By John KatsIilometes | September 29, 2014 | Culture
Last year's two-day Life is Beautiful festival was such a hit, it has ballooned into three days headlined by massive stars and jam-packed with events. Here's how to navigate it.
October’s three-day Life Is Beautiful music, food, art, and learning festival covers 15 city blocks in the heart of Las Vegas.
Rehan Choudhry has been wearing a gray sweatshirt around the often cluttered but imaginatively fertile offices of Life Is Beautiful. The shirt’s message: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.
Many of his fellow life beauticians have taken to wearing these shirts. “It’s bright. Happy. Warm. Inclusive,” Choudhry says. “It’s for people who we call ‘experience enthusiasts,’ and that includes just about everyone.”
The far-flung festival of music, food, art, and, yes, spiritual expansion takes root for a second year in downtown Las Vegas from October 24 to 26. The celebration has been augmented by one day, and the music lineup is a killer (if not The Killers) once more: Kanye West, Foo Fighters, OutKast, Lionel Richie, Fitz & the Tantrums, The Flaming Lips, The Roots, Skrillex, Arctic Monkeys, and the return of Vegas natives Panic! At the Disco. Also appearing will be members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, accompanied by the cast of The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil.
How to attack this event? Simply by planning. Life Is Beautiful covers 15 city blocks in the core of downtown Vegas.
Singer Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots during day two of last year’s Life Is Beautiful festival.
Parking inside or near the festival gates is limited. Shuttles run daily every 30 minutes from pickup stations at World Market Center and Caesars Palace. The event takes place from 1 pm to midnight all three days. Suffice to say, Life can be as overwhelming as it is beautiful, which is why that third day was added this year
“We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to plan,” Choudhry says. “It’s not like a festival like Coachella or Lollapalooza, which are almost entirely about music, where food is just for sustenance, the drinks are so you can get drunk, and the art exhibits are where you find shade. We have a fundamentally different approach.” We’ll break them down:
An aerial shot of the crowd watching Capital Cities’ performance on the Ambassador Stage at last year’s two-day inaugural Life Is Beautiful.
More than 70 acts will perform on the festival’s four stages, including the main one, the Downtown Stage, which can accommodate about 25,000 people standing. That’s where you’ll find most of the star headliners. The smaller stages—the Ambassador Stage, Huntridge Stage, and Western Stage (at the hotel-casino of the same name)—will be busy with acts throughout the event and are not tied to a particular genre (there is no “EDM stage,” for example).
“We’re spreading talent across the footprint a lot better than we did last year,” Choudhry says. “Last year the main stage was rock-heavy; the Ambassador was more hip-hop. We’re trying to balance this in a way that gives people choices, and yeah, some tough decisions.”
Kanye West toured the Downtown area last year, and Lionel Richie has been a favorite of Choudhry’s since he was a kid. Panic! At the Disco, a Vegas favorite, is returning to the city for the first time in about five years. The organizers promise that the Philharmonic performance will be mindblowing, similar to last year’s set by Imagine Dragons featuring performers from Cirque’s Mystère. “Tyco, Trampled by Turtles, and The Head and the Heart are some of the new acts we’re excited about,” says Craig Nyman, the festival’s head of music. “We have Kacey Musgraves, our first country artist, this year. There is something for everybody.”
Singer ZZ Ward got cooking with chef Scott Conant at last year’s fest.
Unlike last year’s central (and, some said, hard-to-find) culinary village, the food this year will be located throughout Life Is Beautiful, particularly at the four music stages. The cuisine of some of Las Vegas’s top restaurants will be available.
“We’re going with highbrow to comfort food,” says Choudhry. “Everything from Nobu, Blue Ribbon, Brooklyn Bowl, Nacho Daddy—each stage area has a heavily curated experience.”
The two primary dining locations will be the temporary beer garden near the Downtown Stage and the interior of Container Park on Sixth Street. RM Seafood’s Rick Moonen, Hard Rock Hotel’s Culinary Dropout, Origin India, Palm Restaurant, Red Rock Resort’s T-Bones Chophouse, and Fleur by Hubert Keller are among the participating vendors. Onstage presentations at Container Park by such star chefs as Marc, Bryan, and Larry Forgione; Keller; Jet Tila; Eric and Bruce Bromberg of Blue Ribbon fame; Scott Conant; and Spike Mendelsohn are scheduled throughout the festival.
Festival founder Rehan Choudhry.
This year’s lineup of guest speakers is highlighted by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, the anti-Putin activists imprisoned for more than a year after being arrested for hooliganism at a protest in Moscow. The two will be featured in a 90-minute session titled “Truth,” joined by former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.
Designed to uplift, each 90-minute learning session will feature three to four speakers, says Erin Booth, the festival’s head of speaker relations, with a wide range of backgrounds, educations, and professions. David Peterson, who created the language used in HBO’s Game of Thrones, will be part of the series. Also signed on are Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, one of the individuals most responsible for Downtown’s redevelopment; Ed and Sekena Gavagan, storytellers on the radio show The Moth; and Amelia Rose Earhart, granddaughter of legendary pilot Amelia Earhart. “Similar to the music and cuisine, we want the learning series to be a real destination,” Booth says. “These sessions will be a highlight experience unto themselves.”
Returning as curator of the Life Is Beautiful art installation is renowned Las Vegas collector Patrick Duffy, who will take over space at the Western Hotel with 15 artists. A total of 47 artists submitted work to Duffy, who chose a variety—from longtime Las Vegas landscape artist Jerry Misko to students at Las Vegas Academy. Eric Tillinghast, famous for his aquatic installations and the creator of a massive fountain at the Town Lodge at last year’s festival, is also returning.
In addition, wall-size murals and various smaller pieces will be shown throughout the festival. Charlotte Dutoit, who heads an interior design company in Puerto Rico, is back as curator of the Life Is Beautiful street art program. And Choudhry says you can expect random acts of performance art, such as an oversize tricycle leading a conga line from venue to venue. It’s called the Lionel Express, in honor of Lionel Richie, and conducts attendees from one end of the festival to the other.
“We want people to have to make a difficult choice about joining this line of people, all dancing to ‘All Night Long,’” Choudhry says, smiling. “We want them to ask, ‘Do we have time to conga?’”
At Life Is Beautiful, the answer has to be yes, if you plan ahead.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEFF KRAVITZ/FILMMAGIC;