The doors close and I’m trapped inside. There’s no leaving now, not without a public heckling from the guys on stage. I came here to be entertained—not be the entertainment as part of a choir-oke. But, after an hour-long tutorial with Toronto-based Choir! Choir! Choir!, I’m belting out a two-part round of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” with a bunch of people I’ve never met before as part of Vegas’ Life is Beautiful Music & Art Festival. And, I have to admit, we sound pretty darn good.
Stepping out of the theatre into the blinding Las Vegas sunlight, I’m feeling elevated after bonding with a few hundred strangers to create something rather beautiful—quite fitting when you consider the festival’s name.
For three days, Life is Beautiful (LIB) takes over 15 fenced-off city blocks in downtown Las Vegas, overlapping the redevelopment zone of millionaire Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, which aims to revitalize the East Fremont area as a cultural hub. The result is a venue unlike anything else; using empty storefronts, historic bars, eateries and even back alleys as part of its footprint.
Prior to the festival, upwards of 15 of the world’s hottest urban artists are invited to create massive outdoor murals, unveiled at the start of the multi-day event. “We get to use buildings and infrastructure, we get to paint on all these [walls] so it’s like a giant canvas for us,” says Ryan Doherty, LIB’s chief experience officer.
Artists include Egle Zvirblyte, whose in-your-face works explore human relationships. Doherty points to Zvirblyte’s mural—a woman reclining with a big cat—at 7th Street, explaining she painted it in just two days. The art created for the festival stays up long after the stages come down; currently, there are about 40 murals on display.
During a single festival night, I check out Hannibal Buress’ comedy show at the Venue Vegas theatre, snack on ahi poke nachos from the 50 Shades Tastier food truck, see First Aid Kit (one of my favourite bands), lie on the grass beneath a 12-foot 3D-projected skull at Area 15, catch the B-Boy showdown in the Downtown Container Park, savour the results of a BBQ cook-out with celebrity chefs near the craft beer tent, wander Playmodes Studio’s Beams—an alley walk of spotlights and electronic beats—and ponder Lisbon artist Bordalo’s art installation Wild Wild Waste, made completely out of trash.
Just like Vegas itself, this festival is full of unexpected moments—like when Cirque du Soleil makes a surprise appearance on stage with indie pop band Foster the People to sing The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” And, it’s why Vegas does festivals like no one else.
Upcoming Las Vegas Festivals
(May 16 to 20, July 4 to 8, August 1 to 5 and August 29 to September 2)
The annual music fest, held over multiple weekends, features acclaimed DJs—such as Diplo, Tiësto and Major Lazer—spinning everything from electronic dance to hip hop and R&B.
(May 17 to 19)
This celebration of electronic music brings together hundreds of performers in a carnival atmosphere at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Shuttle buses operate between the festival and the city.
(September 20 to 21)
For two days, performers belt out blockbuster anthems at the T-Mobile Arena during one of the biggest multi-genre music events in the world.
(September 20 to 23)
The hottest musicians, comedians, artists, culinary and cultural talent flow into the streets of downtown as a symbol of unity, optimism and creativity.