While walking aimlessly around a scorching, 100-degree Downtown Las Vegas, it occurred to me that the last time I had been here was 4 years ago at the markedly less sweltering 2014 iteration, a turning point that marked the moment that Life is Beautiful was given the number one spot in my running list of favorite festivals. With its great lineup, chill crowd, amazing food, and impressive appearances from the likes of Cirque du Soleil and other Vegas mainstays, it managed to outdo what had already been an impressive inaugural year back in 2013.

It goes without saying that Life is Beautiful 2018 had some very large shoes to fill. This year’s lineup, which included personal favorites Justice and The Presets as well as the introduction of a comedy roster featuring the likes of Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Yang and Michelle Wolf of White House Correspondents’ Dinner fame was decidedly strong so expectations were definitely high. The question is whether or not they were met.

Let’s run through how the event went with starting with…

The Awesome

The Headliners: Previous LiB lineups have been nothing to scoff at but 2018 might be one of the strongest yet. Festival heavyweights Arcade Fire and Florence + The Machine delivered electrifying sets that could be fairly likened to religious experiences while strong showings from a reunited N.E.R.D and The Weeknd peppered in a healthy amount of much-needed variety in the form of slickly produced hip hop beats.

The Standout Undercard: But large font headliners do not a festival make. Luckily this year’s undercard more than delivered. An energetic showing from Bastille may have been the most pleasant surprises of the festival.

St. Vincent delivered perhaps one of the strongest sets I’ve witnessed from her yet with her trippy visuals, enigmatic stage presence, and updated discography. No crowd surfing this time around but her always-on-point shredding skills more than made up for that.

Following the release of their self-described party album Hi Viz, The Presets threw down a dynamic set rife with bangers the likes of which I’d not seen since their appearance at Coachella 2011. While the crowd at The Fremont stage was comparatively smaller than it should have been (in my humble and biased opinion), the energy in it more than filled the tent.

Although sound issues affected sets from Sanitgold and Gramatik, both powered through and delivered solid sets under less than ideal circumstances (the latter ended up bringing out industrial fans in an effort to cool down his overheating laptop). While festival closers Jungle put the proverbial exclamation point on the whole event, I also have to give props to Flight Facilities, Elohim, and Robert DeLong for rounding out a music lineup that was consistently stellar across the board.

The Cirque du Soleil Cameo: The world’s most famous circus troupe is no stranger to Life is Beautiful but their appearance during a live rendition of The Beatles classic “Hey Jude” by Foster the People may have been their most magical yet.

Photo Credit: FilmMagic for Life is Beautiful

The Art: This year’s art offerings were on point per usual. Aside from the mural mainstays of previous years (which were awesome), there were quite a few more interactive offerings including pieces that I’d seen and fallen in love with at Burning Man which added enormously to the experience.

 

Justice Live: Notoriously hard-to-catch electro gods Justice may well have been THE set of the festival. Occupying a 1.5-hour slot, the Parisian duo’s set was rife an uncompromisingly epic combination of driving guitar riffs and face-melting bass culminating in a criminally excellent mashup of “D.A.N.C.E.,” “Fire,” and “Safe and Sound.”

The Good

The Food: Noticeably absent from this year’s roster was the cavalcade of chefs that, to me, was such a huge part of Life is Beautiful’s cultural identity in previously. The Cookout area did compensate someone with daily rotating options from various chefs priced at $12 a pop and the cocktail classes were great (though space was very limited), but it’s hard not to notice the lack of variety compared to past years. My guess is the amount of competition between those restaurant popups in years past made it difficult for any of them to break even hence the lack of presence this time around. The limited offerings they did bring out were delicious, though, so I can’t complain about that.

Jimmy O. Yang: In between promoting Crazy Rich Asians, Jimmy O. Yang made a pitstop at Life is Beautiful to headline Friday night’s comedy roster with a set that equal parts hilarious and relatable, particularly to those who come from minority/immigrant backgrounds (holla!!).

The Meh:

The Lack of Talks: Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely stoked about the addition of comedy and I can take the scaled down food options, but nixing the talks altogether was a definite bummer! Bring these back next year, please!

The Fremont Stage: Sound issues, lack of ventilation, and sealed exits are the trinity of a bad time at tent stage and, unfortunately, the Fremont Stage ticked all those boxes. It’s a bummer because the lineup of musicians in it was arguably the strongest and having shade was a welcome reprieve from the 100-degree heat.

Photo Credit: FilmMagic for Life is Beautiful

The Crowd: Owing to the fact that GA was sold out this year, there was markedly more congestion going to/from sets at LiB 2018 compared to years past. The increased crowd size and seemingly younger median age meant that some of the chill vibes that drew me to the event in the first place had diminished. Getting trapped by people pushing into the crowd at the end of St. Vincent’s set in anticipation of Miguel’s set a whopping 30 minutes later (DON’T DO THIS) and nearly getting my phone stolen out of my pocket at Justice (SERIOUSLY, DON’T DO THIS) were definite low points of an otherwise great event

Overall my experience at the sixth iteration of Life is Beautiful was overwhelmingly positive with some relatively minor downsides that were to be expected as a festival of this caliber grows. Has the honeymoon period worn off? Sure. Do I still love the festival enough to go again? Wholeheartedly yes. Life is Beautiful may not be the new relationship that I’m head over heels for but it’s a loving one all the same.

More Info:

Life is Beautiful