The annual Life is Beautiful music festival is back on the streets east of downtown Las Vegas on September 16The tenth-18The tenth. This was the ninth iteration. Founded in part by Reverend Tony Hsieh, this festival emphasizes the holistic sensory experience. Logical. In a city founded in part on instant marriage, why not build a music festival that combines art and culture. This festival isn’t just music, it’s also a large-scale art fair across nearly a square mile of buildings, and a rapidly improving variety of chef-led food options. In keeping with the Las Vegas theme, the Life is Beautiful experience is more than just a sound, it’s an immersive immersion in a shared experience with tens of thousands of your new best friends.
Notable names for the weekend were the Arctic Monkeys, Calvin Harris, Gorillaz, Lorde, Jack Harlow, Kygo and Cage the Elephant. Mixed in are Dermot Kennedy, Jungle, Pussy Riot, Shaggy, Elderbrook, Neil Frances, Blu DeTiger, Clair Rosenkranz, Wet Leg and more, plus a full weekend lineup from both EDM shows and comedians. If you’re temporarily saddled with music, there’s the option to attend a cocktail mixing class, have an omakase chef’s dinner or shop at the artisan market.
The weekend is organized to provide you with something to suit all tastes. There are four classic stages set with the primary and third nearby, always alternating so the audience can cycle between them during the stage fluctuations of the next artist. At the farthest end of the festival, down Fremont Street, a leisurely ten minute walk is the Primary High School and EDM structure complete with massive lighting fixtures. In between are an assortment of small pop-up stages and branded performance spaces, including a large and beautiful new building housing comedy shows and an iconic building hosting the “Country Club” where country music has been represented both in the performance and in the chance of a dance line.
There is always a question about the weather when attending a mid-September festival in the desert. This year has been magical. It peaked in the low ’90s. The evenings were perfect shirt-high weather and fell into the 70s with the festival ending every night at around 1am.
One of Life Is Beautiful’s greatest joys is that it’s located within walking distance of the Fremont Street Experience, and just a short walk from the Strip. Unlike many other festivals where you walk a mile or so from your car to get into the festival, and then rush back in when the evening ends, this festival comes right out onto the crowded streets with buses, taxis, and app-based transportation options. And because Vegas is a 24 hour city, if you’re looking for an after-show, meal, drink, or other options, they’re only minutes away.
The audience is an interesting mix across the age spectrum. The lineup reveals why. There was something simple for almost any taste. Cage The Elephant was a carnival ride. The EDM tent is stacked at all times. There were surprises like the room completely filled up for EMO Night. There was simply no way to feel miserable on the festival grounds. The worst was that there were too many good options and not enough time.
Claire Rosenkranz is 18 years old and he’s just starting to break through. Her new song is I’m so beautiful for this. She played tight group on Toyota’s little podium, with her dad playing guitar in the backing band. The space was filled with people who already knew the lyrics to her songs, and wanted to see the new upcoming band break out right in front of them. This stage was a new addition to the Life is Beautiful layout, and gave new and emerging artists the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a manageable audience before they were swept away by the mighty acts playing on a downtown stage just minutes away.
Lorde has been around for nearly a decade. One never knows exactly what’s on her mind, but it’s usually something unexpected. Her performance on Live is Beautiful was outstanding with the careful design and choreography of how her band moves to complement her song choices:
Artic Monkeys has passed twenty years later and is still incredibly strong on stage. This translates to highly engaged fans:
Gorillaz dates back to 1998. There was still a huge crowd at the venue when they played I feel good As they headed toward the end of a Saturday night closing group.
The closing show on Sunday was Calvin Harris who had an ingenious ensemble showing exactly what EDM music could do to get audiences moving. Harris’s audience was pretty big all weekend.
Food and beverage sales are the economic pulse of the festival. Life has always been an iconic beauty, but this year they took it to a level. Near the third stage they put artificial grass, put picnic tables on it, and at the rear edges they put two great food options. One of them was a variety of pizza chefs, with options from Detroit-style deep-dish pizza to classic Romano pizza slices. The other was “Cookout”. Cooking outside was a large open grill curated by Justin Kingsley Hall of Whiskey in the Wilderness. Every night there were two new options, one from Jose Andres’ team and one from Hall’s team. Hole’s dish last night was fantastic: grilled marinated duck and peaches, arugula salad and hot honey all served in pita bread.
The festivals have been tough this year. As the economy gets tougher for most people, and inflation erodes their discretionary income, ticket sales have fallen. The model used to be that the festival sold out as soon as tickets went on sale. Now, tickets are available nationwide throughout the event’s weekend. However, there was a huge crowd at Live Is Beautiful.
Whenever there is a large crowd in a place together over the course of three days, the observer will have stories to tell. They may be as bizarre as a half-naked middle-aged couple cruising around the festival grounds, like father and son sharing time together learning about each other’s favorite music or as emotional as watching a group of friends circle their disabled friend’s wheelchair. To dance together in celebration of joy, hope and friendship. Everyone has a story. When you share three days and nights together while a crowd of strangers slowly transforms into a community, you are free to make new friends and share new experiences. People come for the music but they come back for the joy of being with new friends and the elderly. Life is Beautiful is a fitting name for this long weekend. It is the brand, the experience and the mantra. Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the festival. I’m pretty sure there will be something special planned. Be attentive, you should probably plan to go.