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Life is Beautiful: Black Keys, Billie Eilish and a lotta sod await

Updated September 14, 2019 - 8:31 pm

Late-September is kind of like the holiday season for Justin Weniger, in that it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

“We work all year-round, make ourselves crazy thinking of every nuanced detail,” the CEO of the Life is Beautiful music and arts festival in downtown Las Vegas says in a phone chat. “Then it gets here and we’re like, “Aaaah!” We’re like kids in a candy shop.”

LiB is running Friday through next Sunday, covering 18 blocks in downtown Las Vegas (single-day general admission tickets start at $145, minus fees, and are available at lifeisbeautiful.com). The event debuted in 2013 and grew to 180,000 attendees combined over three days for the 2018 festival. Expect at least that this year.

Some highlights of the Q&A with Weniger as he and his kids prep a very big candy store:

Review-Journal: How do you describe this event to the uninitiated?

Justin Weniger: “It is a project geared towards aiding the positive transformation of our community. So, we do that, obviously the transformation of the community this idealistic representation of what a city could look like if you infused art and culture in to the fabric of the community. You make that the foundation of the community and see what grows from there, and I think over the last several years we’ve done that.

When you take over downtown in such an expansive way, what is the biggest logistical challenge?

It’s a lot of things. I don’t have one specific example, but you can imagine the logistics of bringing, you know, 300,000 square feet of sod into a festival footprint, and sod covering curbs and removing fences and all of that, so there’s a lot. The industry is ever shifting, tours are shifting their needs. Every day is a different challenge.

Has there been an effort to move Life is Beautiful away from the iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena? They are running the same weekend again this year.

Originally, iHeart was a weekend before us, and they switched I think because they had programming for Mexican Independence Day. But I remember when we were faced with that, we looked at it as, we can be territorial and look at the problems it could create, or we can look at the options this could create. Obviously, if we’re doing this for the betterment of the city, we actually like the fact that there’s two very distinct customer bases for two very different types of events.

And they can sustain independently without picking over the same audience?

Very seldom do we see any over-lapping in customer or any of that. The iHeart Festival is just different, it’s a different format and setting, it’s in an arena, obviously, there’s all those things that are far different than our festival experience. When you look at how many music fans we’re bringing in to town at the time, the community that we’ve been able to create, how many music industry folks, media, sponsors, all the different things that you look at from an industry standpoint … It’s good that they’re all converging on Las Vegas on the same weekend.

I know it’s tough to list these, but music highlights for you for this year’s festival?

That is tough (laughs), but we have the Black Keys’ first show in years (since 2015). Post Malone’s new album (“Hollywood’s Bleeding”) just dropped, and the timing of that is just impeccable. Billie Eilish is one of the biggest streaming artists in the world. The Vampire Weekend show is going to be incredible. It just seems every set is going to be massive this year.

The Kicker comedy lineup this year is really interesting, with Fred Armisen and that group, Chris Redd from “SNL” and Nikki Glaser, who is a really popular club comic.

Yes, absolutely, when you look at the projection of comedy in the last three years, everything we do is driven by our attendees’ sense of discovery at the festival. A few years ago we experimented with comedy in a small room and didn’t really promote it. Now we have taken it a step further with Fred, Chris Redd and Nikki Glaser, and everyone will get a kick out of it. Comedy sets a good tone for the festival, whether it’s someone you’ve seen and heard of before, or maybe never heard of and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by them.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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