There might not be another city in the world with a reputation like Las Vegas. It dates back before most of us were born, back even before people like The Rat Pack and Wayne Newton became synonymous with the city’s neon glow. It’s more than card tables and lounge singers, more than 24/7 bars and long-lined nightclubs. It’s more than the possibility of winning big or becoming a star, more than pool-side booze slushies or blackout bachelor parties. There isn’t a city with further-reaching connotations on the planet, that everyone thinks they have figured out after a single lost weekend.
But what people from the city and the surrounding regions of the West understand is that Las Vegas is much more nuanced than the stereotypes. It’s not all fear and loathing, where what happens there stays there. No, Las Vegas is a living and breathing community that’s proud to show off just how much there is to do in the region that most never expected. And since 2013, Life Is Beautiful Music & Art Festival has been leading the charge to showcase a different side of the city.
“The idea was that we create something by using music, art, and culture as a foundation of a community, you can see what grows out of that in a very different and real way,” says Justin Weniger, Life Is Beautiful’s CEO, speaking about the origins of the Downtown Vegas festival as it prepares to launch its seventh iteration. “With a transformation initiative on Downtown Las Vegas, we wanted to create something that we could be proud of and that would help usher in the next stage of the city’s development.”
Weniger mentions things like supporting small businesses, improved walkability, and becoming more like what outsiders would consider a “real city” as this next stage of growth, and having been to the festival several times, it’s already been a rousing success. Downtown Vegas has long been a location that’s beloved by a generation that’s aged out of the strip, but Life Is Beautiful underscores a thriving counterculture. Downtown is where you go to get a great vegan dinner, a tattoo, or see an underground punk band. In many ways, it’s become an essential alternative when visiting Las Vegas, a place where the actual residents of Vegas can have a meal or enjoy entertainment without having to endure a tourist destination or a suburban chain. The “real city” aspirations have been achieved.
And, in turn, Life Is Beautiful demonstrates the beating heart of Las Vegas. Set within the downtown footprint, attendees can pop into local businesses and casinos without having to stray far from the activities. Aside from world-class talent — past years have featured everyone from Kanye West to Foo Fighters, while this year offers up the likes of Chance The Rapper, Billie Eilish, Vampire Weekend, and Post Malone — Life Is Beautiful takes its cues from fests like Coachella and Lollapalooza to bring some of the finest cuisine and drink that the city has to offer to the fest. Vegas mainstay Cirque Du Soleil is a frequent participant and this year offers an appearance from Blue Man Group, giving attendees a glimpse into some of Vegas’ most beloved institutions. And the area’s singular architecture and street art provide a unique backdrop to the festivities. Unlike other festivals that feel like they could be taking place in a field in literally any location, there is no doubt where you are when you attend Life Is Beautiful.
One of the defining elements of Life Is Beautiful is their “Ideas” series, which takes a left turn from what many music festivals attempt. In past years, this has included talks by everyone from Rupaul to Bill Nye The Science Guy, seeking to go beyond well-explored musical entertainment and into spaces of education and activism. Vegas’ typically scorching temperatures make the idea of having some indoor activities particularly attractive, but that would be selling short what the festival is doing, and the audience’s reception to it.
“It’s a key part of what we’re doing, we’re trying to inspire and empower people,” Weniger said. “That comes from the sharing of ideas, getting people up on stage that have a story to tell that might help people along their path. People who are coming to our festival are far more aware. It’s not a big party crowd, per se. They want to be a part of the discovery and participate in the Ideas series and pop in to a new restaurant and check out an art show and see a band they’ve never seen.”
Of course, it’s hard to think of a Las Vegas music festival without the 2017 attack on the Route 91 Harvest music festival that killed 58 and left 851 people injured. It was a tragedy that forever changed the world of live events, and one that particularly resonates for the Life Is Beautiful community, which was later revealed might have been another target for the shooter. Weniger was unable to speak in specifics about the shooting due to an open investigation, but noted that “the safety of our guests has always has been of the utmost importance.”
“In terms of the way the city reacted to that,” Weniger said, “it’s actually one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. It showed the resilience of Las Vegas in the way people came together, in a town that for a long time people thought had no sense of community.”
And as Life Is Beautiful prepares to launch this upcoming weekend, that sense of community will invite guests by the tens of thousands in to be a part of it. It’s a festival whose identity doesn’t hinge on genre or a scene, but rather on an ethos that is right there in the name. Weniger can’t put a number on how many times an attendee will say or hear the phrase “life is beautiful” over the course of three days, but it works as a sort of mantra that’s lasting effect also can’t be measured. Music, art, discovery, community — these are all beautiful things. And experiencing them all together can take a city known for its sins into a place that’s far more heavenly.
Life Is Beautiful Music & Art Festival takes place from September 20-22. You can purchase tickets here.