With its massive footprint and multimedia scope, this weekend’s inaugural Life Is Beautiful festival is ambitious, to say the least. Luckily, the festival’s Vegas-based organizers have got concert and event producers Another Planet to help them out. The Bay Area-based company is the driving force behind San Francisco’s Outside Lands and Treasure Island music festivals as well as dozens of other concerts throughout the year, and has helped lead artist booking and production for Life Is Beautiful. We spoke to Another Planet Executive Vice President Allen Scott, a self-professed concert junkie who has been with the company since its inception in 2003, about working in the industry, crafting LIB’s lineup and the unique challenges of producing a music festival spanning 15 city blocks.
How did you get involved with this line of work?
I booked a band for our high school and did a lot of party planning and then when I went off to college I started a music festival my sophomore year. And it was just going to a lot of concerts, loving the live music personally. Since I was in college I’ve wanted to be in the live music realm. Not on the label side, not the agent side, but promoting and producing live events.
You can’t replicate that live experience and that moment for people. I grew up seeing the Grateful Dead and Phish and Dave Matthews Band, bands like that that had an important live component to their shows. It was not only this communal experience that you have at a lot of concerts, but also there’s a social experience that went along with it. That is what you see with these festivals now. It’s not just about this one singular moment of everyone focused in on the band. There’s hundreds of moments. Tens of thousands of moments throughout the festival for different people. That’s what makes festivals special and that’s definitely what drew me to the live concert experience.
How have you seen the festival experience change since you first got involved in the industry?
In the U.S., the first couple festivals that people really know about were Woodstock and Altamont. And both were not the most sophisticated experiences out there. As more and more festivals have come online, and certainly in the last 10 or 12 years with Coachella and Bonnaroo, there comes a refinement of that festival, and that’s not just through experience but that’s also through competition. You know, having your festival stand apart.
A lot of people were growing up going to festivals and of different ages. So, you are not just 16, 17, 18 years old. You have people in their 30s and 40s and older going to festivals. And those people are more discerning and have higher expectations. And you can see that in your VIP experiences and in your general admission experiences as well. You can’t have disgusting bathrooms or bad food. You know, people expect more, and they have options of different festivals around the country and around the world that they can go to. And, so, if you are going to be a successful festival year after year you have to raise your game and continue to raise your game.
As time has gone on, festivals have become even more of a social experience through social media. People interacting through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, really connecting beyond the walls or the fences of the festival and to people around the country and around the globe. So that social experience has certainly expanded exponentially over the last 10 or twelve years of U.S. festivals.
Why do you think now is kind of the moment for the music festival in the U.S.?
Festivals are about discovery as much as they are seeing your favorite band. In the ’70s it was all about listening to the radio and you had this trusted filter where all the music that you learned about was on the radio. And then in the ’80s it became MTV. All of those filters have been blown away. There are no real filters unless you count the festivals. Festivals are now that opportunity to discover new music. So, you might come out to Life is Beautiful to see Kings of Leon or Imagine Dragons, but all of a sudden you are sitting in front of Portugal. The Man or Janelle Monae and you’ve just discovered your next favorite act. And that’s one of the wonderful aspects of the festival, like Life is Beautiful, is that moment of discovery.
How has the production process for Life Is Beautiful compared to other festivals you’ve done? Is a question of just transferring a blueprint from the others, or did you have to start from scratch?
The answer is yes to both of those. Whenever you are starting a new festival you are creating a brand new blueprint, and for a festival like Outside Lands, where we just finished our sixth year, it took three or four years to get that footprint, that blueprint that we wanted to work off of and refine.
