Good food and music go together, but don’t always get together.
Outdoor music festivals can sell you a lot of gloppy nachos and gray-steamed hot dogs.
The folks who play those musicals see a lot of fast food and all-night diners.
So this weekend’s Life Is Beautiful had the big idea to combine rock stars and culinary celebrities, and some of the musicians playing it are happy to raise a fork to the idea.
“I can see where this concept really makes sense,” says Corey Glover, singer of the veteran rock band Living Colour, which plays Sunday afternoon at the inaugural downtown festival.
“I know lots of musicians that are really good cooks. I know some musicians that have studied, and I mean they went to culinary school. A lot of folks including myself, that’s our fallback position. If I can’t do music, maybe I’ll work in a restaurant.”
Las Vegas native Dominic Lalli agrees. He’s half the duo Big Gigantic, which layers Lalli’s live saxophone on top of electronic dance music.
“I’m down. I’m kind of a foodie,” Lalli says. “I thought one day if I wasn’t a musician, I maybe would be a chef. The way that cooks put ideas together kind of reminds me of the way I would write a piece of music.”
“Timing is essential in both playing and cooking,” adds Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid.
“I love food,” says Este Haim, one-third of the fast-rising sister band Haim, which plays Sunday. “I’m not a girl that’s afraid to eat like I eat,” she says, and she figures Life Is Beautiful can meet her vegan requirements, even if it’s not an all-vegetarian affair like the Way Out West fest the band played in Sweden last summer.
“That was heaven for me,” Este Haim said. “I pretty much ate my way through that festival.”
Life Is Beautiful hopes to draw 20,000 or more people per day to a downtown area north and east of El Cortez hotel. The block-long area dedicated to the “culinary village” rivals the space devoted to each of the two main stages.
“We want to make sure the culinary component is as strong an emphasis as the music component,” says Ashley Goodhue, chief operating officer of the festival. “We have to make sure to the consumer that this truly comes off as promised.”
So along with musical headliners Kings of Leon on Saturday and The Killers on Sunday, the festival promises appearances by famous culinary faces such as Tom Colicchio, Cat Cora and Michael Symon.
“They have the whole rock star thing going on. They’re treated the same way,” Glover of the high-profile chefs. Living Colour, the oldest band on the bill, is on board because guitarist Reid is a friend of Bruce Bromberg of the Blue Ribbon Group (which is bringing the Brooklyn Bowl to the Strip), who suggested the band to organizers.
“I find myself really looking at food very differently now,” Glover says, after performing with the New Orleans foodies of the band Galactic. “Its very interesting how all these things sort of collided, the way music and food and culture have sort of been slammed together in a very interesting way.”
That’s the idea behind the for-profit festival, co-sponsored by Downtown Project, the downtown revival spearheaded by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.
“We have a tremendous amount of history in this market,” festival founder Rehan Choudhry says of Hsieh, Zappos executive Fred Mossley and Joey Vannas, who knows the logistics of downtown through managing the monthly First Friday events.
Choudhry, a former Cosmopolitan entertainment director, says trying to do the festival without understanding its audience would be “like planning a party for 200 people you’ve never met in your life. That’s impossible to do and if you do that, the experience is always going to feel disconnected or always going to feel stale.”
More than 60 acts will play on five stages over the two days, and some of them are looking forward to seeing one another.
“The fact that we’re playing the same day as our bros Vampire Weekend is pretty crazy,” Este Haim says of the rockers Haim opened shows for during the summer. “I love watching them play and they put on the best show.”
And, she predicts, “The Killers are going to kill it, no pun intended. We played in Dublin with them at this contained, one-stage festival.”
The festival brings together both big Las Vegas rock breakouts, The Killers and Imagine Dragons, albeit on different days. Dragons singer Dan Reynolds is the brother of Killers manager Robert Reynolds.
If not for that connection, “I don’t think we would have really known them,” Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci says. “I haven’t really followed them much since they were just coming out of the gate. … We’re gone so much it’s hard to keep a bead on our hometown.
“I don’t think I would have known about them if I hadn’t known Dan since he was growing up,” Vannucci adds. “He was trying to play drums, and I was trying to give him drum lessons.”
Life Is Beautiful adds up to “a lofty ambition,” Vannucci says. “Vegas doesn’t come from a long line of festivals. These guys have a lot of chutzpah. Feeling it out vibewise, it looks like they’re pulling it off.”
A few festival essentials:
When: Life Is Beautiful runs from noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday. There is a separately ticketed “Grills &Guitars” kickoff party Friday featuring classic rocker Todd Rundgren and California roots rockers Dawes, who also play the Downtown Stage on Saturday.
Where: The event falls between Las Vegas Boulevard and 10th Street, and between East Mesquite Avenue and Carson Avenue. The only entry point is on the north side of Carson Street at South Sixth Street.
(El Cortez is the only downtown Las Vegas hotel falling within the festival’s fenced-off perimeter, and access will be restricted. All other downtown casinos will be open for business as usual.)
Use the two big Ferris wheels to navigate your way between the two main stages. One of them is plunked in the middle of North Seventh Street at Stewart Avenue, and the other is on the site of the old Ambassador motel at Fremont and Ninth streets.
Tickets: $95 general admission and $209.50 for VIP seats (which includes designated seating areas and restroom facilities. Two-day passes are on sale at $159.50 for general admission and $349 for VIP).
Parking: Ah, the challenge. The sanctioned parking is the World Market Center, but the shuttle service costs $40. So does shuttle service from Bally’s, Caesars Palace or Planet Hollywood.
A few options: Las Vegas’ parking garage, across from City Hall on Main Street, or the city bus system. Otherwise, neighborhoods around the Las Vegas Academy are likely to see a lot of traffic and possible entrepreneurship from home owners.
Musical highlights: Saturday’s headliner is the Kings of Leon, touring behind their first album since their big 2008 breakthrough. Also playing during the day are roots rockers Alabama Shakes, ’90s darling Beck, hometown heroes Imagine Dragons and electronica star Pretty Lights (Derek Vincent Smith).
Sunday is headlined by The Killers, with high expectations for smart rockers Vampire Weekend, the synth-pop of Passion Pit, Australian pop-rock duo Empire of the Sun and old-school hip-hoppers Jurassic 5.
Food: The Culinary Village hosting 40 venders will occupy a full city block (between Fremont Street and Carson Avenue) adjacent to the partially demolished Western Hotel. There will be chef demonstrations both days, and interactions with some of the musical guests are even promised.
Art: The festival promises all manner of visual and performing arts, from muralists decorating dilapidated motel walls to featured acts from Cirque du Soleil shows on the Strip.
Speakers: Those ducking into two bars, the Fremont Country Club and Backstage Bar &Billiards (aka The Triple B), will encounter sessions with diverse speakers ranging from Zappos head Hsieh to UFC fighters Forrest Griffin, Miesha Tate and Pat Barry.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.