As the kids might say, vibes were truly 💯 at the third installment of Life is Beautiful, the multi-genre festival playing a key role of the current revitalization of downtown Las Vegas. What is being sold to tourists as Vegas’ version of Williamsburg is actually a much more fascinating and complicated place, home to some of the city’s best new bars and restaurants alongside the last neon vestiges of the Vegas you read about when you were young. There is no better backdrop for a festival that brings everyone from Stevie Wonder to Porter Robinson to Against Me! to the desert for three days in the early fall.
Life is Beautiful launched small(ish) in 2013 with headliners Kings of Leon and the Killers, expanding to its current full weekend format last year with a murderer’s row of hit machines, boasting Kanye West, Outkast, and Foo Fighters as main stage draws. This year’s lineup was stacked with a mix of legacy acts – Wonder, Duran Duran, Weezer – and a focus on hip-hop’s contemporary kings – Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Run the Jewels.
But it’s not just the big names that are poised to make Life is Beautiful one of the most worthwhile festivals in the country. These are the best reasons you should probably go to Las Vegas next fall when it rolls around once more.
You’ve never been to a city festival like this. It’s fun to traipse through Toronto during NXNE, and sure, Austin is a weird ‘n’ wild time throughout SXSW, but Life is Beautiful has the most unique festival footprint imaginable. By shutting down 15 real, active blocks of downtown just outside of the kitschy bustle of the Freemont Street Experience, the recovering wasteland of old Vegas becomes the fully immersive home for festival goers. Vegas isn’t just flickering off in the distance – it’s right beside you as you sway through Death Cab for Cutie’s set and twerk dangerously to Major Lazer, in the form of a blinking hotel billboard or the patio of Atomic Liquors. There’s a surreal quality to strolling past abandoned motels as you shuffle between stages that never gets old, like doing crimes in a video game that recreates well-known city streets. The fact that affordable boutique hotels like the Downtown Grand have opened up nearby helps to make the setting comfortable and without parallel.
Vegas has extremely good food for you to eat and enjoy, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect an opportunity to consume the best of it while you fuel up before Griz. Life is Beautiful has gone to great lengths to bring some of the best restaurants from the Strip to the fest grounds, where rolling teens have equal opportunity to gorge on normal grab-and-go snacks as they do selections from celebrity chefs like Hubert Keller. So sure, you could go offsite to Fleur and get a $5,000 burger, but you can also try its reasonably-priced counterpart without ever leaving the festival grounds. Add to the ample curated options the fact that the Downtown Container Park, a totally unique small business enclave, is inside the footprint, and you will never go hungry for something unique and local.
What started as a rumour from a drunk dude in a elevator turned into a brief greatest hits performance from hometown heroes the Killers, who emerged in the middle of some unconvincing “technical difficulties” in Brandon Flowers’ solo set. Having already experienced the crushing local admiration for top-billed Imagine Dragons the night prior, the band popping up to grip it and rip it was an absolute highlight, and proof that Life is Beautiful has engendered meaningful admiration from major acts like the Killers who wear their hometown on their sleeves (or robes, or space suits, or whatever the album cycle). With those positive vibes in the air, why wouldn’t others use it as an opportunity to drop into Vegas next year?
He is a god now and no one can stop him. Get out of the way.
Dubbed Grills & Guitars, a $150 ticket gets you all-you-can-eat access to many of the great chefs who will be populating the festival’s culinary circuit, along with cocktails, beers, and a performance from Spoon (this year – it’s unlikely Spoon themselves are an annual feature). Hosted at the SLS’s Foxtail pool, this is an obvious first stop on your festival weekend because seriously the food and the cocktails and the beer what are you an idiot.
While a lot of Life is Beautiful leans towards traditional festival fare – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Future Islands, Hozier – there is a knowing emphasis placed on EDM. So while other stages go through the normal rigours of setups and teardowns, the Troubadour Stage never, ever, ever stops (until 1am, when unfortunately everything stops). Back-to-back-to-back DJs spend all weekend inside of a massive, tripped-out tent, giving anyone who requires the energy boost or visual stimulation of a million LEDs an opportunity to groove deeply and meaningfully. Even for the casual festival goer, it’s a fun stop, with the biggest production value, most interesting characters, and recognizable names like Claude VonStroke and Carnage somewhere up front amidst the sea of glorious madness. That guy has a cutout of Bill Nye the Science Guy, by the way.
All The Music, Actually
Regional festival lineups can be indistinguishable from each other. There’s a circuit, and bands like the aforementioned Killers can spend a leisurely summer showing up in six different American cities and otherwise cold chill through the dog days. But Life is Beautiful is new and still proving itself – both to locals and skeptical music fans driving in L.A., San Diego, and San Francisco. Which is how a festival ends up programming everything from Snoop Dogg to Knife Party, trying to create an experience that will appeal as much to middle-aged tourists interested in Duran Duran as young punx who want to scream along to Against Me!. The natural energy of the city seems to push some artists into an extra gear – they expect people to go crazy, and people respond. Because it lacks the marquee name recognition of Bonchella or Cocharoo, people at the festival seemed to be genuinely interested in seeing music, taking in myriad on-site art installations, and only occasionally tripping so hard they just have to lay down. Because no one is attending out of habit, there’s a palpable enthusiasm for every moment as it happens.
So, see you next year in Vegas.