Chatting with Life Is Beautiful’s bookers as the fest adds six new acts

Little Dragon
Photo: Marco van Rijt

The Life Is Beautiful Festival has announced six additions to the music lineup for October’s three-day festival, set for October 24-26 in Downtown Las Vegas. We took the news as a prime occasion to check in with LIB’s lead programmers—Allen Scott, executive VP at San Francisco-based Another Planet Entertainment, and Las Vegas’ Craig Nyman, head of music for Life Is Beautiful.

First, the new acts: Swedish electro-pop band Little Dragon, Brooklyn-based trap DJ Baauer, Australian pop singer Kimbra, folky Portland rock group Nahko and Medicine for the People, LA pop-rock foursome Echosmith and Brooklyn indie rockers Bear Hands.

And here are some excerpts from our conversation with Scott and Nyman:

On booking for locals: (Scott) “Las Vegas residents make up 40-50 percent of the people who come to this festival, so it’s really important that that’s where we start from and use that as the foundation. A band like Foo Fighters hasn’t played the market since 2008; coupled with the fact that they’re only playing a handful of live dates in 2014, it made them a real no-brainer for us. OutKast is playing a lot of festivals this year, but they haven’t played Las Vegas since 2001, so we thought the Las Vegas market would want to see them.

"It’s also important for us to showcase Las Vegas artists, like we did last year with Imagine Dragons and The Killers. This year we have Panic! At the Disco and Dizzy Wright and even Jenny Lewis, who’s from Las Vegas and whose parents were lounge singers in Las Vegas when she was young.”

On LIB’s out-of-town audience: (Scott) “We’re trying to book it on a national level, too, because we understand that 50 percent of the audience comes from outside of Las Vegas. So it’s important for us to try to make this unique in a crowded festival landscape. Lionel Richie is very unique. The only other major festivals he has played in the country are Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo, and he’s one of those artists that everyone’s gonna see and who’s gonna have a major, major set. Arctic Monkeys, who haven’t played the market since 2011 when they co-headlined with TV on the Radio, have certainly blown up since then. They’re just a massive band to bring in. One of the acts we’re super excited about this year is The Weeknd. He hasn’t done a festival in the U.S. in over two years, so that was a real coup for us. And Alt-J is one of the more exciting and interesting live rock acts out there right now. They have a new album coming out in the fall, and we’re excited to have them.”

On how 2014’s lineup compares with last year’s: (Scott) “Last year we played it pretty safe, in terms of how we booked the festival. It was pretty straight down the line. This year we really wanted to take some chances in how we booked the festival, whether that’s Kanye West or Lionel Richie or Alt-J. We tried to lead people more this year, rather than kind of just play to exactly what they’re asking for. And we think, as this festival evolves, you’re gonna see us taking more and more chances in who we book. Because such a wonderful thing about festivals is discovering the different acts, and those can be the small acts on the bottom of the lineup or they can be a bigger act like Lionel Richie who you might not pay to see on a hard ticket, but it’s one of those bucket-list artists that you walk away and say wow, I just saw Lionel Richie’s greatest hits.”

(Nyman) “We’re also bringing in a lot of artists who have never played the market before, people like Tycho and Trampled by Turtles, St. Paul & The Broken Bones. The Head and the Heart’s only play in Vegas was [2010] opening up for Dave [Matthews] & Tim [Reynolds], before anybody even knew who they were. Alt-J opened for Grouplove at the Cosmo, and there might have been 50 people there, because they were so new. So it’s exciting to be able to have these artists who haven’t played real shows in Vegas come out here.

"I’m really excited for Vegas to get to see Galantis, which is one of the guys from Miike Snow. Or the Danish singer . Doing three days has really allowed us to expand and to dip into everything from folk and bluegrass to even country with Kacey Musgraves this year."

On future lineup additions: (Scott) “We’ll have a handful of others, including a pretty good-sized artist that we’ll be announcing in the coming weeks. But we’ve condensed the stages—we’ll have four stages, and they’ll all alternate back and forth, so you’ll have no more than two artists on at the same time. That allows the audience to see more of the acts, and gives the artists more of a captive audience. And rather than having a local stage, we’re gonna put the local artists on the stages with the national artists. We’re trying to mix those artists in, which we find to be more effective in terms of getting an audience to see those guys, allowing people traveling in to discover the Las Vegas artists.

“The festival is really the sum of its parts, and as we all know, it’s not just about the music. There’s so much more that makes this festival unique, starting with the location. There’s nothing like it. And then we have the speakers and the food and the cocktails and the art.”

On booking fewer local bands this year, most of them repeats from 2013: (Nyman) “Getting the chance to put them on one of the main four stages—not positioned in a corner, on a side stage, but given a real shot to be with the rest of the lineup—was something that we really liked. It’s exciting to put them on the big stage and let them really get people to watch them, hear them, research them, so they know what they’re getting into and say, yeah I need to see Rusty Maples.

"Last year being our first year we were open to more [local] acts, and this year we tightened it up. But they won’t repeat next year—these Vegas bands will not be eligible in 2015."

On the response so far: (Scott) “We feel fantastic. We’re a good amount ahead of where we were last year, and we went on sale stronger as well. The lineup itself just swings wider, so it’s more inclusive. You’ve got huge rock bands like Foo Fighters and Arctic Monkeys and huge hip-hop names like Kanye and OutKast and The Roots. And then have you have huge electronic artists. We just did a number of dates with Skrillex in San Francisco, and he did close to 20,000 tickets.”

(Nyman) “Skrillex plays Vegas all the time, but he never brings his real production, so to be able to have this on the big stage for people is exciting."

(Scott) “We’re very selective in how we go through the electronic artists, because certainly a lot of these artists have residencies in Las Vegas, and they play EDC. For someone like Skrillex, now you’re gonna get his full production. He’s gonna bring the spaceship in and do a major show. And for Skrillex that’s important, because he wants to grow beyond the club kids, and this festival allows him to do that."

On the negative reaction to Kanye West: (Scott) “We knew that Kanye’s a polarizing figure, but we feel that he truly is a musical genius and has put out some of the best albums of the last 10-plus years. There are 70 artists on this festival, and the beautiful thing is if you don’t like one artist, you can go see another artists. So for somebody to get really focused on one artist is really missing the point of what we’re trying to do."

On complaints the lineup doesn’t include enough left-of-center names: (Scott) “As I said earlier, last year was pretty straight down the line, and we’re beginning to veer from that, where you can have those types of artists, like TV on the Radio and Tune-Yards. We’ve talked to some of those other artists and they weren’t available, and some of them we want to get a little more established before bringing them in. Nick Cave is an expensive artist; is the appreciation there yet for the audience that we’re building at the festival? But we’re having conversations for this year and for next year, and you’re gonna see those indie-minded artists expand as we evolve."

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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