Roughly 450 miles southeast of Reno lies a certain scorching stretch of desert, a city of sin, a UFO-visitor center, a nuclear bomb testing site, a neon utopia teeming with khaki-shorts-wearing tourists interested in such debaucherous activities as prostitution and gambling. This location is often referred to as Las Vegas, home to many UNR students. Over the weekend, Sept. 22-24, they hosted Life is Beautiful.
Taking place in the up-and-coming downtown area, the festival shuts down approximately 18 square blocks. The sheer amount of stuff to see and things to do was overwhelming. Vivid murals, sculptures and statues spread out all over the grounds. Comedy shows and art exhibits were available for viewings, including the Meow Wolf’s Art School. The Blue Man Group, Cirque Du Soleil and Bill Nye were all there. There was certainly music at this music festival, but no one was under the illusion that it was the focal point.
Just walking around LiB was sensory overload. There are thousands of people bumping into one another, a Ferris wheel, literal Mood Swings, and a giant mechanical grasshopper shooting fire out of its antennae.
Everywhere you looked, Zappos logos loomed. Zappos had a sort of Big Brother/Enron presence at LiB. All the while, helicopters constantly circled overhead for some unidentified reason. The Trump tower leered in the skyline. Paranoia could have easily been inspired within the most sober attendees.
LiB draws a young crowd. Some patrons seemed to have LiB confused with EDC, for there were ravers in fishnets with glow sticks galore. Still, if anyone wanted to have their brain melted by EDM, there was still plenty of opportunity at LiB. Around every corner, a thumping bass was there ready to pounce, berating people’s ear drums and invading people’s personal space. Some could speculate that music festival operators encourage the EDM homogenization because it is so cheap and simple to set up. Who’s to say.
Most music festivals exist in a bubble of Pitchfork elitism. With headliners including Sean Paul and Muse, LiB, for better or worse, could not care less what music is considered hip. A diverse selection of artists performed.
Grammy nominated house duo Sofi Tukker were scheduled to perform, but Sophie Hawley-Weld fell ill and was unable to perform. However, Tucker Halpern played a solo DJ set. Hawley-Weld and Halpern met at Brown while Halpern was playing basketball.
“I had to stop playing because I got sick my junior year,” Halpern said. “Then I started producing music when I was bed-ridden…When I started DJing, I got that thrill, that high I used to get playing basketball, but I could really be myself DJing. [Playing basketball] I had to answer to a coach who didn’t want me to be creative or individual. I’m really psyched about where I ended up.”
DJ Superpoze came all the way from Paris to perform in Las Vegas for the first time. When asked about the differences in crowds between the US and Europe he said, “Music is able to unite people, we don’t care about the difference.”
Whether it was Schoolboy Q shouting out Las Vegas, California, or Lorde looking bored as she performed for fans who once adored but now snored, it was apparent many performers saw this as just another stop in an endless series of touring, a detour before going somewhere else more interesting. The result was many underwhelming, by-the-numbers shows.
This isn’t to say there were no good shows. Respect shall be given where due. Spoils go to the victor; meaning, if artists perceived LiB as another touring gig, then the best shows are by those who are the best at being tour artists, not the most talented or charismatic. I would contest that Cage the Elephant is one of the best live acts working today. They bring a deranged energy, especially with Matt Shultz flailing around onstage, doing almost the entire show in his underwear. Wiz Khalifa and his live band sounded tight and lively as they strolled through all of his hits. Certain aspects of his show could lead someone to believe that Mr. Khalifa enjoys cannabis. Perhaps this is a journalistic endeavor worth investigating; more details to follow.
If someone would have said a month ago that Wiz Khalifa would do a better show than a lackluster Chance the Rapper, I would have called them a liar. But that’s the type of thing that happens in Life is Beautiful and Las Vegas in general. It’s a peculiar place. It’s all topsy-turvy. It’s like the “opposite day” episode of Spongebob.
But even at its best, the music felt like more of an afterthought, a consolation prize. The concerts were just conduits for surrounding businesses to cash in and as a sacrifice for our supreme overlord Zappos.
At the risk of sounding too cynical, here are some of the things LiB did extremely well.
LiB had a bike valet which was genius. Anyone could bike to the festival and drop it off with a valet, not having to find a place to put it or worry about it getting stolen. It promotes cardio and prevents the burning of fossil fuels. I will forever cherish the memory of being on a bike in the Jack in the Box drive thru at 1:00 a.m., yelling at the woman refusing to serve me curly fries.
While some music festivals prohibit some areas from drinking alcohol, LiB had the mantra of “Live and let live.” As someone who enjoys drinking a lot of overpriced beer, I approve. However, it does seem like every music festival experience devolves into a vicious cycle of waiting in line for beer then waiting in line for the bathroom
Almost every headlining show ended with a crowning ejaculation of confetti. Not only confetti, but a significant amount of shows featured pyrotechnics and on-stage flames. In all seriousness, the lighting, sound, and overall production value of LiB was pretty stellar.
On the subject of whether or not life is, in fact, beautiful, who’s to say? I will mention, however, that having people in your life who are willing to sit in asphalt with you and eat $7 french fries and watch your Dos Equis tall boy while you go to the port-a-potty as you all breathe in ganja-and-BO-polluted air has a certain beauty to it.