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Life Is Beautiful Festival Helps Breath New Life Into Downtown Las Vegas

December 7, 2018

LOS ANGELES- The sounds of music and screaming filled the hot summer air of downtown Las Vegas every September. Throngs of excited festival goers crowd in front of the entrance of the Life Is Beautiful Music Festival, waiting to get in. One after another, they file through the security gates and into the colorful and loud blocked off streets of downtown Vegas.

Life is Beautiful is an annual three day music festival which takes place in September every year. It is held between 18 blocks in downtown Las Vegas, stretching down the iconic Fremont Street. Since its inception in 2013, the festival has grown to host around 50,000 people per day of the festival, according to Fremont Street Experience Chief Marketing Officer Paul McGuire.

The Life Is Beautiful is held in the area of the Fremont Street Experience, which is a seven-block entertainment district in historic downtown Las Vegas, Nevada and is known by some locals as “the old strip”. At one time it was the hub of the economy in Las Vegas, but as the city and the strip grew  the area fell out of favor with tourists and locals alike, seeing a period of disrepair and hardship.

“It used to be that all the major shopping was downtown, there was nothing on the strip, like it is now.” explained Joanna Cortez, a Las Vegas resident for over sixty years, “In the middle 1960s they started building more hotels on the strip and the downtown really went down. Everyone started to move away and go to the strip.”

However, attendees of Life Is Beautiful who had never been to the area would never know it had once been an area where people and art was scarce. In the last ten years, the area has seen an upswing of business and tourists coming into the area. The revitalization has not stopped there, with the Fremont Street Experience being approved for an estimated 33 million dollar upgrade by the Las Vegas City Council, earlier this year. Part of downtown’s new culture and push to reinvent itself can be attributed to the Life Is Beautiful Festival. 

“Interest in downtown and Fremont Street Experience has grown substantially during this time period (since 2013). Events like Life is Beautiful have been an important aspect of creating greater awareness of downtown Las Vegas and its diversity of offerings.” McGuire explained.

As Fremont Street has changed and expanded so has Life Is Beautiful. In the five years since the  event started, its notoriety and popularity has grown. From 2013 to 2018, the number of individual attendees has jumped by over 100,000 per year. This can possibly be attributed to the festival bringing in bigger names each year. The 2018 headliners were The Weekend, Travis Scott, Florence and the Machine, and Arcade Fire, all artists who have either won or been nominated for a Grammy. 

 “My favorite thing about the festival was that it offered diverse artists” Marcela Lozano, an attendee last year said, “There was something there for everyone in our group, but I was most excited for The Weekend.”

In 2017, the festival sold out for the first time. Its website boasts that the same year they also earned the honor of being named Festival of the Year by Pollstar, a trade publication that covers the worldwide concert industry. This popularity has not stopped yet as they sold out the 2018 festival as well. This spike in numbers brought over 175,000 people into the area for the three day festival. These numbers have helped  bring in tourists by the thousands into an area where many have never been to or have not been to for years. 

“I had never been to that part of Las Vegas before.” Lozano said, “I always just went to the strip. I honestly thought the strip was downtown.”

 Life is Beautiful is unique from other music festivals like Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival, because it is in the middle of a metro area which means there are established shops, motels, and restaurants within the festival grounds. The vast number of people coming into the area for the festival has been beneficial for the businesses on Fremont Street both inside and outside of the festival limits.

“The festival itself does very well as well as the surrounding businesses (bars and restaurants) that are located inside the event footprint.” McGuire said.

One of these businesses is Evel Pie, a pizza place just outside of the festival grounds which opened its doors in 2016.

“It’s one of the busiest times of year. After the festival we see a lot of people flooding in.” said Branden Power, a managing partner of Evel Pie. “It was definitely a factor in why we came to the area.”

While all businesses on Fremont Street have seen an influx of people during this time, not all of them see as big an impact. Life Is Beautiful brings in all age groups, including some that are too young to gamble and drink and the other attendees don’t always stay around to gamble at the casinos downtown.

“Fremont Street Experience partner hotel-casinos see a bump in room occupancy, but attendees don’t generally purchase food and beverage inside the hotels and they also don’t gamble.” McGuire explained. 

In a city renowned for its gambling and Casinos this can be looked at by some as a downside. Another complaint that the festival has received especially in the last two years is the amount of traffic it and the iHeartRadio Music Festival, which is also in Vegas the same weekend, has caused for attendees and locals. 

“There was a lot of traffic getting to the festival,” Lozano said, “The drive was supposed to be 20 minutes, but it took almost an hour.” 

However, Vegas’s traffic problem is not only attributed to this weekend, but seems to be becoming a constant complaint from some of those who live in Vegas. 

“You can’t even get across Vegas anymore,” Cortez complained, “And that (Life Is Beautiful) definitely brought in even more. It’s just terrible.”

For many however, the traffic and thousands of people coming into Las Vegas during this weekend is well worth the inconvenience. 

“We deal with it. We’ve been here all this time.We are a service town. The more people coming in is just more money for the people that live and work there.” Cortez explained. 

The festival and the downtown area seem to be in a beneficial partnership with each other. Life Is Beautiful is bringing a new and different demographic into the area, while Fremont Street allows the organizers to hold the festival at a lower cost than anywhere else in the city.

“Costs are a fraction of what it would cost to hold a festival on the Las Vegas Strip, and downtown businesses are very much open to throngs of people looking to have a great time.” McGuire said.

The impact of the festival seems to be lasting more than just one weekend. Many of the art pieces and murals that Life Is Beautiful installs for the festival every year are left in the downtown  long after the festival has finished.

“Downtown Las Vegas has a unique energy, and Life is Beautiful is a great example of an event that not only reflects what downtown is, it has helped shape how downtown is perceived.” McGuire said.

The festival has  become one the main events and attractions associated with Fremont Street. Each year it brings in more and more people and leads to the area becoming more prominent in the landscape of Las Vegas in both tourists and locals’ minds.

“I loved the spirit of the place. To me it seemed less commercialized than the strip.” Lozano said, “Me and my friends were already talking about coming back this year.”

The locals seem to agree. Many frequenting the new food places, and fun events like Life Is Beautiful that are now becoming the new norm of downtown Las Vegas.

“It’s a young person’s place,” Cortez explained, “All of my nieces, nephews, and grandkids always go down there now, but even my friend who is 70 something went down the zipline on Fremont Street. There is a new culture down there. A lot more art and color than ever before”

Life is Beautiful has brought thousands of people, art, and a new culture in downtown Las Vegas. While it is a short event, it has a tremendous impact on how people perceive the area and the businesses inside it. It has helped shape the landscape of downtown into a place for tourists and locals to flock to see art, eat good food, and have a good time.

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