Even When Familiar, Life Is Beautiful Can Still Be Fresh

From Arctic Monkeys to Calvin Harris, here's a full recap of the rip-roaring downtown music fest

We’re closing in on 10 years of the Life Is Beautiful Music and Arts Festival. If you’re a regular, it’s probably beginning to feel a little familiar—from the artist lineup to the fishnet fashions.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a good time.

The three-day concert bender still works as an escape from whatever is weighing on your mind. Though we’ve now got to face Monday morning reality again, we’ll look back on the last 72 hours fondly, if only because it allowed us to forget all our troubles, forget all our cares, and go downtown. Damn, wouldn’t it be something if Petula Clark had made the lineup?

Friday

Petula’s absence notwithstanding, Life Is Beautiful launched Friday with Cage the Elephant and Arctic Monkeys doing the heavy lifting on the Downtown Stage. Like many of this year’s performers, the two bands were among the returning champs to the festival, having performed here in 2017 and 2014, respectively. Also back for more on Friday: Jungle, Charli XCX, and frequent Strip nightclub headliner Alison Wonderland.

Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful

The most unexpected joy to come out of the evening? You gotta hand it to first-timer (and all-timer) Shaggy, if only because he put on a brilliant improv showcase during his Bacardi Stage set, with minutes upon minutes of entertaining filler in between his handful of hits. When they weren’t getting classics like “Mr. Boombastic” and “Angel,” the crowd found themselves treated to snippets of “Red, Red, Wine” and “Bad Boys” with a little Bob Marley medley mixed in there—and he even did a Mungo Jerry cover!

Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful

They loved it. They didn’t care if Shaggy paused in the middle of song to do a selfie bit or tell the people in the back to go to the front (or possibly the other way around, who can remember?). As long as he gave them “It Wasn’t Me” they’d be satisfied. And he did. Shaggy definitely lost a few people when he did a reggae version of Sinatra’s “That’s Life” and “Come Fly With Me,” but for the most part he delivered. Some of us came late though, did he do “Oh Carolina?”

Saturday

Shout out to anyone that found their way to the front of the Downtown Stage and rode those rails all day so they would have the best view of Lorde and Gorillaz. You’re committed, and that’s admirable.

Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful

For a lot of us, Saturday is the day to spend all day at Life Is Beautiful. Fortunately, low-to-mid 90s temperatures made it easier to bear, especially since the festival still hasn’t solved (and at this point, probably won’t) the challenge of finding enough picnic benches to accommodate exhausted attendees. 

Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful

But it’s all about the music, right? One perk of Saturday was seeing acts on repeat, as British songstress Hope Tala (making her Vegas debut), singer-producer Alexander 23, and L.A. EDM studs Phantoms all pulled double duty before nightfall. And while the aforementioned rail-riders held their position, the rest of us got to sample some of this year’s emerging artists and the international stars that, like Hope, were making their Life Is Beautiful debut. Among them, South Africa’s Kyle Watson, British rapper Slowthai, and Belgium’s Jerro.

It’s worth noting that Life Is Beautiful felt a little less packed at times this year, perhaps a consequence of a busy weekend in Las Vegas. Mexican Independence Weekend brought thousands to town for Canelo vs. GGG 3, the Rebels and Raiders (choke!) were both in town, and Saturday was Batman Day!

Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful

Fans, however, weren’t going to miss Lorde and Gorillaz. Yes, they’ve done this festival before, but the crowd was definitely ready for more.

Sunday

By Sunday, your feet might hurt, or maybe you’re sick of Pedialyte popsicles. None of that matters, because the festival won’t stop just for you, and that wristband didn’t pay for itself. So you soldier on.

The festival’s final day is a good time to explore what’s out of the ordinary, at least for downtown. Take the Western Country Club. Who’d have thought there’d be a country music experience at Life Is Beautiful? Even if you’re not into dressing up like it’s the 19th century, you can still have some fun learning to line dance. On the comedy front, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Latrice Royale dropped by the festival’s Kicker Comedy Club, which featured, among others, comics Marie Faustin and Sydnee Washington.

The rest of the day’s highlights included Satin Jackets and Australia’s Clinton Kane, both playing two shows, and the return of Big Boi, who hasn’t done a Vegas concert in more than 10 years. Later, in the final hours of the festival, the big crowds swamped the Bacardi Stage for another returning artist, Big Wild.

As usual, Life Is Beautiful saved the best for last, welcoming first-timer Jack Harlow to the Downtown Stage. The Louisville rapper—currently in the middle of his “Come Home the Kids Miss You” tour—lit up the night, showering the masses with hits “Talk of the Town,” “Churchill Downs,” and, of course, “First Class.” It was a highlight reel performance, and one that reminds you Life Is Beautiful is still capable of pulling off the big finale—think Post Malone’s festival debut in 2019 or Foo Fighters in 2014.

Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful

Only Harlow wasn’t the final act. This year, the honors went to Strip nightlife superstar Calvin Harris, who, at last, got to put on a real concert for the late-night Las Vegas crowd. For those remaining, i.e. those not worried about staying out on a school night, it was worth the wait.

Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful

So where do we go from here? Lord (not Lorde, the other one) knows who’s on the 2023 Life Is Beautiful wishlist, but here’s to hoping for a few more big name newcomers. It would be nice to get some fresher faces in there just to keep the crowd on their toes.

Alas, it wouldn’t hurt to throw another nostalgia act (or two) into the mix. Shaggy already got a mention, but Life Is Beautiful has also hosted, for example, Toto and Third Eye Blind—even Lionel Richie did it back in 2014. Maybe instead of Billy Ocean playing Silverton next month, he could have brought “Caribbean Queen” to the Bacardi Stage?


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