Life Is Beautiful’s Evolution Into a Festival of Mystery

Recent changes in the Life Is Beautiful team raised some eyebrows. It’s all part of the plan, says the festival’s founder. But what’s the plan?

Photo by Erik Kabik

Photo by Erik Kabik

At this time last year, our knowledge of Downtown’s Life Is Beautiful music and arts festival was almost completely theoretical. No bands had been announced, and we didn’t even know where the stages would be. Now, in the wake of last October’s inaugural bash, we’ve become so chummy with Life Is Beautiful that we play parlor games predicting what bands will descend on Fremont East next fall—and we worry a bit when the festival’s founder gives up the CEO spot.

Earlier this month,Rehan Choudhry relinquished his post as CEO of Life Is Beautiful to Andrew Donner of Resort Gaming Group, while Eve Cohen, formerly an executive producer of the New York City Food and Wine Festival, became managing director. At first blush, that may seem a source for concern from the outside—is our festival losing its soul?—but Choudhry says it’s all part of the plan.

“Basically, we just went from being a startup to a functioning company,” he says. After last year’s festival, the three producing partners—Choudhry’s Aurelian Marketing Group, Another Planet Entertainment and the Downtown Project—sat down and considered what was needed to make Life Is Beautiful grow in size and scope. In this new arrangement, Choudhry, as the festival’s founding partner, can focus on creative details while the new management team works on making it all run smoothly.

“Andrew’s got 20 years of strategic business development, and Eve’s got 20-plus years of operational prowess,” Choudhry says. “We’re applying it all to a bigger and better year two, and a massive year 10.”

From our first interview last year, Choudhry has talked about Life Is Beautiful’s 10th year as if he were planning for it today. (“I went into this with a dream that this would be the last job that I ever have… If I can do this for 30 years, I’ll do it for 30 years.”) Changing his role will get the festival to that milestone, he says.

Beyond that, Choudhry is understandably tight-lipped. He won’t share last year’s profit numbers. (“I can never tell you that, man,” he says, with the tone of a friend who’s just grabbed the dinner check out of your hand to pay it and won’t let you see how much it is.) Nor will he comment on the countdown clock that recently appeared on the festival’s webpage, ticking toward some unknown event that would take place, if my calculations are correct, on the morning of January 27.

Here’s what he will say: No band announcements for this year are forthcoming, but none of last year’s performers will be returning: “We have a no year-over-year rule.” Meanwhile, local performers will be more tightly integrated into the programming. “We’re going to eliminate the local stage altogether and put locals on the same stage as the bigger acts,” he says. Festival organizers also plan to spread out the Culinary Village a bit (“People wished it were more accessible,” he says) and to generally rethink the festival footprint: “We want to limit the gaps between people’s entertainment experiences, whether it’s music or learning or art or dining.”

So all Choudhry will do at this point is promise some “really cool shit” for year two. I’d be more frustrated by that answer if he hadn’t delivered as much in year one. It makes you wonder what we’ll be saying about Life Is Beautiful this time next year … and nine years from now.