This year’s Life Is Beautiful attracted some very large crowds. In fact, the second annual music, food and arts festival drew a total of 90,000 people—that is, if you believe the festival’s PR reps; when asked for an estimated attendance while the festival was in full swing, they responded “est. 30,000 per day.”
It’s a curious number. First, I never once felt like I was among 30,000 people. Even on what seemed the most crowded day—Saturday, when the Roots, Lionel Richie and Outkast headlined—it felt more like 20,000. There were no significantly long lines for food or drink. The stages were packed, but never to the point that you couldn’t move closer to the performers if you wanted.
Another reason that 30,000-per-day figure seems dubious: It’s the same one LIB reported last year. I didn’t buy it then, either. Certainly, nobody could claim that there were 90,000 different people who showed up, as many purchased multiday tickets. If festival officials don’t want to release actual attendance figures, that’s fine. Just, y’know, don’t give us numbers that force us to question their legitimacy.
As it is, Life Is Beautiful founder Rehan Choudhry has never shied away from admitting that the festival will take several years to become profitable, so attendance is not the way to judge the festival’s success relative to last year. As was the case in 2013, we have to consider other, more anecdotal evidence:
The Guest Experience. Much improved. The smaller festival footprint was more easily traversed, and it was nice to have Fremont East’s bars and restaurants outside the festival gates rather than within them, so they could function as proper escape pods. I didn’t hear any real complaints about parking, and taxicabs/Uber cars had no difficulty queuing up at Carson Avenue and Sixth Street. There were plenty of spots to sit down, and the Western Hotel—home this year to the art and learning programs—provided a nice, cool respite within the fest. Guest comfort was plainly a priority for Choudhry and his team, and they really delivered.
Outside the Festival. This is where Life Is Beautiful is still falling down. The biggest complaints from Downtown residents last year were noise and road closures, and those problems were only greater this year. The sound from the Ambassador Stage could be clearly heard more than a mile away. Huntridge tract resident Matt Kelemen described Skrillex’s Sunday-night set in a (otherwise laudatory) Facebook post about the festival:
I just heard someone on the mic yelling something about “fucking ___ ___ in the house!” and bursts of beat blasts pushing the amplitude past the point of intrusiveness to acres of lower-income residents. … The indifference toward the people who live [here] just isn’t in accord with the philosophies espoused by the festival.
The seeming contempt for neighborhood folk didn’t end there. Streets were closed even to pedestrians a full two nights before the festival. Last Thursday, I was bullied by event security as I rode my bicycle down streets that weren’t even part of the footprint. Life Is Beautiful has to do better by its neighbors.
The Lineup. As is usually the case with festivals such as this, the best artists are the ones you didn’t come to see and/or didn’t expect to like. For me, those bands were St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Vintage Trouble, both of whom played on the Western Stage. The speaker series was, deservedly, a giant hit; festivalgoers lined up hours in advance to see Pussy Riot, and many subsequent sessions were standing room only. The arts program at the Western was also packed with striking works and unexpected pleasures; it got many of us talking about how well the Western could serve as an interim art museum. There’s a rumor going around that the arts program may be shaved from Life Is Beautiful next year. That would be a terrible mistake.
As for the headliners: The best compliment I can give is they came to work. Kanye West, Outkast, Lionel Richie, Arctic Monkeys and Foo Fighters all delivered rich, crowd-pleasing sets loaded with hits.
By the way: Vintage Trouble and St. Paul & the Broken Bones were both really, really, really great. They lifted the soul. And it was the latter band’s first time in Nevada. If that’s not a beautiful thing, it’s at least a very good one.