Every year millions of people from all over the world flock to the wild west paradise that is Las Vegas, maybe to win big at luminous monoliths guised as casinos, or maybe to find the American dream, as Hunter S Thompson had attempted to over 40 years ago. This past weekend over 90,000 people, including myself, invaded Sin City for a different reason, to be apart of the third annual Life is Beautiful, the music festival that really is the block party of your dreams.
Life is Beautiful has already become a force to reckon with on the festival circuit, in just three years LIB has been known for it’s stellar lineups, brilliant art installment and overall positive experience for its attendees. This year it comes as a three day outing with a diverse music lineup forged to cater to all audiences, incredible food by world renowned chefs, informative presentations from a vast array of guest speakers and stunning contributions from international artists.
A large slice of Downtown Vegas is sliced out for the festival, where the buildings are converted into gorgeous murals and spectacular art installments are scattered throughout, every city block within LIB was teeming with vibrant art pieces that were painstakingly crafted by artists from all over. Hungry festival-goers had myriad choices for tasty treats, from food trucks to restaurant fare, LIB had a snack for any palate. The festival featured four stages of music that were constantly packed for any musician that was playing, despite any time conflicts, every artist had a sizeable crowd from doors open at 3 pm till doors close at 1 am.
Life is Beautiful has a leg up on the rest of the competition for many reasons, but mainly it is redefining the overall festival experience, commingling the kind of fun you can only have in Vegas (sans strip clubs, for all ages reasons) with a cross pollinated music lineup, mainstream fun with an underground approach and thought provoking presentations that engage attendees to think rather than just have extemporized fun over the weekend. It is impossible to deny the positive attitude that is seemingly a part of Insomniac’s ethos, they want you to have a good time and for you talk about Life is Beautiful with all of your friends and hopefully recruit them for next year. It may be a work in progress for a festival, but Life is Beautiful is on the right track.
From the moment you walk in the gates of Life is Beautiful you are already bombarded with all of the beautiful murals from international artists they culled to create the most stunning backdrop for the roaming between stages. Immediately walking in I was stunned by a giant metal sculpted praying mantis that shot fire from it’s antennae, at any given time throughout the day there were people trying to get a picture in front of the fiery beast while it was shooting flames in sync with top 40 hits.
A giant blow up Hello Kitty, split down the middle between with one half normal and one half cyborg caught my attention and a skeleton exposed Snoopy blow up just flat out caught me off guard, thousands of people stopped in their tracks to capture photos of the transformed cartoon icons, these along with the slew of wall art, inconspicuous tags on the asphalt and sculptures were as much of a cynosure as the music scheduled. A personal favorite was the surreal art motel, a tatterdemalion building converted into an art exhibit where each guest room was designed by an artist to be a stimulating display.
What surprised me the most was to find out that there was a Banksy piece within the festival, the enigmatic artist provided his reimagination of delivery truck, which was a nondescript shipping vehicle on the outside, but the back storage contained a lush forest with flowing water and emerald green vegetation. The truck was a stark contrast between our world and the fantasy world, the juxtaposition of the cold industrial dystopia and wonderland-esque reverie… Or something like that.
FOOD AND DRINK
Every day of Life is Beautiful I made the effort to eat something new, which I would normally do within weeks let alone days, from Jamaican Vegan to Indian fusion to hot dogs (my festival meal of choice) I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around the smorgasbord of meals that were readily available for the festival. An Artisan Bazaar had all of the craft goodies, name brand sponsored booths, including a festive Dos Equis bar had performers and 7Up provided actual shots of their tasty Cherry flavor to dancers hanging out at their Live it Up deck, which overlooked the massive Troubadour stage.
Obviously not all of the choices were exactly kind on the wallet, but fair in terms of festival pricing, the best meal I had over the weekend in terms of bang for buck had to be the hot dog combo from Cheffini’s, a bijou Hot dog shop situated in Downtown Container park, a year round shopping plaza in Downtown Vegas built entirely out of shipping containers; a jam packed hot dog, a veritable boat of fries and a $4 dollar beer? You couldn’t go wrong with that.
Instead of being condemned to the confines a beer garden you would normally expect at a festival, I could take my libation with me anywhere throughout the festival grounds, which is an added bonus because (theoretically) the drinking never has to stop. The choices of wine, beer and mixed concoctions were ostensibly limitless, ranging in price depending on the kind of drinking you were doing, Gulden Draak if you were feeling like a high roller or Pabst if you were, well, in a Pabst mood. If you got a little too drunk rest assured Lyft had your back, 20 dollar off codes for the festival attendees was a nice treat along with a shuttle service that went between the major casino/hotels of Las Vegas.
What sold me on Life is Beautiful initially was the all-star line-up, though a few select names were reoccuring throughout festival season, the amalgam of genres done here was unlike any I’ve seen this year. No matter what you like, LIB had something for you.
