How do you stand out in the overcrowded smorgasbord of festivals? I’ve been to many festivals across the country, as I’m sure my bank account can attest to (ouch). Within my various bouts of wanderlust, I always look for a music festival to bring new experiences to the table. Sure, you have a great lineup, but if I’m going to shell out $300, what else can you offer? I leapt at the chance of doing photography for Life is Beautiful Festival. It’s one thing to get a great lineup together (which Life is Beautiful had), but to also bring together a platform that stands out. Life is Beautiful Festival is located in downtown Las Vegas, over 15 blocks. Before and after you partake in your vices on the strip, you can check out the festival which is a short shuttle drive away. That’s a lot of walking; you won’t have to worry about leg day at the gym after this weekend. The weather was a perfect 80 degrees all weekend which was awesome considering when I left New Jersey, it was as foggy and dreary as a Twilight film.
I went in making it a point to catching as many sets as I could. There were so many good acts on the bill, how could I not? The festival owners did a good job in diversifying music genres to get people of all ages to come out. There were 90,000 people through three days. You would figure that there would be some claustrophobic moments, but everything was so spaced out that it was rare to get bunched up.
The first day, I went to see Phantogram, a two-piece electronic band from New York. It was a pretty trippy set that found keyboardist Sarah Barthel step away and lose herself dancing to the instrumental pieces in the music. From there, I ventured out to see a indie pop band that many should know now as Echosmith. They played an energetic set which included many young fans singing the words to their hit single “Cool Kids” in unison. I had a little commercial break for food. Did I mention that the festival had many top chefs in the world? You can feel free to indulge to replenish the calories you burn walking around the festival. I had to keep it healthy, it was all organic everything.
I went back at it checking out mashup specialist Girl Talk. It was an Animal House-like party and myself and other photographers were draped in toilet paper taking pictures. The band that had caught me by surprise was Switchfoot. They started their set with Beastie Boys‘ “Sabotage” right into “Meant To Live”. They brought together great energy. I used to love that song, good nostalgic flashback. At the end of the night, there was a choice between Kanye West and Panic! At The Disco. I literally have seen West in concert over a dozen times, so I split my time between his set and P!ATD. There were these three girls who literally stayed at the Ambassador Stage all day (festival started at 2:00 PM, mind you) to catch Panic’s set. Once they kicked in, a collection of screams rang through my earplugs. It was like a flashback to the 90’s boy band era all over again.
The second day, it brought us a set from Fitz and the Tantrums. If you have ever been to one of their shows, it’s hard to stand still. Afterwards, I killed some time and checked out one of the many speakers that went on throughout the weekend. Life is Beautiful Festival was also a platform for innovation and social change topics from various speakers around the word (Think TED talks). The main speakers were three members of Pussy Riot and they were actually very funny making light of the situations they been through.
Back to the show. Next up was the legendary band, The Roots. It was always on my bucket list to photograph them and I was glad that FINALLY happened. Around 8:30 PM, Lionel Richie goes on the main stage. It was PACKED with young and old fans alike. I know what you’re saying to yourself: “Lionel Richie, man?” Listen, not only were there totems of Lionel Richie all over the festival, we all waited for what was arguably the song of the festival. Yes, that one that you’re looking for…”Hello”. I’m pretty sure most of the crowd did not know the words to the actual verses, but chimed in when that faithful word came up. My favorite sets of the day came from Kimbra and Matt & Kim. Kimbra was very into her performance and just happy to be there. She performed many songs from her newest album, The Golden Echo.
The third day of a festival, you usually hit that “okay, it’s time to go home” phase, but I was kind of sad it was coming to an end. It was just…different. The atmosphere inhibited a friendly, laid-back vibe that encouraged people to be friendly and jovial. That’s hard to find at every single festival you go to. I watched a set from tUnE-yArDs, the brainchild of Merrill Garbus. This project has always been a favorite of mine and had a pretty well-sized crowd. From there, I sprinted to watch A-Trak to get my electronic fix (there was a lot of electronic music on this day). One of the main stage acts were the Arctic Monkeys and I remembered saying to myself, “Don’t screw this up”! For a pretty packed photo pit, the band played it cool and played a great set and I think I got some good shots as well.
At the end of the night, you had Skrillex on one side of the festival and the Foo Fighters on another. My legs felt like pure frozen jello at this point. I had to give myself a Rocky-like pep talk to get through running back and forth. Foo Fighters tore threw their classics like “Learn To Fly” and “Best Of You”; they even switched the lineup around and did some covers. Skrillex played his trademark cuts off his newest album, Recess. The crazy thing was how split the audiences were. Foo Fighters understandably had older fans, but all the younger fans went to check out Skrillex. It’s great planning because at this festival, there was something for everyone.
I bid my fellow photographer brethren adieu and headed back on the plane to the east coast the next day. We had all became friends throughout the long weekend. I highly suggest you check out Life is Beautiful Festival. It’s an excuse to go to Vegas, but it also appeals to all of your senses. Save up now and make the trip.