Like virtually every music festival in the US, Las Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful Festival could stand to book more women, and more women headliners. This year they offered up a couple of women in such a slot, Billie Eilish and Janelle Monae, though the task of closing out the biggest Downtown stage was left to the boys on each of the festival’s three nights. But if anything stood as an example of why more women need to be given coveted slots at big festivals, it was the women that rose to the occasion during LIB’s three-day run, which takes over the urban core of Downtown Vegas for a festival that is unlike most any is existence.
Life Is Beautiful is so unique, in fact, that at times, the musical performances can take a backseat to everything else it has going on. Not to be confused with the Strip, Downtown Vegas is populated by older throwback casinos and counterculture restaurants, a glimpse into what the city was before the nightclubs and pool parties took over, and where its residents would rather go for a night out. And with its in-and-out policy (festival-goers can leave and return to the grounds up to three times a day), Life Is Beautiful invites its attendees to not just visit their event, but to make the most of all of what Vegas has to offer. On Sunday, you could zipline down Fremont street or place money on the Rams/Browns game between sets from Rae Sremmurd and Post Malone. Where most music festivals assume that their event is the main attraction, LIB knows that they are a piece (albeit a big piece) of a fans’ weekend experience, and look to make Vegas the star.
That said, the massive turnout for some of the festival’s biggest sets — Eilish, Chance The Rapper, Post Malone, a canceled appearance by Lil Wayne — showed that the crowd had their priorities straight for this event. And, in return, they were treated to masterful performances by many involved, with most underscoring why they’ve become premium festival bookings in the first place. But once the dust settled, it was generally the women that left fans wanting more.
Eilish got the most coveted slot, playing directly in front of Chance The Rapper on Friday night, with the 17-year-old pop phenom impressing enough to have easily been the night’s closer in her own right. Despite sporting a walking boot, she pulled massive jumps during an opening run that began with her biggest hit, the recent No. 1 single “Bad Guy,” along with standout “You Should See Me In A Crown.” Playing to a front row of people sporting their best slime green, fans didn’t so much sing along as they screamed Elish’s words back to her, letting the rising Los Angeles singer know how fully committed her audience is. It takes a ridiculous amount of confidence to play your best-known song first, but Eilish backed up that bravado with a performance that argued that all of her songs should be equally ubiquitous. Time might prove her right.
On Sunday, Monae offered something entirely different at the smaller Bacardi Stage. Monae is already a movie star and is coming off an Album Of The Year Grammy nomination, so her tremendous swagger at this point in her career is more than deserved. But anyone that’s seen Monae dating back to her Of Montreal-association days can attest to her vision as a performer. It’s a complete package, from the songs to the costumes to the choreography. And now with a host of great albums under her belt, she can fill a festival set with wall-to-wall jams, using her platform to oscillate between the subtly to the overtly political. Whereas Eilish’s set seemed to resonate most for those already initiated (though she likely won over a host of new fans in the process), Monae demanded very little of those witnessing her set. It’s hard to imagine watching Janelle Monae perform and not walking away ready to consume everything she’s ever put into the world.
Elsewhere, it was the women on the undercard that performed like they had the most to prove. Tash Sultana played more instruments by herself that some of the other full bands employed in their entire set, proving that her rapid ascent to headlining amphitheaters is well-deserved. Energetic pop powerhouse Maggie Rogers didn’t need to play an instrument on stage to leave a giant footprint, lighting up the festival with her huge charm, inviting songs, and commanding stage presence (not to mention her impressive pipes). Relative newcomer King Princess was BDE personified, as her no-f*cks-given attitude pushing her sharp songwriting to greater heights than the recorded versions of her song (which are also quite good!). And Canadian treasure Carly Rae Jepsen proved that her newest material stands up mightily to her past hits during a balanced set that only suffered from being put up against Vampire Weekend at the exact same time. In whole, the women at Life Is Beautiful provided an embarrassment of riches that crossed all genres, showcasing some of the best in contemporary music.
That’s not to say the men of Life Is Beautiful were slouches. Post Malone and Chance The Rapper might be two divisive hip-hop (or hip-hop adjacent) stars, but they are both endlessly endearing when on stage. Malone seems genuinely taken aback by the adoration he receives, while Chance is such a natural performer that his music only reaches its full potential in a live setting. Chance also supported his brother Taylor Bennett with a guest appearance, one that Bennett enjoyed but certainly didn’t need, as he’s become an exceptional live artist in his own right. Even indie artists The Black Keys (with a special guest appearance from Wayne Newton) and Vampire Weekend proved to be crowd-pleasers, proving that guitar rock still works at multigenre fests.
The programming of Life Is Beautiful proved to be pretty good across the board, extending to everything from a nightly Emo Night club and appearances by Blue Man Group and Cirque Du Soleil to delicious eats from Kogi and beautiful art and light displays down every unexpected alley. In fact, the biggest drawbacks from this year’s event came from both logistics and production standpoints. For the former, it was a confusing Park & Ride shuttle situation. The festival charges $50 to be able to park a car offsite and take a shuttle in daily, which feels a little costly for a mile bus ride, but not completely unreasonable. However, many fans were surprised to discover that one pass did not cover each car parked, but each rider, with festival-goers coming as groups forced to pay $50 per person to get to the grounds. It was a situation that was easy to navigate around (people could easily just drop their friends off at the festival before parking) but felt a little like a racket, and hopefully one that gets rectified in coming years.
The other big knock on this year’s festival came in the form of a freak accident that sent multiple people to the hospital when an aerial camera fell on them. Following a year when a firework accident during an Odesza set also resulted in injured people, the two instances are likely just random accidents that could happen at any festival. Still, Life Is Beautiful certainly needs to look internally to see how these can be avoided in the future.
But one thing they can control is the talent they book and the image that the festival portrays. As music festivals receive more and more pressure to book more women as both headliners and in the undercards, LIB showed that this shouldn’t just come from ethical reasons (though, that’s certainly reason enough), but also because they are up for the task of entertaining the masses. In pop, in indie, and in hip-hop, women are making much of the most important and captivating music, and they’re backing it up with electric performances. At a festival that makes beauty an ethos, it was truly a beautiful thing to witness.
Uproxx was hosted for this event by Life Is Beautiful. However, the festival did not review or approve this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.