Take Me Down to Festival City

A growing number of major festivals — and more arenas on the drawing boards — may find Vegas changing yet again

On Tuesday, workers were still breaking down the weekend’s Life is Beautiful festival — fencing still shrouded many of the 15 blocks of downtown Las Vegas that were closed off for the urban festival. Some streets were still closed. Inside the shuttered Western Hotel, which had been converted for the festival into a series of fine-art galleries and video-viewing rooms, artists were straggling in to reclaim their work and rehash the three-day event. Most of the comments were in agreement with that of an energetic young video artist: “It was amazing!” Some 90,000 people were said by festival organizers to have cycled through Life is Beautiful, to catch the bands, see the art, listen to the speakers (a talk by members of Pussy Riot was an especially tough ticket) and gobble food prepared by the Strip’s top chefs.

Beyond the fence, on Facebook and hyperlocal neighborhood sites such as Nextdoor.com, attendees and nearby downtown residents were still debating the merits of the festival — and its demerits (noise complaints from downtown residents, particularly focused on Skrillex).

Well, you have a year to brace yourself for 2015’s edition, downtowners, because LiB founder Rehand Choudry told local media the festival is committed to its downtown footprint.

The Las Vegas Sun also noted that the festival, in its second year, hasn’t made any money yet. (“Did anyone pay for their wrist bands?” a Facebooker wondered.) But the potential is obviously there, and LiB is looking like a major player in a burgeoning festival economy in Las Vegas. The Electric Daisy Carnival, the nation’s largest dance-music festival, has held three annual rave-ups at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They bring untold thousands of Generation Selfie’s most curiously dressed partiers to the city every June; they pump hundreds of millions into the local economy. The I Heart Radio Festival is another notable, if not quite as ballyhooed, event. They join the venerable National Finals Rodeo every December and a yearly NASCAR race.

And as LiB sets by Kanye West, Foo Fighters and Lionel Ritchie (!) still echoed, this week brought a reminder of a huge new entry into the Sin City festival scene: Rock in Rio, a two-weekend event set for May 8-9 and 15-16. Taylor Swift, Metallica, Bruno Mars, Linkin Park (!) and many other acts have been announced. It will take place on the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds, at the north end of the Strip, near the new SLS.

“Las Vegas dreams big, and I dream big, also,” Rock in Rio founder Robert Medina told Sun columnist John Katsilometes.

Indeed. In addition to the music on multiple stages, look for a Ferris wheel and zipline, both of which Vegas already has, of course, as well as themed “streets” for food, shopping and other entertainment.

This ramped-up festival element is an interesting development for a city that has traditionally relied on gaming, and later shopping and dining, as its profit centers. For much of its history, Vegas treated entertainment as a loss-leader, something to get people in the doors, relaxed and happy, before they squandered their money at the tables.

That’s changed by now — and more changes are likely. The city’s also undergoing something of an arena race, with MGM building a 20,000-seater between its Monte Carlo and New York-New York properties on the Strip, and a group of investors pushing hard (though with mixed results so far) for a downtown events stadium.

And just this week, a former basketball player, Jackie Robinson, who fronts a team of developers, announced plans for yet another stadium on the Strip — a $1.4 billion sports and events facility with a retracting roof. It still has plenty of red tape and regulatory hurdles to get over. Meantime, we await word on whether it will have a Ferris wheel or zipline.