Before I begin what’s likely to become a very long wall of text and pictures, I’ll hit you with the three-sentence summary of my review for those of you who’re looking for the Cliff’s Notes: Move over, Coachella. I have a new favorite festival. It’s taken over the place you previously occupied in my heart, and its name is Life is Beautiful.

For those of you just tuning in, I have been hyping up Sin City’s Life is Beautiful Festival ever since I returned from Life is Beautiful 2013 — the festival’s inaugural year. Being a ravenous consumer of both music and food, I was intrigued by the concept of a festival that offered both a music and chef lineup and went into last year’s fest with very high expectations that were thoroughly shattered.

“If the lineup is half as good as it was this year, I’ll go back in heartbeat!” I thought to myself in 2013. Then I saw the 2014 lineup. Apparently Life is Beautiful is making a habit out of shattering my expectations.

Life is Beautiful

As I rolled up to the first day of the three-day fête, I had my fair share of reservations stemming mostly from concerns that the festival might have gone the way of Coachella and gotten “too big” now. The less-than-five-minute wait to waltz on into the festival partially assuaged my concerns. The rest of the weekend squashed them completely.

The first stop following a four-hour drive to Vegas? Food, of course. This year festival organizers ditched 2013’s culinary bazaar concept and opted to scatter various eateries around each stage and everywhere in between, a damn good call on their part as it allowed me to enjoy Phantogram’s stellar set at the Downtown stage over some food from celebrity chef Rick Moonen. Sarah Barthel may have been singing about having a “mouthful of diamonds and a pocketful of secrets,” but I was fairly content with a mouthful of lobster roll. From then on it was a nonstop blur of music, food, and fun in the sun for day one.

Life is Beautiful
Obligatory foodporn.

Largest Party: Girl Talk

Without a doubt, the crown for king of the party goes to mashup maestro Girl Talk. In keeping with his sports-themed stage setup, he emerged from the wings clad in sweatpants and a hoodie, but he unsurprisingly ditched the latter fairly early on in the dance-and-sweat fest. Deftly mashing up the likes of Flosstradamus and AC/DC, he delivered a high-energy set to an audience who arrived more than ready to dance their asses off with him.

Full-throttle mixing aside, stage antics with toilet paper guns, blasts of confetti, and a seemingly never-ending cache of inflatable beach balls also definitely helped liven things up.

Life is Beautiful

Most Heartfelt: Jenny Lewis

Donning one of her several trademark rainbow pantsuits, Vegas-native Jenny Lewis wowed a hometown crowd with a mix of her solo material and, of course, a handful of Rilo Kiley covers (“Silver Lining” anyone? Swoon.). Having never seen Lewis live before, I was floored by just how beautiful her voice sounded in person. She’s great on the albums, to be sure, but there’s a certain soulful je ne sais quoi that emanates from the feminine huskiness she’s known for when she’s standing a mere 10 feet away. The icing on the already-impressive cake was a flawless acoustic rendition of “Acid Tongue.”

Life is Beautiful

Biggest Pleasant Surprise: RAC

RAC is best known for their collaborations and remixes, so I was more than a little curious to find out what their live set would entail. I broke out in a huge grin when I heard them opening with their own remix of Joywave’s “Tongues,” a band and track I spent the better part of last year obsessing over. They continued the trend of being unexpectedly delightful with a cover of Two Door Cinema Club’s “Something Good Can Work,” and while neither Joywave frontman Daniel Armbruster nor TDCC frontman Alex Trimble were in attendance, Karl Kling did a more than respectable job filling in for them.

Life is Beautiful

RAC’s own tracks sounded equally on point, with “Ello Ello” and “Let It Go” highlighting the vocals of the oh-so-adorable Pink Feathers. Matthew Koma made a cameo to sing the summertime jam “Cheap Sunglasses,” which sounded every bit as infectious as the day it dropped. Those who had started the set sitting didn’t find themselves able to remain so for very long.

Life is Beautiful

Biggest Letdown: Kanye West

There are going to be those who say that Yeezy’s minimal performance was some elaborate, mainstream-shaking statement. I respectfully disagree.

I was slightly disappointed by the total lack of theatrics — instead of fireworks, Russian ballerinas, or any of the other acts of visual insanity I had heard about for performances past, the Life is Beautiful audience got little more than a rectangular pillar of a screen and West donning an inexplicable luchador-meets-BDSM mask — but let’s disregard all that and move onto the important stuff: the music.

Even if you forgive the lead-footed trudge of a first half, you still get a set rife with wonky flow, low energy, and a 10-minute rant about how “the media wants you to think [he’s] a bad guy…like bad in the same way as people who kill other people.” There are some journalists praising him for not going on a longer tirade. I think that’s kind of sad.

That’s not to say Kanye’s set was a complete bust. “Stronger,” “All Falls Down,” and “Gold Digger” were definitely high points, but after all I’ve seen and read about the guy, I expected a whole lot more from him. Judging by the droves that left as his set dragged on, so did a lot of other people.

Life is Beautiful