The annual Life is Beautiful music festival returned to the streets east of downtown Las Vegas on September 16e-18e. It was its ninth iteration. This festival, founded in part by the revered Tony Hsieh, emphasizes an all-encompassing sensory experience. Makes sense. In a city built in part on instant marriage, why not build a music festival that marries art and culture. This festival isn’t just music, it’s also a large-scale art exhibit on nearly a square mile of buildings and a rapidly improving assortment of chef-led dining options. In keeping with the Las Vegas theme, the Life is Beautiful experience is more than just sound, it’s an immersive dive into a shared experience with tens of thousands of your new best friends.
Headliners for the weekend were Arctic Monkeys, Calvin Harris, Gorillaz, Lorde, Jack Harlow, Kygo and Cage the Elephant. Dermot Kennedy, Jungle, Pussy Riot, Shaggy, Elderbrook, Neil Frances, Blu DeTiger, Clair Rosenkranz and Wet Leg and more were mixed in there, along with a full weekend of EDM acts and comedians. If you were temporarily overloaded with music, you had the option of attending cocktail-making lessons, dining with an omakase chef, or shopping at an artisan’s market.
The weekend is organized to have something for everyone. There’s the classic four-stage with the primary and tertiary stages in close proximity, almost always alternating so the crowd can move between them when changing stages for the next performer. At the furthest end of the festival, on Fremont Street, a ten-minute walk away, is the secondary main stage and EDM structure complete with huge lighting rigs. In between are an assortment of small pop-up stages and signature performance spaces, including a large and beautiful new building housing the comedy shows and an iconic building housing the “Country Club,” where country music was performed at both in the performance and in the possibility of line dancing.
There is always a question of weather when attending a mid-September festival in the desert. This year has been magical. Days peaked in the 90s. Evenings were perfect with shirt weather dropping into the 70s with the festival ending around 1am each night.
One of the great joys of Life Is Beautiful is that it’s within walking distance of the Fremont Street Experience and a short drive from the Strip. Unlike many other festivals where you walk about a mile from your car to enter the festival and then return when the evening is over, this festival goes straight out to the busy streets with shuttles, taxis and transportation options app-based. . And, since Vegas is a 24-hour city, if you’re looking for an after-show, meal, drink, or other options, they’re just minutes away.
The audience is an interesting mix across the age spectrum. Programming reveals why. There was a little something for almost every taste. Cage The Elephant was a carnival ride. The EDM tent was blocked at all times. There were surprises like the completely full house for EMO Night. There was simply no way to be unhappy on the festival grounds. In the worst case, there were too many good options and not enough time.
Clair Rosenkranz is 18 years old and is just beginning to break through. His new song is i’m too pretty for that. She played a tight set on the tiny Toyota stage, with her father playing guitar in the backing band. The space was full of people who already knew the lyrics to her songs and wanted to see the singer’s next new breakout live and 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 show off their talents in front of a manageable crowd before drifting off to the powerhouse acts playing on the downtown stage a few minutes away.
Lorde has been around for almost a decade. You never know exactly what she has in mind, but it’s usually something unexpected. Her Live is Beautiful performance was all-around with meticulous set design and careful choreography of how her band moved to complement her song choices:
The Artic Monkeys are twenty years old and still incredibly powerful on stage. This results in highly engaged fans:
Gorillaz dates back to 1998. There was still a giant crowd there when they played Feel good as they headed towards the end of their Saturday night closing set.
Sunday’s closing act was Calvin Harris who had a masterful set showing exactly what EDM music can do to get a crowd moving. Harris’s audience was as big as it was all weekend.
The economic heart of a festival is the sale of food and drink. Life is Beautiful has always been creative, but this year they’ve kicked it into high gear. Near the tertiary stadium, they laid an artificial lawn, placed picnic tables there and, at the back, placed two excellent food options. One was an assortment of pizza chefs, with choices ranging from Detroit-style deep-dish pizza to classic Romano pizza slices. The other was the “Cookout”. The BBQ was a large open flame grill hosted by Justin Kingsley Hall of Whiskey in the Wilderness. Each night there were two new picks, one from Jose Andres’ team and the other from Hall’s team. Hall’s main course on the final evening was superb: grilled marinated duck and peaches, arugula salad and warm honey, all served in pita bread.
Festivals have been tough this year. As the economy has gotten tougher for most people and inflation has eaten away at their discretionary income, ticket sales are down. Previously, the model was that a festival basically sold out as soon as tickets went on sale. Now across the country, tickets are available throughout the event weekend. Still, there was a sizeable crowd for Live Is Beautiful.
Whenever there is a large crowd in place together for three days, the observer will have stories to tell. They can be as eerie as the nearly naked middle-aged couple parading around the festival site, as heartwarming as a father and son sharing time together to learn each other’s favorite music, or as moving as watching a group of friends circle the wheelchair of their disabled friend. dance together in a celebration of joy, hope and friendship. Everyone has a story. When you share three days and three nights together as crowds of strangers slowly become a community, you’re free to make new friends and share new experiences. People come for the music but come back for the joy of being with new friends and old ones. Life is Beautiful is an appropriate name for this long weekend. It’s the brand, the experience and the mantra. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the festival. I’m sure there will be something special planned. Stay tuned, you should probably plan to go there.