Best and Worst of Life is Beautiful 2018

After a rocky first few years that had the festival’s future in doubts, Life is Beautiful 2018 proved the festival is here for the long haul. The downtown Las Vegas staple returned this past weekend with another massive crowd.

A music festival in Las Vegas can be a tricky predicament. You’re competing with so many other things going on around town. But the festival has tinkered and tinkered and found just the right aesthetic and vibe now in its sixth year.

One key to the festival’s success has been that the first performer isn’t on stage until 3 PM. With the Vegas heat at or approaching 100 degrees all weekend, limiting people’s exposure to it as much as possible was necessary. It also allowed people to still do their regular Vegas thing — hit the clubs on the Strip when the festival wrapped at 1 AM, or a daytime pool party before heading into the gates. I personally never made it home before 3 AM from Thursday until Sunday night (and am still recovering).

There’s so many things that help Life is Beautiful stand out amidst a crowded festival landscape. There’s a million reasons it’s become a favorite festival of mine.

Here’s a recap of what made this year’s edition stand out.

BEST: The little things, integration of Las Vegas

A good city festival is one that incorporates aspects of the location as much as possible. Downtown Las Vegas is very much its own distinct place. To me, it’s like Los Angeles neighborhood Silverlake but on crack. That Life is Beautiful takes place on the city blocks of downtown is so unique and the festival does a good job of playing it up. So many people I know that have been to Vegas many times have never hung out downtown and always stay on the Strip. Life is Beautiful does an amazing job of making you want to explore downtown more. That’s not to say they don’t completely ignore the Strip — Cirque du Soleil has been incorporated almost every year, like with Foster the People’s finale playing a cover of “Hey Jude”. That was epic.

The Ambassador Motel sign near the Bacardi Stage always displayed lyrics from that stage’s most prominent performers. The Container Park grasshopper shooting fire to the beat of music playing is a nice touch. Being able to stop into Atomic Liquors for a drink and some AC was much needed at the end of a long weekend while waiting for ODESZA.

BEST: The vibes

What keeps me coming back more than anything is the general positivity of the festival. It’s important to cultivate a good experience and Life is Beautiful does a good job. There’s nothing worse than going to a festival and having it spoiled by douchebros and stuck up girls shoving their way to the front when you’ve been waiting all day. Or kids tweaking out on too much molly. Sure, this year’s lineup catered to a heavily teen audience, but I didn’t find any that were disrespectful.

My favorite moments of the weekend had less to do with the music and more to do with the people. It was a stranger grabbing my hand during Florence + The Machine when Florence Welch asked the crowd to do so. It was the end of the weekend during Jungle dancing and singing along with complete strangers. I’ve been to somewhere in the ballpark of two dozen different festivals across the country, and Life is Beautiful stands out as one where people let their guard down more. It makes it easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger. It makes it easier to ditch the friends you traveled to the festival with in order to catch a set you want to see when everyone else wants to go somewhere else. That’s what will keep people coming back for me.

I’ve read that some people had bad experiences in crowds this year. The most common reason was people at the front of crowds not being respectful while camping at a stage for headliners. Some people were just meh during CHVRCHES while waiting for The Weeknd. I’ve found I have more fun later in the evening if I’m in the middle of a crowd unless it’s a band I really love and have to be right up close to. I also generally stayed away from the front of the rap and EDM crowds because that’s where I’ve had trouble in the past with disrespectful teenagers.

WORST: Entrance security was too lax

I feel a bit like the kid raising his hand in class to ask what the homework is as the bell is about to ring. But considering last year’s tragedy in Las Vegas a week before Life is Beautiful, I was expecting a lot more diligent security checks at the entrance this year. I had a clear backpack but the main pocket had a sweatshirt in it. I went to open the bag the first day so the security lady could look through it real fast and she said “I can see everything” and didn’t even open it. The metal detectors are obviously a big help to catch weapons, but if you’re not even going to do a brief run through bag, what’s the point? The inside of the festival felt more secure, though.

Jungle

BEST: Closing out the weekend with Jungle at Fremont Stage

The Fremont Stage was mostly reserved for electronic-leaning acts, but Sunday night the second-to-last act was neo soul collective Jungle. It was probably the set I was most looking forward to all weekend because it was the first show I’ve seen of theirs since they dropped their awesome new album this year For Ever.

They overlapped with half of ODESZA and half of DJ Snake, so the tent wasn’t as packed as it normally is. That was fine, because it gave the necessary room to dance. And that’s what this crowd did nonstop, as Jungle ripped through a groovy as fuck set that had me sweating much more than the Vegas heat was responsible for during the day. I bumped into a girl I knew and her group of friends. One of them was really into the Jungle set, but her group of friends were leaving to go to DJ Snake. I could see a look on her face that she wanted to stay, I told her she shouldn’t leave. She said she had lost her phone and had no choice. Since I knew her friend and had her number I told her my friend and I would get her back to her friends after the set, which allowed her to enjoy the rest of the show.

