No, the open ended title of this post is not some sort of Rorschach test. Rather, it is a promotion of two local music festivals going on this weekend in Las Vegas, each with their own unique perspective and titles.
The optimistically titled “Life is Beautiful” Festival enters its fourth year and is a 3 day celebration of “music, art, taste, and ideas” which will take over downtown Las Vegas and feature such headlining acts as Mumford & Sons, J. Cole, Major Lazer and The Lumineers (as well as a great local band Brumby). The festival also features art, a wide variety of food tastings from some of Las Vegas’ favorite restaurants, and stand-up comedy. Oh, and there’s also a naked Donald Trump statue.
Over the past four years Life is Beautiful has quickly grown into a major music festival on the already stacked music festival scene here in the United States, and joins other festivals such as Bonaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza as a great place to go if you are looking to take a few days off, relax, and enjoy some great music and food. With so many festivals however, what is it that makes Life is Beautiful stand out? This festival strives to showcase the Downtown Las Vegas that locals know and love, with all its beauty and quirkiness, to the world at large. In a recent interview with Billboard, festival executive Craig Nyman was quoted as saying the first year of the festival many artists “didn’t know a Downtown Las Vegas existed”, but now four years into the festival he hopes “everybody wants to come back”. Although I’ve never personally attended the festival myself (Sorry folks I can’t take three days off from work) I’ve spoken with many people who have and I’ve heard nothing but incredible stories.
A music festival that brings in over 100,000 people to a small area of a city is not immune to logistical difficulties and/or controversy, however. As a recent Las Vegas Review Journal article observed, when “an 18-block area of downtown Las Vegas is closed off” it creates numerous problems for the homeless that live in the area, who are essentially “de-homed” and “need to find somewhere else to go”. As the article further states, however, Life is Beautiful did recognize the sensitive nature of this issue and worked in conjunction with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police to create an event for people relocated by the festival that included “breakfast, job fair, haircuts, mobile showers, a detox bed and resources for homeless people who need help with identification documents”. (For more information or to help out go to: http://www.carecomplex.org/)
Although Life is Beautiful is a great opportunity for downtown businesses and has helped promote many local restaurants and performers, there are some in the local community who have been “rubbed the wrong way” by the festival, particularly the “audition” processes by which local bands try to earn highly coveted performance slots. Over the past few years I have seen numerous local promotions which aim to give “local” bands the life-changing opportunity of performing on a LIB stage, and I think these are wonderful opportunities. But it is not a perfect process, and to many there is the feeling that local bands are not given as much promotion as the lip-service afforded by the festival.
Indeed if you are inclined to find the irony in a music festival that takes over Downtown Las Vegas for three days, uses our local aesthetic as its backdrop, but features almost no actual Las Vegas musicians, then you might find solace and/or local music salvation in its more existentially titled counterpart-the “Life is Shit” festival, which takes place Sept. 23 and 24th at the aptly named “The Dive Bar” on Maryland Pkwy near UNLV.
It would be foolish, however, to think that the self-deprecating name of this festival somehow reflects upon the quality of its music. In addition to a great local lineup, the festival has also booked notable bands such as Detroit’s Timmy’s Organism, which signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records shortly after its 2014 Life is Shit appearance, and also Chicago’s White Mystery, which filmed part of its feature-length dark comedy “That Was Awesome” at the same 2014 festival.
This year’s festival features great local acts Sadgirl, Total Ghost, Dangerboner, The Scoundrels, Same Sex Mary, Jack Evan Johnson, Alaska, The Quitters, Hard Pipe Hitters, Grim Reefer, Indigo Kidd, Go Bold, Hidden Levels, Chandelle, The Prettiest, Titto Mojito, and the New Conquerors. If many of those names sound familiar it’s probably because you’ve either seen them play before or at least seen their names being promoted throughout town at various shows. And speaking of promotion, Same Sex Mary‘s Tsvetelina Stefanova is not only the director of the Life is Shit Music Festival, but she is also the founder of Bad Moon Booking. Perhaps no other business in Las Vegas has done more to help promote local bands, and in case you are unfamiliar with them a great article recently on the Las Vegas blog Light Leaks entitled “How Bad Moon Booking is Changing the Las Vegas Music Scene” says it all.
Like the yin and the yang (or, if you prefer, the light and dark sides of the force) both the “Life is Beautiful” and “Life is Shit” festivals will provide an incredible weekend of entertainment, art, food, drinks and fellowship, each with their own unique perspectives. If the names don’t make it apparent, there is of course just a bit of friendly rivalry amongst the festivals, however, just as in great literature I believe this dualistic musical conflict also helps forge a stronger narrative (or in this case, music) which you should definitely take some time this weekend to check out.
As someone who is attempting to remain an objective observer, I see many great reasons to attend both festivals if possible. While I would like to see some more local acts in the Life is Beautiful festival, I understand that they are trying to draw an international crowd and in order to sell tickets they must feature established, headlining acts. (In all fairness, past LIB’s have featured Las Vegas based acts such as Imagine Dragons, Panic! at the Disco, Rusty Maples, and The Killers). On the other hand, I think the local Las Vegas music scene is outstanding and there are some well deserving bands who, if given a shot, could really win a huge crowd over in what could be a life-changing opportunity. As such perhaps next year Life is Beautiful can have a few more local acts on their bill. As readers of this blog know I am a huge fan of our local music scene here in Las Vegas (i’m also a performing musician myself) I am glad to see a more locally oriented music festival-albeit with a silly name-devoted to promoting such talent. On a side note, this is probably also a great opportunity to plug another downtown music festival which features almost exclusively Las Vegas bands-Neon Reverb.
Aristotle once remarked that “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies,” I think this is an appropriate quote for two music festivals who, while they might appear on its face to have differing motives and attitudes, are both focused on delivering great music to a supportive and interactive crowd. Whether it wants to admit it or not, the “Life is Shit” festival exists in a symbiotic state with its more well known counterpart, and after all you can’t really be a rebel without something to rebel against. For me personally I love any and all music as long as it’s authentic and honest, and I think between “Life is Beautiful” and “Life is Shit” you should be able to find whatever it is you are looking for this weekend. So go enjoy the shows!