The highly anticipated downtown Las Vegas Music Fest “Life is Beautiful” kicked off Friday, October 26 with eager festival attendees ready to embark on a two-day journey to explore music, food, art and inspiration. The inaugural festival spanned a 15 block radius in the heart of downtown Las Vegas- the center of a burgeoning cultural arts movement near Fremont Street surrounded by funky bars and vintage Vegas hotels.
Six stages set the scene for an action-packed weekend that united the most experienced festival goers with the novice hipsters and baby-boomers alike. Up and coming artist ZZ Ward helped kick off the festival Saturday afternoon with her soulful and sassy vocals with such songs such as “Til the Casket Drops” and “Put the Gun Down.” The young artist, who joined her father’s blues band at age 12, recently launched the “365 Days Of ZZ Ward” Facebook app to engage with her fans and showcase and plot their first connection with her. This will allow fans to get a sneak peak on new and exclusive ZZ Ward content. “I have amazing fans and we really love to keep them involved as much as we possibly can,” said Ward in an interview at the recent festival.
Dawes opened the weekend with cuts from their latest LP Stories Don’t End on the main Downtown Stage. On the other side of the festival, on the slightly smaller Ambassador Stage, Jack’s Mannequin and Leukemia survivor Andrew McMahon took the stage supporting his latest 2013 solo album The Pop Underground. He played an energizing set with many classic Jack’s Mannequin tunes by opening up with “Dark Blue” and playing other hits such as “La La Lie,” “Amy, I,” and “Wrecking Ball Heart” and went on to play “I Woke Up in a Car” from his former band Something Corporate. The mid-afternoon welcomed Youngblood Hawke on the Huntridge Stage (the third largest stage) known for their recent hit “We Come Running.”
Alabama Shakes were a powerful start to a strong Saturday night line-up on the Downtown Stage. The Shakes (who answered the question on everyone’s mind….“Yes we are really from Alabama”) kicked off the set with tracks from their breakthrough debut album including the fan favorite “Hold On.” Brittany Howard, whose deep vocals channel a modern day Janis Joplin, is continually gaining more and more fans with her earnest delivery and heartfelt singing.
Local and fan favorite Imagine Dragons offered festival goers a taste of Las Vegas during their last song “Radioactive.” Fans were surprised and enthralled as acrobats from Cirque du Soleil’s show Mystere appeared on stage one by one in theatrical costuming, twisting and turning, and becoming more impressive with the buildup of the song’s momentum. “Doing it the way Vegas does- over the top,” lead singer and Las Vegas native Dan Reynolds boasted to the audience with sincere appreciation and love for Sin City.
Beck proved to be one of the festival’s favorites for the weekend. Donned in a black jacket and black hat, one could easily confuse him with the reality show “Amish Mafia.” Beck performed for 90 minutes and took fans on a journey from years past with “Loser,” early in his set. Hits from his popular “Odelay” album flooded the set (“Hotwax,” “Where It’s At,” “Sissyneck” among them) and transitioned into a solo harmonic tune of “One Foot in the Grave.” His set was quirky, yet entertaining, and even covered Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” towards the end. Beck just announced that his upcoming album “Morning Phase” will be released by Capital Records in February.
The tough decision Saturday night was whether to see Kings of Leon or Pretty Lights who played simultaneously at competing stages. Kings of Leon offered a raw rock show complete with LED screen adorning the backdrops and pyrotechnical flair. An energetic 90 minute set that varied speed with fast rock and slow tempo beats. Lead singer Caleb Followill belted out “The Bucket” and “Notion” without missing a beat. The encore “Sex is on Fire” had the 15,000 plus crowd on its feet wanting more.
SUNDAY 10/27 : DAY 2
Sunday seemed like a lighter crowd as many festival goers were nursing hangovers and headaches from day one. The new Michael Jackson Cirque Show “One” showcased a 20 minute performance at the Downtown Stage.
In addition to the music element of the festival, another core foundation of the weekend was art. The dilapidated Town Lodge Motel came to life as “The Odyssey,” with a different art exhibit in each of the 21 hotel rooms, featuring local artists as young as 11 years old. Another core keystone of the festival was food. The “Culinary Village” featured local celebrity chefs with the finest establishments showcasing Chefs Cat Cora, Rick Moonen and Tom Colicchio, among many others.
Music was the main festival element and included many surprises throughout the two-day period. One surprise was Los Angeles trio Haim performed on the Huntridge Stage. While some of the tunes were 80’s and 90’s throwbacks, their current dance beat rock jams are a fresh touch on today’s music scene. They have a rock and roll vibe with dance friendly tunes. Crowd favorites played were “Falling” and the keys/guitar tune “Honey & I” and “The Wire.” Alana Haim shouted to the lively crowd “Enough pussyfooting around Las Vegas! It’s time to start the party.”
The evening picked up with Jurassic 5, Passion Pit and Vampire Weekend. The big question Sunday night for many was whether to see The Killers or Empire of the Sun. This was one of the downsides of the music lineups, many headlining bands at the same time, forcing people to try to catch both sets by going back and forth from the Main Stage to the Ambassador Stage- a 10 minute walk.
Down at the Ambassador Stage, Empire of the Sun came out raging from the get go. Their EDM beats, visuals, outfits and dancers parallel them with Cirque performers on the Las Vegas Strip. This electro/rock act was a great addition to this lineup and featured tunes from their latest LP “Ice on the Dune,” as well as their classic hit “Walking on a Dream.” Their last appearance was at the Electronic Daisy Carnival in June.
However, there was no doubt about it: The Festival closed out Sunday night with Las Vegas legends The Killers. “You’re either with us or against us,” lead singer Brandon Flowers stated to a packed house of loyal fans. The Killers performed for 90 minutes to a sea of devoted fans. The band acknowledged their Vegas roots with their rendition of “Viva Las Vegas” and shared stories of living and working in Las Vegas. Actress Charlize Theron, who is featured in The Killer’s “Crossfire” music video as the heroin who rescues Flowers from a group of Ninjas, was spotted in the crowd supporting her fellow actor and friend.
With so many options for music, food, and art this festival could easily be a three or four day event and hopefully will be expanded next year. Life is Beautiful organizers have reported the festival was a success and are planning to come back in 2014. As the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas continues to grow- this festival will only get more beautiful.
Photos by Paul Citone