I was worn the fuck out by getting maybe 10 hours of sleep all weekend heading into that set. But the adrenaline took over and I moved my feet nonstop, singing and smiling until my face hurt and my voice was gone. That caught the attention of this girl behind me who grabbed me on the arm and beamingly said something to the effect of “I’m so fucking happy that you’re enjoying this as much as I am right now!” and from there the four of us all had a little dance circle the rest of the time. It’s always good to end the festival on a high note like that.

BEST: Branching out with free pre and after-parties

It’s good to see as a festival expands that they start to branch out and offer more events outside of the festival hours around town. If you got in Thursday night, you could have seen Wiz Khalifa at The Foundry at the SLS Hotel for free. Other days, they had pool parties at the Downtown Grand featuring Sir Sly and Cold War Kids (I didn’t make it to those). The real highlight for me was Saturday night seeing St. Vincent do a DJ set at Gold Spike. It was a free event put on by FLOODFest and it was never too crowded that people couldn’t make it in. Then, since it’s downtown Vegas, you could get beers for like six bucks. It’s always nice to have somewhere to go after the festival when your adrenaline is still up, and there were plenty of offerings. One thing I’d love to see however is for them to have night shows the same way Outside Lands and other festivals do. Would be cool to see some of the bands lower on the bill play full shows around downtown.

Arcade Fire

WORST: Too much corporatization

As a festival scales up, it’s normal to see it start attracting more and more national brands and sponsors. I’m not gonna hate on Life is Beautiful getting their money wherever they can, but it was a little bit much this year and is starting to resemble Lollapalooza. Reddit user IAmMisterPositivity put it succinctly, calling it “the Bacarditm Life is Beautiful Festivaltm (brought to you by Toyotatm and Dos Equistm“. That has also translated a bit into the lineup, with many more alt-radio friendly bands on the bill than ever before.

Tyler, the Creator

Five Favorite Sets of Life is Beautiful 2018

  1. Jungle — I brought a friend to catch Jungle’s set Sunday night that had never heard of them before. Afterwards she told me it changed her life. I was standing pretty close to where the soundboard was and everyone around me was feeling the show as much as I was. It sounded incredible and it was great to hear these songs from their new album brought to life. Shout out to the girl who asked me if I’ve ever been told I look like Justin Long and danced as hard as I did.
  2. Death Cab for Cutie — I was stoked when Death Cab was playing opposite The Weeknd as a Friday headliner. I’ve seen The Weeknd enough times that I didn’t need to catch him again, and Death Cab is one of my all-time faves. They played “Photobooth”, an old classic that made me feel old because I screamed in happiness and nobody around me really seemed to know it. Frontman Ben Gibbard complained about technical difficulties and there was a false start to one song, but nobody seemed bothered. I’d also like to go on record saying I can’t think of many better ways to end a day at a festival than “Transatlanticism”. The build of the song at the end where it got to a point where I could scream “I need you so much closer” along with Gibbard at the top of my lungs and I couldn’t even hear myself was extremely cathartic. All of the feels.
  3. St. Vincent — I’m just going to come out and say it — Annie Clark is the epitome of Big Dick Energy. She has so much swagger and talent it’s unfair. I honestly didn’t love her newest album that much because I thought it obscured the guitars too much. But live, it’s a whole different beast. She absolutely shredded and her band is really talented. The visuals were so crazy that I’m glad this wasn’t like Coachella 2015 where I dropped acid before she played. Killer set top to bottom.
  4. Justice — I feel like the closest I’ll ever get to seeing Daft Punk is seeing Justice play a live show. I imagine the energy is somewhere in that same ballpark. They rocked the shit out of their show and everyone around me was having an absolute blast. They are legitimate subheadliners at any festival they play (and can headline many others).
  5. Tyler, the Creator — I’ve never been the biggest fan of Tyler’s aggressive rap but I also had never seen his show from this close before. He’s a really talented live performer who actually raps every bar instead of letting a backing track do all the heavy lifting. That’s an anomaly amongst today’s popular mainstream rappers. He’s also got quite a range, and pretty much coined a new genre of sadboy rap. Tons of respect. Sidenote: Saw the weirdest thing during this set. This group of people were in front of me, a couple of guys and girls. One of the guys and girls left to get beers, then the other guy and girl started making out. Then when the other two got back, that girl started making out with the guy who was making out with the other girl. It was like watching an episode of HBO’s Real Sex. So weird.

It will be interesting to see where Life is Beautiful goes from here. Once a music festival reaches that point of viability, a number of things can happen. We’ve seen the lineup become more mainstream since the early years and it’s resulted in back-to-back sellouts of their GA passes. The speakers series has more or less been scrapped in favor of a comedy aspect. Will the producers of the festival begin to rest on their laurels or will they continue to push themselves to improve each year? My gut feeling tells me it’s the latter.

Stay tuned for a full festival photo gallery! For now, check out our select photos from the festival below.

Words by Mark Ortega
Photos by Tim Aarons

CLICK HERE FOR OUR FULL LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL 2018 BAND GALLERY

CLICK HERE FOR ATMOSPHERE AND PEOPLE PHOTOS FROM THE FESTIVAL