Last year’s inaugural Life Is Beautiful Festival succeeded largely on the strength of surprise. The enormity of the experience, the smoothness of the mechanics and the way the fest fit into its urban environment were unexpected triumphs, so much so that post-LIB chatter centered as much on the achievements of its planners as on the quality of its performances.
Twelve months later, there could be no replicating that initial burst of wonder for those attending again, which made Life Is Beautiful’s second mission as tricky as its first. This time, LIB would be judged both for how the sophomore edition measured up to the debut and for whether organizers could refine and reconfigure the experience to make it even better.
Modifications, major and minor, were apparent throughout the weekend. Most obviously, Life Is Beautiful added a day, a move with mixed results. Friday felt fuller, attendance-wise, than some had predicted, but that first day’s excitement seemed subdued compared with Saturday’s and Sunday’s, attributable perhaps to an over-stretched musical lineup. The festival’s footprint, the true champion of year one, also underwent significant change, fencing out the bars and restaurants of Fremont East, along with the El Cortez casino, for logistical reasons. And while those spots might have benefitted from accessibility to non-fest folks (and LIBers after midnight), Life Is Beautiful cost itself some awe by shedding those unique Downtown charms.
The hard-surfaced fest added comfort where it could, rolling out sod around one of its stages and in the food and drink village across from another. And it continued transforming the walls of Downtown, with vivid new artist murals joining those still up from last year.
The festival annexed the Container Park—not quite open in time for the 2013 edition—which made for a natural fit, hosting entertaining chef demonstrations pairing food gurus like Donald Link and Rick Moonen with musicians like Roots drummer Questlove and New Zealand singer Kimbra. The art installation set up shop inside the Western Hotel, where it combined with speaker sessions for a must-stop two-fer along the spoke between main stages. And foodie-focused culinary fare—served up by restaurants like Fleur, Hearthstone and Honey Salt—was smartly scattered a year after being bunched at one end (though craft beer selections, sadly, remained sequestered).
Musically, Life Is Beautiful reached for bigger names, doling out big bucks for the top of its poster: Kanye West, Foo Fighters, OutKast, Skrillex and Arctic Monkeys, all of whom drew sizeable crowds for sets that made fans predictably happy. A judgment on the rest of the weekend’s lineup depends largely on one’s listening habits, but the view from here is that there weren’t enough arresting acts—artists like the experimental Tune-Yards, soulful Weeknd or rock-genre-pushing TV on the Radio—to make a compelling case for spending $250 on a three-day pass. Many out there appear to agree, with the fest’s reported 30,000-per-day attendance holding steady, but not increasing, from last year’s turnout. To make it as a music fest, LIB will need more “gets,” acts Las Vegans simply can’t afford to miss and out-of-towners might hop the nearest plane to catch.
Still, in other ways that matter—sound quality for most of the sets, ease of everyday access (traffic, parking, entry) and the ebullient vibe across the grounds—Life Is Beautiful succeeded once more, not because it shocked us but because it measured up to the expectations we took from last year and the hopes we had for more. Founder Rehan Choudhry says he’s in again for 2015, and we’ll be there, too, logging miles in the cool and curious space his team has built.
This thing’s not many moves from getting all its pieces in the exact right places. If it can, life could be very beautiful indeed.