Life is Beautiful: A festival and a headache

Life is Beautiful: A festival and a headache

Written by John L. Smith

For the past two years, Life is BeautifulÕs promoters have managed to cram more than 60,000 paying customers into the downtown area for their wildly popular music and art festival.

ItÕs growing entering its third year with the event scheduled for Sept. 25 to 27. ThatÕs all good news for the Downtown Project, which makes great use of the crush of partying humanity. Other major downtown stakeholders benefit, too, and Life is Beautiful is generally perceived as a big winner for the facilitators at the city of Las Vegas.

So youÕd think with all that going for it, and all the positive press coverage the event has received to date, the promoters and their pals at the city could find a way to assist a few hundred little people the festival overwhelms when it arrives like a merrymaking Goliath.

If this subject sounds familiar, itÕs because I wrote about it last year. A couple of meetings were attended and a few ideas were batted around, but in the end the festivalÕs sound blew some folks out of their apartment, and the tangle of security and perimeter fencing was a torment to churchgoers in the immediate area. And that was better than the treatment they received the first year.

This year, meetings and conversations are taking place at an increased rate. City officials, rarely accused of being focused on their most vulnerable constituents, are talking the talk about making substantive improvements.

But, well, apartment complex owner Doug DeMasi isnÕt buying it. Not yet, at least. HeÕs heard those encouraging words before.

DeMasi says many of his tenants are elderly and handicapped. Most are on fixed, subsistence incomes. ÒWhen they set the main stage the first year, it was literally 125 feet from the speaker boxes to the living room of the elderly people,Ó he says.

Churches in the area have complained about the noise and that the security and fencing prevent parishioners, some of them disabled, from accessing their spiritual sanctuary without great effort and occasionally being hassled by event staff.

A call for comment from Life is Beautiful officials wasnÕt returned on deadline. Neither Ward 5 City Councilman Ricki Barlow nor his special assistant Joe Mitchell were available Tuesday.

But in a May 11 email to DeMasi, Mitchell expressed optimism that a suitable compromise might be reached.

ÒLast weekÕs meeting seems to be a better start to what the East Fremont residents need. As I shared with you afterwards, the City will be more engaged. I like your suggestions of sound buffers, and of course, (Life is Beautiful) must effectively follow through on their commitments.Ó

The meetings have produced no shortage of suggestions to improve the quality of the localsÕ lives during the festival. DeMasi sounds more than a little skeptical.

ÒWe were stonewalled until recently,Ó DeMasi says. Of the cityÕs apparent concern he says, ÒI think itÕs a ruse. At this point theyÕre talking to me, and itÕs Joe MitchellÕs job to B.S. me.Ó

Life is Beautiful is different from some other outdoor festivals that have found homes here. The Electric Daisy Carnival takes place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The recently concluded Rock in Rio happened in a transformed lot at the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South. Unlike the others, Life is Beautiful is staged in an area that has mixed business and residential use nearby. Downtown is changing, and Tony Hsieh and his friends at Downtown Project have assembled big pieces of the real estate puzzle. But there remain apartment dwellers, most of them elderly or poor, and church parishioners in the immediate area of the festival.

ÒWhen do the churches get quiet enjoyment during worship services,Ó Rev. Steve Smith, who has a small ministry and homeless outreach, recently wrote to a city official.

So far, heÕs received no satisfactory answer. But thereÕs still time to arrive at a workable compromise. Is there an appetite?

If those calls for help fall on deaf ears, city officials wonÕt be able to blame the speakers at Life is Beautiful.

John L. SmithÕs column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Find him on Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Life is Beautiful: A festival and a headache