The Troubadour stage was the place to be if you loved electronic music, each day saw great sets from some of the hottest DJ/Producers in the scene. The highlights from the massive rave enclave had to be when Discovery Project brought out Bill Nye the goddamn Science Guy onstage to DJ (we’ll get to him in the next category), the thumping house hour I spent with Dirtybird label head Claude Vonstroke, the Bass riddled party with Angeleno DJ/Producer Jauz and the closing sets from Porter Robinson on night one and Carnage day two. Not only with the music, the visuals within the hangar sized tent were mind-blowing, a salvo of lasers and LED screens suspended overhead were completely out of this world and some of the best I’ve seen for such an event.
New name acts like Shamir (a Vegas native), London Souls, Halsey and Peking Duk were definite must sees that I really enjoyed, if you took a chance with an unfamiliar name you wouldn’t have been disappointed. Twenty One Pilots gave a massive crowd one hell of a show while longer running acts like Atmosphere pulled an equally large attendance, showing that Life is Beautiful’s undercard was really headlining caliber. Future Islands turn their 45 minute slot into a jam-packed set that reminds us why they’ve been on such a meteoric rise, the same can be said for Royal Blood who completely blew me away earlier on that same day with their hard-hitting bass and drums.
Whether it was chart toppers like AWOLNATION and Hozier or indie favorites like Dan Deacon and Best Coast, every hour had great music you had to catch, which can make it difficult for people to stop and enjoy the other cool stuff the festival had to offer but it all depends on the kind of festival goer you are (which is a deeper discussion to be saved for a later time). The hip hop artists they got for the fest were some of the best sets, whether it was the punk energy of Run the Jewels or the buoyant zonk out of Chance the Rapper, it was some of the best choices you can have for rap.
On the first night legendary vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Stevie Wonder powered through a whopping two and half hour headlining set (holy shit!), going through his hit-filled catalog with unmatched skill, playing his most iconic tracks such as “Higher Ground” and “Superstition”, which definitely got people dancing like there was no tomorrow. On the second night it was a massive homecoming headlining slot for Vegas natives Imagine Dragon started massive sing a longs with their big hits “Radioactive” and “Demons”. The honor of closing out the festival on the third night was wunderkind rapper Kendrick Lamar, who delivered over an hour and half of his best tracks, including “Backstreet Freestyle” “Swimming Pools” and “King Kunta”, his relentless flow and unwavering energy remind me why he is one of the best MCs in the scene and one of the best artists of the year.
Each day of Life is Beautiful you can spend the first half of the day in an air-conditioned room of Venue Vegas getting some of the most informative talks from highly influential activists, artists and actors in the world. Motivation for bettering the world came in all forms, including a highly didactic talk about combating climate change from Bill Nye, which saw the highest attendance out of all the festival, people came for the Science Guy but left with a lot to mull over on how they can better the air and do their part, which is the kind of initiative people need to make this world a better place.
A great speech came from model and founder of Gender Proud Geena Rocero, who spoke about her experience as a trans woman coming from the Phillipines to being on the forefront of trans rights here in the states, little quips were made, some realities were faced but overall her talk stuck with me the most because as many people may know and others will hopefully discover, trans culture and rights doesn’t start and end with Caitlyn Jenner, it’s a discussion that needs to be broached in order to create a better informed young America and what better place than a music festival filled with young people?
Getting to hear incredible stories and engaging in viable dialogues is something you don’t really get to do at other festivals, whereas Life is Beautiful is doing something unparalleled, getting people to think about bigger things than just what music they’re listening to and what they’re going to drink in just those three days. Questions, pangs and curiosity that sticks long after the festival has ended, cognizance of the world outside and the self is something that we all need and Life is Beautiful did that.
The music was the star but everything surrounding it was unique and fresh. Life is Beautiful workers were some of the most helpful and friendly I’ve ever seen at a festival, kindly guiding people in the right direction, opting to take people’s photos for them and joking around if so inclined. Time and time again festival goers can feel like cattle being corralled in the direction the staff wants you to go in but every “Ambassador” at LIB was there to help. Onsite medical staff provided free ear plugs if asked and water refill stations were spread out through the festival, which was important because each day saw highs in the triple digits.
The “leave nothing but footprints” mantra was apparent in the abundance of recycle and trash receptacles, each day the streets were relatively trash free which shows that when attendees and organizers work together the result is a forward-thinking festival that isn’t destroying its host grounds. The organizers made sure to show respect in its rules rather than giving cold admonitions of what the attendee can and cannot do. The celebration of beauty in life felt authentic from every point of view.
Performers, speakers and chefs all universally commended the festival for it’s positivity, which can be felt even in saying its name. The world doesn’t always feel beautiful but within this festival it certainly did, people were proposed to, obvious first kisses occurred and best friends hug it out in celebration of just being there. Sure getting good music at a festival is key but for Life is Beautiful it’s memorable for being one of most well-rounded experiences in the world, though things may change in the coming years, they are certainly heading in the right direction with this budding music outing.