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September 2, 2014

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Downtown’s Life is Beautiful festival off to peaceful start

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Joe Schoenmann

Justin and Adrienne Arbitrario set up camp for Life is Beautiful in the middle of Ogden Avenue downtown.

Updated Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 | 11:36 p.m.

2013 Life is Beautiful: Day 1, Part 1

Childish Gambino performs during day one of the Life is Beautiful festival in downtown Las Vegas, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The pace of life downtown was unusually mellow Saturday afternoon, the first of the two-day Life is Beautiful festival, expected draw some 20,000 per day.

Police reported no arrests or citations by 5 p.m. Traffic was a snap, and the festival’s shuttle service and ample local parking saw makeshift $20 lots set up by opportunistic residents go largely unused.

A number of ticket scalpers flanked the blocks surrounding the festival gates, but their presence dissipated by late afternoon. (At press time, the festival had not sold out.)

Music from bands including former Las Vegans Imagine Dragons, Alabama Shakes and Beck filled the streets; the aroma of cooked meat and savory dishes from the Strip’s top chefs and eateries filled the air, and people walked breezily down the streets taking in sights and sounds all too rare for the city’s urban core.

Adrienne and Justin Arbitrario had one of the best seats in the city, sitting on two chairs smack dab in the middle of Ogden Avenue just west of 6th Street. The Arbitrarios live in the suburbs but aren’t strangers to downtown — they’ve even thought of getting a condo down here.

“It’s dope,” Justin said of the festival.

A block east, one of the more popular resting spots on the relatively hot October afternoon was a faux grass park built between the Town Lodge and Las Vegas motels on 7th Street. Potted trees and bushes lined the roughly quarter-acre of real grass, which had been imported and put down the day before.

Life Is Beautiful Murals

Interesni Kazki works on a mural on the Emergency Arts Building. Launch slideshow »

People sprawled and sat on the grass, taking in murals painted on the walls of the motels in the last week. Mural photos, especially in front of the 120-foot long piece completed by Zio Ziegler over six days, have been getting snapped all afternoon.

Shelly Kang, a 10-year Las Vegas resident, had her picture taken in front of the mural. She lives in Green Valley but isn’t a stranger to downtown.

“Mayor Oscar Goodman just did so much for the area,” she said.

The festival only strengthened her faith in the area.

Changing people’s view of downtown is no small feat, but it’s clearly one of the aims of the festival.

Sitting with friends in the Atomic, MGM Grand President Scott Sibella marveled at the festival and its capacity to present the urban core in a different light.

“This is really good for the city,” Sibella said. “I left (downtown) 20 years ago and I never thought I’d be back. Here I am. They’ve done a remarkable job.”

Indeed, for locals who remember downtown Las Vegas as the rotting core of the city, the redevelopment is fairly remarkable, to say nothing of Life is Beautiful.

At the same time, however, a number of homeless pitched on abandoned stoops along Carson Street and begging on street corners just beyond the festival gates served as a stark reminder of the increasing stratification and socioeconomic tensions that have come as a byproduct of what many refer to as the gentrification of downtown.

Estimating the festival’s cost is something of a sport downtown lately. One downtown business owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, guessed $12 million.

“They’re putting lipstick on a pig and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I’m looking at it as strictly a marketing campaign.”

For outsiders, however, the fun is all the festival entails. How they get around, what they taste, see and hear will determine their long-term view of downtown Las Vegas.

Tucker Gumber, 30, understands that perhaps more than anyone else.

Gumber is known as the Festival Guy; he writes about them at his website.

His love for festivals stems from the feeling he gets when he’s there. “Everyone’s on vacation at the same time and … it’s the freedom and the enjoyment to be around other people who are having their favorite day of the year.”

Calling this a “mid-major” festival, Life is Beautiful is his 19th festival this year. He says that “within two hours” he can usually tell if the event is going to be grating or good. By 2:30 p.m., Saturday, he had a good feeling, largely because the sound emanating from the numerous stages was so clean.

Some other Gumber insights:

• The $10 cost of most food was “totally acceptable” — “I feel like I’m paying extra because the people serving the food have to miss the festival.”

• He found drinks between $7 — “good” — and $9 — to which he shook his head.

Some of the festival’s performers struggled with a lack of communication from its organizers. Britta Phillips, of the indie pop duo Dean & Britta, admitted that the band struggled to get proper instructions as to where to park their van and unload equipment.

The duo, who also played in the ’90s indie rock band Luna, were enlisted to perform their original score to 13 Andy Warhol screen tests at Life is Beautiful. Despite Dean & Britta’s international fanbase, the striking performance, which was organized in partnership with the Bellagio’s “Warhol Out West” exhibit, failed to draw a significant crowd. Their names did not appear anywhere on the festival program or its website.

“I’m not sure what our role in the festival was,” said Phillips. Though the band enjoyed their experience at the festival, she said, the pair was initially promised a separate outdoor stage and large screen built for their performance. Instead they played on the indoor stage of the Fremont Country Club with a small projector screen.

“We were just really confused. There was not a lot of communication from the organizers,” she said.

One festival organizer said some glitches are expected in a first festival, especially one of this magnitude.

And the experience for many festival-goers was positive. Patrick Duffy, curator of the Art Odyssey art show, said most everyone who went through the Odyssey talked positively about the festival.

“Everyone seems to be having a great time,” he said.

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