heat does just that by giving Arab voices and creators a platform to make some noise.”
Lebanon-based Anghami is the largest music streaming service in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and last year announced plans to open music venues in Dubai, Riyadh and several other Middle Eastern cities, as well as in the UK and North America.
It has installed Spotlight as its concerts arm to help unlock synergies and opportunities between the physical and digital worlds.
“We’re one step closer to becoming a fully integrated entertainment platform”
“By launching Beat the Heat in partnership with Dubai Tourism, our first live concert series since acquiring Spotlight Events, we’re one step closer to becoming a fully integrated entertainment platform and building our own unique category that other platforms can hardly replicate,” adds Maroun.
“We’re also strengthening our visibility and keeping Anghami top of mind by reaching audiences offline, complementing our digital experiences.”
Launched in 2005, Spotlight has six affiliate offices in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
Middle East agency receives major funding boost
The Middle East’s first female-founded entertainment agency is stepping up its expansion plans after confirming a multi-million dollar funding round led by Abbey Road Investment Group.
Dubai-based IAM Entertainment is looking to continue its growth across the region through live shows and talent management, as well as film and TV productions.
Co-founded by Sonal Vara-Parmar six years ago, IAM has worked with artists such as Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga and was also a partner for the Expo 2020 world fair, which featured concerts by superstars including Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas and Coldplay.
‘The second phase of our growth plan will see us cementing the region as one of the most desirable and commercially viable locations for movie and TV production,” adds Vara-Parmar. “Enabling a boost to the economy through building a new talent pool and job creation. IAM Entertainment has achieved significant success in the six years since we started but this is nothing compared to what we will achieve in the next five years.”
“This significant investment is crucial for our future growth strategy”
According to data analysts Magnitt, just 11% of Venture Capital funding in 2021 in the UAE, went to female founders.
“This significant investment is crucial for our future growth strategy,” says IAM COO Ash Parmar. “A priority for us as a company is being able to invest heavily in our live shows division, bringing never-before-seen, chart-topping, international artists to the region in order to showcase their talent to the region’s residents and tourists alike.”
Arjun Mittal, CEO of Abbey Road Investment Group, adds: “IAM Entertainment has been on our radar for many years, and this has been an incredible growth story. We were delighted to be able to partner with IAM to create even bigger waves in the entertainment industry in the region.”
Christina Aguilera to close Expo 2020 Dubai
Christina Aguilera is to headline the closing ceremony of Expo 2020 Dubai.
The Middle East’s first world’s fair, Expo 2020 was initially slated for October 2020 to April 2021 before being postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The US singer will bring the curtain down on the event, which has run for the last six months.
Grammy Award-winning artist Norah Jones will also star during the closing ceremony, performing on the Jubilee Stage immediately prior to Aguilera’s concert, while cellist Yo-Yo Ma will play a show at Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre.
Forty members of a UAE-based children’s choir will perform Ishy Bilady, the National Anthem of the UAE, joined by the all-women Firdaus Orchestra, conducted by Yasmina Sabbah, while the Expo 2020 World String Ensemble will also take to the stage.
Expo 2020 Dubai has also featured concerts by acts such as Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Jason Derulo and Black Eyed Peas
The ceremony is being produced by live entertainment production company Fivecurrents, whose CEO Scott Givens is serving as executive producer.
“We’re telling the UAE’s story to the world through a beautifully-spoken presentation, but we’re backing it up with images and amazing projections, giving it a fresh, vibrant perception, with more layers and an elevated story,” Givens tells the Khaleej Times.
Last month, Coldplay performed a free show in support of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Programme for People and Planet. The show at Al Wasl Dome saw the band regionally premiere their Music of the Spheres album while highlighting the importance of protecting the planet in line with Expo’s sub-theme of sustainability.
The Expo has also featured acts such as Alicia Keys, Jason Derulo and Black Eyed Peas.