Life Is Beautiful Again In Las Vegas. Weekend Music Festival Is A Sensory Buffet

The annual Life is Beautiful music festival returned to the streets east of downtown Las Vegas September 16th-18th. This was its ninth iteration. This festival, founded in part by the revered Tony Hsieh emphases an overall sensory experience. That makes sense. In a city founded in part upon instant marriage, why not build a music festival which marries art and culture. This festival is not just music, it’s also an art exhibition at scale across nearly a square mile of buildings, and a quickly improving assortment of chef driven food options. Keeping with the Las Vegas theme, the Life is Beautiful experience is more than just sound, it’s an immersive plunge into a shared experience along 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. Mixed into that was Dermot Kennedy, Jungle, Pussy Riot, Shaggy, Elderbrook, Neil Frances, Blu DeTiger, Clair Rosenkranz and Wet Leg and more, plus a whole weekend’s lineup of both EDM acts and comedians. If you were temporarily overloaded by music, then there was the option to attend cocktail mixing classes, eat an omakase chef dinner or shop in an artisan’s marketplace.

The weekend is curated to have something for all tastes. There is the classic four stage set up with the primary and tertiary stages nearby, almost always alternating so the crowd can move between them during stage turnovers for the next performer. At the farther end of the festival, down Fremont Street a leisurely ten-minute walk is the secondary primary stage and the EDM structure complete with massive lighting rigs. In between are an assortment of small pop-up stages and branded performance spaces, including a large and beautiful new building housing the comedy performances and an iconic building hosting the “Country Club” which is where country music was represented both in performance and in the opportunity to line dance.

There is always a weather question when attending a mid-September festival in the desert. This year was magical. The days peaked in the low 90’s. The evenings were perfect shirtsleeve weather descending to the high 70’s as the festival ended each night around 1 am.

One of the great joys of Life Is Beautiful is that it exists in walking distance from the Fremont Street Experience, and a short ride away from the Strip. Unlike many other festivals in which you walk a mile or so from your car to get into the festival, then trudge back out when it’s over for the evening, this festival exits right onto trafficked streets with shuttles, taxies, and app-based transportation options. And, as Vegas is a 24-hour town, 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. The lineup reveals why. There was a little something for almost any taste. Cage The Elephant was a carnival ride. The EDM tent was jammed at all times. There were surprises like the completely filled room for EMO Night. There was simply no way to be unhappy on the festival grounds. The worst case situation was too many good options and not enough time.

Clair Rosenkranz is 18 years old and just starting to break through. Her new song is i’m too pretty for this. She played a tight set on the tiny Toyota Stage, with her father playing guitar in the backing band. The space was full with people who already knew the words to her songs, and wanted to see the next new chanteuse breakout live and 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 crowd before they drifted off to the mighty acts playing on the Downtown stage just minutes away.

Lorde has been around for nearly a decade. One never knows exactly what she has in mind, but it’s usually something unexpected. Her Live is Beautiful performance was quite with a meticulous set design and careful choreography of how her band moved to complement her song choices:

Artic Monkeys are twenty years in and still incredibly powerful onstage. This translates to very engaged fans:

Gorillaz date back to 1998. There was still a giant crowd in place when they played Feel Good as they headed toward the end of their Saturday night closing set.

Sunday’s closing act was Calvin Harris who had a masterful set displaying what exactly EDM music can do to put a crowd in motion. The audience for Harris was as big any for the entire weekend.

The economic heartbeat of a festival is the food and beverage sales. Life is Beautiful has always been creative, but this year they stepped it up a level. Near to the tertiary stage they laid out an artificial lawn, placed picnic tables on it and at the back edges placed two terrific food options. One was an assortment of pizza chefs, with choices from deep dish Detroit style pizza to classic Romano pizza slices. The other was the “Cookout.” The cookout was a large open flame grill curated by Justin Kingsley Hall of Whiskey in the Wilderness. Each night there were two new choices, one from Jose Andres’ team and the other from Hall’s team. Hall’s dish on the last night was superb: grilled marinated duck and peaches, arugula salad and hot honey all served in pita.

Festivals have been difficult this year. As the economy has gotten tougher for most people, and inflation has eaten away at their discretionary income, ticket sales are down. The model used to be that a festival would essentially sell out as soon as the tickets went on sale. Now, across the country, tickets are available throughout the weekend of the event. Still, there was a substantial crowd out for Live Is Beautiful.

Whenever there is a large crowd in place together over three days the observant will have stories to tell. They may be as odd as the nearly naked middle-aged couple parading themselves around the festival grounds, as heartwarming as a father and son sharing time together learning about each other’s favorite music or as emotional as watching a group of friends encircle their disabled friend’s wheelchair to dance together in a celebration of joy, hope and friendship. Everybody has a story. When you share three days and nights together as the crowd of strangers slowly becomes a community, you are free to make new friends and share new experiences. People come for the music but return for the joy of being together with new friends and old. Life is Beautiful is an apt name for this long weekend. It’s the brand, the experience and the mantra. Next year is the festival’s 10-year anniversary. I’m quite certain there will be something special planned. Stay attentive, you probably should make plans to go.