How do you wrap your arms around the Life Is Beautiful festival?
They would have to be 10 miles long, if you go by the amount of fencing required to close off the perimeter of the two-day festival Saturday and Sunday.
The music, food and arts festival leaves such a large footprint in downtown Las Vegas that two giant Ferris wheels are not merely there for your amusement, but to double as beacons to help you find your way between the two main stages.
En route, you could be distracted by three more music stages, plus one for the performing arts, and a block-long “culinary village.”
Your nose might follow the roasting pig.
Your eyes might rest on the garden created just for the festival, out of a vacant lot full of rubble between two dilapidated motels, which were to be redecorated with murals by showtime.
“At first it was like, ‘How are you gonna fill all this?’ Now, we’ve run out of space,” says Ashley Goodhue, chief operating officer of the festival.
Goodhue works for Aurelian Marketing Group, which is producing the for-profit event with two partners: Downtown Project, the urban renewal initiative launched by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and Maktub Marketing, managing partner of the monthly First Friday event downtown.
“If you’re going to do the festival, do it in the heart and soul of Vegas,” says Rehan Choudhry, Aurelian’s CEO and founder of the festival. “This is the beacon of change for the city.”
The festival runs from noon to midnight Saturday and from noon to 11 p.m. Sunday, and hopes to draw 20,000 to 30,000 people per day.
More than 60 bands and performers are scheduled, with main headliners the Kings of Leon on Saturday and The Killers on Sunday.
The only entry point is on Carson Street at South Sixth Street. The event falls between Las Vegas Boulevard and 10th Street, and between East Mesquite Avenue and Carson Avenue.
El Cortez is the only downtown casino within the enclosed site and restricted in access; all other downtown hotels will be operating as usual. Parking is encouraged at the World Market Center, which will run shuttles to the festival site for a fee.
Downtown Project owns much, but not all of the land that will host the festival. Not all of it is in equal condition. One of the two main stages — between North Sixth and North Seventh streets, and East Mesquite Avenue and East Stewart Avenue to the south — already has been blacktopped for Zappos employee parking.
A towering 60-foot stage is taking shape in the middle of Seventh Street on that lot. Its size helps explain the 10-day load-in for the event. So do the power and water needs for a festival that lies in an urban core, yet is creating much of its infrastructure in vacant lots.
Organizers note that a good five hours of the music will take place after dark, requiring a ton of lighting but also creating a different atmosphere than the daytime attractions.
That “Downtown Stage” — aka “the one with the 90-foot Ferris wheel” — had a huge head start. Bulldozers were at work last week grading the large lot for the second main stage — aka “the one with the 60-foot Ferris wheel” — named after the Ambassador motel sign that still occupies the site northeast of North Ninth and Fremont streets.
A block between Fremont and Carson streets, adjacent to the partially demolished Western casino, is home to the food vendors and demonstration kitchens that will pair celebrity chefs and musicians.
The area is patterned after a Moroccan marketplace. “We needed to have that kind of space dedicated to the chefs or else we wouldn’t have the authenticity or importance we needed to have,” Goodhue says.
Likewise with art and “learning” components announced after the initial music lineup. The guest speakers might only be discovered by those who know to look for them inside two neighboring bars — the Fremont Country Club and Backstage Bar and Billiards (informally the Triple B). But, Goodhue says, “we really felt as though if we didn’t bring it in Year One, we would never create the identity we wanted to.”
“It is an incredibly complex program, we knew that from the beginning,” Choudhry says. “I wanted to create something that is completely new. … What I wanted is for us to stand alone.”
Las Vegas already has so much entertainment on any night of the week, “you can’t create a bigger version of what already exists,” he adds. Hence a “curated” musical lineup that has a cohesive thread, yet may be easier to describe in terms of what’s missing. Beck and rockers Living Colour are about as close to classic-rock nostalgia as the lineup gets, and there are no hard-core acts to overagitate teens.
“For us the big differentiator is the blending of experiences, what we call the collision of experiences. Audiences that are independently hyperpassionate about music, food, theatrical performances, street art or learning, all coming together and being able to share all that together.”
If that happens, Life Is Beautiful will succeed in creating what Choudhry hopes will be “a more educated and more meaningful festival experience that’s going to sit for a long time.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.