When you are creating a festival you are creating this brand new blueprint. There are a lot of unknowns. This festival is a very unique festival. There is no other festival I know of in the United States that closes off 15 square blocks of an urban environment for a festival of this caliber. And that presents its own unique challenges. So, there’s a lot we can take from our experiences at Outside Lands and Treasure Island, but that’s only half of it because there’s a casino in the middle of the festival grounds that’s open 24 hours and that presents a unique opportunity for the audience to be able to enter and go into the casino during the festival. It’s also a challenge in monitoring their customers and making it accessible for their regular customers. That is just one of the many unique aspects of this festival.
What did booking for this festival entail, and what were the major considerations for the lineup?
We approached the curating of the music for this festival as, what does Las Vegas want to see? It starts with that foundation, and it starts with the locals. What resonates with the local fans? And we build off of there into the people who come into Las Vegas and what do they want to see, and what’s unique to them and who hasn’t played the market recently.
The first act we wanted to go after was the Killers. This festival is a celebration of Las Vegas and about the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas, and the Killers embody that in their music and their success. So, it was really important to have them headlining the inaugural year. That’s spilled over to Imagine Dragons, too. We couldn’t be more fortunate to have not only two of the biggest bands in the world right now, but they are both from Las Vegas, which is remarkable and very special.
Then we looked at the landscape of what other festivals happened this year. Who had played them? And who had new music coming out? Who had not played the festivals earlier? Who is coming in the fall that people hadn’t seen at Outside Lands or Coachella or Lollapalooza? We zoned in on that and then we tried to make it a diverse lineup, as well. It’s a little bit of different types of music throughout, whether it’s hip-hop or funk or rock or electronic and then sprinkle in some smaller acts that locals in Las Vegas might not be aware of but will be very happy when they discover them.
How important is the line up to a new festival’s success?
It is integral. When you are building a brand of a festival, the thing that people are attracted to first are the artists. That’s number one in what determines whether people come to the festival, and then it’s the location after that. Las Vegas, I believe people are just looking for an excuse to come to Las Vegas. If they love live music and they see Kings of Leon playing or Vampire Weekend or Empire of the Sun are playing, they are saying, "I want to go to Vegas and go to that festival and have a blowout weekend," and that’s why they come.
But then there’s all these other elements of the festival that might not be so obvious in the first year—the food, the art, the learning aspects of the festival might not be so obvious. Of course, the food lineup is out of hand and the Cirque lineup that we have is just … no one else in the world is doing that on a festival. Those are unique and those are certainly draws to the festival. But those are the things that keep people coming back.
Is there concern that Life is Beautiful is going for too broad of an audience?
No, I think although it may look broad on paper it’s pretty focused in terms of the type of listener, in terms of music. There is such a convergence between music and food and these different elements. That same person that may describe themselves as a foodie also loves a lot of these bands, and when you can marry these things together that’s a powerful combination.
A lot of festivals tend to skew young these days. How did Vegas’ 21-and-up factor affect how you planned this all out and to whom you’re marketing it?
We want to be as inclusive as possible and we are going to have a kids' area out there as well. I would say the primary focus or the primary demographic coming into this festival is probably 21 to 40, in that range. It costs money to come into Las Vegas and to stay in Las Vegas, and these are working professionals coming in to blow of a little steam and have some fun and discover a part of Las Vegas that they’ve never seen before.
What’s been the single biggest challenge of this whole process?
The biggest challenge is that it’s a first-year event and there’s a lot of unknowns in building this festival, operationally and production-wise, and there are businesses located within the festival. It’s on city streets. It’s navigating those, and it’s a time-consuming process.
For example, there’s a halfway house in the middle of the festival site. So, we have to work on relocating those people, and if they don’t want to leave, then how do we accommodate them and their needs to be in the festival? The casinos are also a major thing. You can’t close a casino down and that’s in the middle of the footprint, so how do you get their regular patrons in and out of El Cortez without interrupting or disrupting your festival patrons and keeping it secure? We are also in parking lots and streets and there are fence removals and there’s curbs and other things that we are just running into and having to navigate. But it’s fun, it’s a challenge. On year two it will be a big sigh of relief to be working off of a set blueprint.