Looking back at the weekend and contemplating what makes life “Beautiful”. Was it the culinary excellence from top celebrity chefs to local and fun food trucks? Perhaps it was the way that Downtown Las Vegas was revitalized, even with the multitudes of visitors walking the streets you could almost feel Freemont East and the surrounding areas taking a big breath and waking up from a slumber decades long. It may have also been the reverberation of the asphalt as bands like Twenty One Pilots, Imagine Dragons, Kings of Leon, Passion Pit, Vampire Weekend and The Killers planted a flag with a shout that Life is Beautiful and this festival was here to stay!
Saturday held a lot of promise as you walked into downtown, the sun was out with a cool breeze and everywhere you looked people were dressed down to casual and sometimes dressed up and costumed thanks to the Halloween weekend. Locking up ten blocks of downtown which seemed extremely large and ominous six months ago turned out to be nothing but logistics as this festive land opened its lanes for art, food, music and learning.
The first stop was the aptly named Culinary Village. An area filled with world renowned chefs and restaurants traveling from the Las Vegas strip and beyond. Fan favorites such as Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, Honey Salt, Yellowtail and Culinary Dropout provided fresh tastes and recently cooked concoctions. Hungry patrons were not staring at heat lamps and microwaves, but ovens and grills. Handing over their currency got them a front row opportunity to see professional chefs and a working remote kitchen as all shuffled around to provide quality for the quantity of patrons at large.
After wiping our mouths and taking in a cooking demonstration by Chef AarÓn Sanchez, we headed out to discover the opportunities at hand. New art adorned once paint cracked walls and a huge metal praying mantis asserted itself into the two-story skyline. The first stage that I came upon was more than meets the eye, and that is a pun because it was the Red Bull Sound Select Tour Bus. A bus that literally transformed into a stage as the center of it arose and opened up for lights and speakers to hang and band to be housed with space for guitarists and drums. Through the weekend this area held local and traveling bands like Rhyme and Rhythm, Children of the Night, Chancellor Warhol and Wildcat Wildcat.
Passing by a beer garden housing a DJ, brews and a Border Grille food truck we continued down to the Huntridge stage with rapper Earl Sweatshirt and later the band Portugal. The Man. Both bands great respites from the large Downtown Stage where the main acts performed and dominated the audio in the air. Before settling in for the top acts though, I continually stopped at the Ambassador stage.
The second largest venue at the festival lent its sound system to rappers, rockers and Dj’s. Rising stars like Childish Gambino, Capital Cities, Janelle Monae, Zedd, Empire of The Sun and Twenty One Pilots expended an unending supply of energy as they entertained their fans and enticed all with open minds and inquisitive ears.
Staying at the Ambassador Stage alone would have rounded out a great musical journey, but the best was yet to come. The Downtown Stage held the largest promise of the weekend as its massive stage aimed out to a crowd of fans from around the world. One side blocked by the highway, another by a giant ferris wheel with tents of food, drink and merchandise sporadically placed to captivate the other senses. That is until the first strum of guitar or massive beat dropped upon them.
Saturday opened up with rising stars Alabama Shakes whose soulful and rootsy music lulled all into a relaxed state the implied that all would be free and easy at this festival. Following them was the chart topping group Imagine Dragons with their upbeat alternative demeanor getting people on their feet and violently waving their arms. The Las Vegas grown band flowing into their hit “It’s time” and closing the night with the new single “Radioactive” which was accompanied visually by Cirque Du Soliel performers who popped out for an epic drum enhanced finale. Following shortly after was another must-have to any festival; Beck. He took the stage and delivered his free form sounds, delivering choice cuts like “Devil’s Haircut”, “Where It’s At” and a crowd pleasing performance of “Loser” that got an extra groove when he spliced in Michael Jackson “Billie Jean”. Last, but not least was Kings of Leon. Changing their pace and giving fans a taste of new hits like “Beautiful War” from their new album Mechanical Bull. This band built by fans and forged by rock closed out the night with claps of excitement as “Sex if on Fire” and “Use Somebody” delivered the night and tucked them in after a whirlwind first day.
And while Saturday is usually the peak of any week, Sunday was not a day of rest at the main stage by any means. Downtown stage held the classic and the contemporary as Allen Stone, Jurassic 5 and Passion Pit exponentially grew the crowd in numbers and anticipation. Passion Pit’s “Take a Walk” stamping the night with a seal of excellence as the energetic band rolled out the carpet for Vampire Weekend. Always fun and colorful, this festival tested band lulled the crowd into a happy place with hits like “Cousins” and “A Punk.”
Closing out the festival is a band that Las Vegas claims as its own as much as Elvis; The Killers. Sitting down with front man Brandon Flowers and guitarist Ronnie Vannucci Jr. before they take stage, I ask what the main difference is from the band that started in the city of sin in 2001 to the band that returned to play here this weekend.
“We are a stronger band, a much stronger live band for sure. I mean we’ve played 1,000 shows!” said Flowers.
“I believe I’ve lost some hair too!” joked Vannucci.
Returning home to Las Vegas must be a tease though when you know that you must go back on tour, crossing oceans to countries like China where you just played for the first time.
“Luckily, we’ve been here for a couple weeks and have a couple more days before we are off. I’m happy being with my kids here in Vegas. It’s totally different now too when it comes to things like TV. When I was growing up I watched what my dad watched. Now when I’m with them and I end up watching Spongebob Squarepants” said the front man.
Standing in the crowd and watching them perform, it’s hard not to contemplate what a difference a decade makes; A band that grew from a desert to be one of the brightest stars in the sky. Taking the beloved fans through hits like “when you were young”, “smile like you mean it”, “somebody told me” and newer hits did nothing but concre the choice to have this band close the festival. The cherry on top being a lively rendition of “Viva Las Vegas” that felt like a hug and a wink to local friends and family to prove that this band remembers where they came from.
Life is Beautiful was an easy concept to begin with, a hipster “we are the world” vibe mixed with a rocker mentality and a foodies stomach. Music and food ruled year one, but hopefully year two will bring a larger spotlight on art and learning. Closing out the weekend though, I can see that it means much more. Not just for the downtown community that wants to be a district unto itself, but to the fans of all loves that want to enjoy their passions without need of understanding or judgment. I look forward to seeing this festival return next year as my mind already creates the perfect lineup. Life is Beautiful is a brand, but a sentiment as well. Those who attended may not have found inner peace per say, but they for sure found the opportunity to be happy. And isn’t happiness worth the price of admission?
Interview with The Killers – Vegas, China, Direct Hits & Spongebob!