“This feels like a dream I had many, many times last year,” said Billie Eilish to the sold-out crowd as she closed out Life is Beautiful 2021 in Downtown Las Vegas Sunday night. That longed-for notion of performing at or attending a major live event was echoed by the more than 180,000 who attended the three-day music and art festival, which not only signaled the return of mass gatherings to Las Vegas but also kicked off Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” World Tour.
Life is Beautiful has become one of the city’s cornerstone live experiences since it launched in 2013. After last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic, its return claimed a 37-minute sell-out when tickets went on sale in March. As with years past, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) board of directors put up $150,000 to sponsor and market the festival. But this year, that local support was even more important for the first major festival in a city built on extravagant events after 16 months mostly without them.
“We were the first festival to put a lineup out and say, ‘We’re going to do this,'” says Craig Nyman, the festival’s head of music and live performances. “I think that really sparked a bit of hope and energy in the industry and let people feel that, ‘Hey, let’s go out, we can do this.'”
For three days, zealous festival-goers packed Life is Beautiful’s 18-block urban footprint for sets by Glass Animals, Illenium, St. Vincent as well as stand up comedy from Sarah Cooper and Sam Jay, new murals from street artists such as Criola, Amy Sol and Camile Walala, and food and beverage pop-ups from local chefs and bartenders that included an omakase dinner series, cocktail school and open-fire cookout.
COVID-19 protocols required all attendees to either be vaccinated or have a negative test within 72 hours, but since the festival takes place outside, it wasn’t subject to mask mandates.
Around 2:45 p.m. on Friday, first-comers braved the almost triple-digit temperatures to participate in a mindfulness meditation led by Deepak Chopra on what would soon be transformed into the EDM-focused Fremont Stage. The smaller, more intimate Huntridge Stage, which typically hosts emerging acts, saw a soulful performance by Noah Cyrus in her Las Vegas debut. Downtown Stage acts included alum Brittany Howard — who festival partner Justin Weniger professed his love for on social media—LANY and Tame Impala. Over on the eclectic Bacardi Stage, Willow Smith and Megan Thee Stallion — who also hosted a festival after-party at Marquee Nightclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas where Dua Lipa made a surprise appearance—gave two of the night’s most well-attended concerts. Jhay Cortez popped up inside the Bacardi Art Motel — set amid stunning neon artwork from Spanish artist Spidertag and muralist Antonyo Marest, curated by Just Kids — for an intimate set that signified Life is Beautiful’s entry into the Latin genre. Top Las Vegas art attraction, Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart, unveiled its mobile micro-breakroom of oddity products and performances with rap duo Nate & Hila.
Day two brought out White Reaper, CAAMP and All Time Low to The Huntridge stage. The Fremont Stage featured Las Vegas nightclub favorites Cash Cash and Dillon Francis. The city’s top music execs such as Live Nation Las Vegas president Kurt Melien and Tao Group Partner Jason Strauss — along with Nik Richie — flocked to the VIP area at the Bacardi Stage to see Ludacris.
Downtown Stage acts included a thunderous closing set from Green Day, whose Billie Joe Armstrong, an Oakland native, chided the local audience for “stealing my Raiders,” preceded by Surfaces, Modest Mouse and HAIM.
In the artist hospitality compound, Allegiant Stadium GM Chris Wright mingled with Live Nation svp Amanda Moore and AEG marketing director Tiffany Bosman.
On the Rising Stars Stage at Downtown Container Park, former music executive Charlie Rocket and viral philanthropic app Dreamr, launched the Dream Machine Tour at the festival. The initiative will travel coast to coast giving away $1 million in monetary DMR tokens in 45 days to assist people in actualizing their dreams. Through the Dream Machine Tour, Musco “King Kell” Adams, a 21-year-old barista and singer-songwriter facing homelessness, was granted the opportunity to perform at Life is Beautiful. King Kell covered “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. Adams also performed his first in-studio original song, a collaboration with Aloe Blacc, which was only recorded a few days prior thanks to backing by the Dream Machine.
Live podcast tapings of Jackie Schimmel’s “The Bitch Bible” and “Stiff Socks” with Trevor Wallace and Michael Blaustein took place on Sunday.
Rihanna even showed up to watch boyfriend A$AP Rocky headline the Bacardi Stage, while Eilish, with a competing set time on the Downtown Stage, returned to the festival after a dynamic 2019 debut.
Pacha Group CEO Nick McCabe hung out in the artist hospitality compound with friends, talking about the upcoming Las Vegas debut of Pacha’s Ibiza production show, Lio at Bellagio.
The “Queen of House” Zarnaz Zandi hung out with Australian record producer Fisher, who performed at the Bacardi Stage.
Breakthru Beverage Nevada leaders, along with Pandora, Live Nation and MGM Resorts execs and casino moguls like Derek Stevens watched the closing performance from lavish hospitality suites overlooking the stage. Nightlife movers and shakers Brandon Cox and Bryce Giorgio from Tao Group/Hakkasan Group also made the scene as did head of artist relations Pedram Niazmand.
Ronn Nicolli, vice president at Zouk Group Las Vegas at Resorts World Las Vegas, who officially opened Zouk Nightclub over the weekend with Tiesto headlining, attended as well.
Since Life Is Beautiful takes place in the urban core of Downtown Las Vegas, it requires cooperation from the city, business owners and residents. Unlike Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival, which is held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Goldenvoice’s Day N Vegas hip-hop event on the Festival Grounds at the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South, Life is Beautiful canvasses the street, with the stages set in vacant lots.
In a 2019 report, the LVCVA calculated Life Is Beautiful would produce an economic impact of $43.5 million for the community with an expected attendance of “186,550 people, 42,000 of whom will come from out of town.” (For comparison, Electric Daisy Carnival — which was also canceled in 2020 and rescheduled from May to October 2021 — was estimated to have an economic impact of more than $200 million per year, bringing in around 450,000 people over three-days).
As real estate ownership inevitably shifts, the footprint can change as well. The majority of the private land on which Life Is Beautiful sits was part of the real estate portfolio owned by entrepreneur and former Zappos head Tony Hsieh, which is now being sold off following his unexpected death in November 2020. Hsieh left no will.
Nods to Hsieh’s impact on the event and on Downtown Las Vegas were seen everywhere, from street signs to his favorite quotes on the marquees of the vintage motels that dot the area. It was Hsieh’s passion for revitalizing Downtown Las Vegas that led to his $350 million Downtown Project fund, which was responsible for bolstering entrepreneurial ventures and catalyzing a community. He was also one of Life is Beautiful’s top benefactors.
“Everyone misses him and his impact is felt everywhere,” says Nyman. “I am sad he’s not here to revel in it, as his favorite thing was to see other people happy.”
And while Nyman said he did not know whether a venue change is eventually in the cards, he did share that the team is planning the 2022 festival — scheduled for Sept. 16 to 18 — and will continue working to make Life is Beautiful one of Las Vegas’ top live events, with a continued focus on the community empowerment of Downtown Las Vegas.
“A decade ago this area was all abandoned buildings and motels, now there are thriving businesses. It is our duty to carry on Tony’s mission of connecting people in positive ways through experiences, music, art and happiness,” Nyman says.
He adds, “Whether it’s the attendees and fans or the workers we are side by side with, there is an indescribable magic, energy and connection that comes from ‘live’ that can’t be duplicated in any other form.”