Ludacris needs a bigger stage.
By Jason Latham
We don’t have an official head count, but judging by the arena-sized audience standing shoulder-to-shoulder for the rapper/actor’s Life Is Beautiful Music and Art Festival performance, we’re guessing it was somewhere between everyone and everyone else. You know, the kind of crowd where you better hold onto your friend’s hand, because if you get separated, you’re never gonna find each other again.
But at least you’d still be in good company.
“How many real Ludacris fans are here tonight? How many Fast and Furious fans?” Luda asked early on, even though he knows we can be both.
Not too many artists can promise to take a crowd through their entire catalog and actually deliver, but he did his best, occasionally sacrificing some verses to speed up the transition from one song to the next.
And Ludacris deserves credit for keeping the energy up for an audience that had likely been on its feet for hours. He knows how to create anticipation and telegraph each track before getting into it. For example, when he asks how many Fast and Furious fans are in the house, you know that he’s about to drop “Act a Fool.” When he starts going off about “the 702” you know that he’s gonna rap about women that have carnal relations in exchange for financial compensation, in different area codes.
It was everything we came for.
Day Two Surprises
We all knew what to expect with Ludacris, and he delivered, but Life Is Beautiful is at its best when it drops a brand new obsession into your lap. One of Saturday’s most memorable discoveries has to be Chicago-based soul-house duo DRAMA. Making their Life Is Beautiful debut, vocalist Via Rosa and producer/DJ Na’el Shehade held the Bacardi Stage masses in a trance for more than 40 minutes before bringing out members of Las Vegas’ Blue Man Group to blast confetti and streamers into the crowd.
That was a good set.
Blue Man, BTW, was a frequent sight on Day Two; posing for pics and taking part in Life Is Beautiful’s House of Yes PRIDE parade.
Another welcome Saturday surprise: Surfaces, performing in the late afternoon at Downtown Stage. They’re a really good daytime band. You know how some music just sounds better during the day, like if you’re by the pool or at the beach? Surfaces does a good mix of pop, jazz, hip hop, and even calypso in there – it sounded a lot like As Cruel As School Children-era Gym Class Heroes, maybe that’s just my ear. Let’s just call it the legacy of Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom.” Yeah, that sounds about right.
Surfaces was already doing an excellent job just putting out a nice, chill vibe while the sun went down, and then they went ahead and did a cover version of Sugar Ray’s “Fly” just to seal the deal.
When an up-and-coming artist pays tribute to one of the greatest bands of all time, that’s respect.
Day Two of Life Is Beautiful gave everyone a chance to check out Strip nightlife residents Cash Cash and Dillon Francis without having to buy multiple tickets, and Illenium followed up his recent Allegiant Stadium show with a performance at Bacardi Stage.
We also got a chance to revisit some old friends, including Green Day, Modest Mouse, All Time Low, and fan favorite HAIM.
If you’ve still got your wrist band on you, and your outfit isn’t in complete tatters, you’ll want to make your way down for the final day of Life Is Beautiful, because some of the best is yet to come.
Sunday will see the likes of “PRBLMS” rapper 6LACK 8 p.m.), house DJ FISHER (9:20 p.m.), and A$AP Rocky (11 p.m.) on the Bacardi Stage; surf mesa (8:10 p.m.), Ekali (10:25 p.m.), and Gorgon City (11:45 p.m.) on the Fremont Stage; and SHAED (6:15 p.m.), St. Vincent (7:50 p.m.), and Young Thug (who’s now 30, but that’s still young, 9:25 p.m.) on the Downtown Stage.
Then, at 11:15 p.m., Life Is Beautiful is bringing out Billie Eilish (11:15 p.m., Downtown Stage) to close the festival. Nuff said.