The Life is Beautiful Festival took over Downtown Las Vegas this weekend and seems to be a rousing success. Tens of thousands of people packed the 15-block festival site that more or less surrounded El Cortez for several blocks in each direction, but despite the big crowds and the fact that this was the first time the festival had been held, everything seemed to go smoothly, at least as far as I saw. Lines moved quickly, there were plenty of portable toilets, the entertainment was non-stop, the food fantastic, and the mood upbeat.
Below are some photos of my first day at the festival on Saturday.
Before the festival began, I took a walk down Fremont Street to get a look at how SlotZilla is coming along. The zipline attraction should be open by the end of this year. This is the rear of it, facing Las Vegas Blvd.
This is the front of SlotZilla. Just above the coins is where riders will emerge on the traditional seated zip lines. At the very top is where the "Zoom Line" originates, in which people "fly" superhero style at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour.
The Downtown Grand is debuting this weekend, right as the Life is Beautiful Festival wraps up Sunday night.
I got to the festival just as it was opening and there were already long lines to get in. The lines moved quickly, though, aided by electronic wristbands that were scanned for easy entrance and exits.
A mural on the parking garage for , one of many that have brightened up Downtown Las Vegas. The big white sign at the bottom asks people to write what made life beautiful for them. By mid-day it was full of musings from festival attendees.
Inside the festival grounds is the upcoming Downtown Container Park. Made of steel cubes and recycled shipping containers, the complex will feature more than 30 shops and restaurants, a park, and this, a fire-breathing praying mantis. Why? Why not?!
More than 60 restaurants and chefs set up shop in the Culinary Village at the festival. This was my first taste of the date, a fried chicken sandwich from Honey Salt, a popular local restaurant on the west side of town near Red Rock Resort. If the rest of their food is as good as this, it would be worth the drive.
Another mural, this one on the side of the old Western casino. It's hard to see but on the end is a giant spray paint can. I don't think the golf cart is part of the art.
Art is a big portion of the festival, done in fun and inventive ways. Here, budding Picassos can create a canvas using a high-powered paintball style gun.
Directly opposite the paint gun canvases was an opportunity to paint a brick that would get added to an "art wall." It had obviously just gotten started when I wandered by.
This was really cool - a 3-D mural, complete with 3-D glasses on a fence across the street. When viewed through them, the word AWARE and other things seem to hover out over the street. Wild.
Yes, they even created a new pop-up park for the festival, surrounded by murals and other art. It's really lovely.
Here, they took a rundown old motel and converted many of the rooms into individual art galleries.
Second food of the day: a BBQ pork sausage with spicy creole mustard. Wow that was hot.
Many of the shows on The Strip performed around the festival area. Here's Recycled Percussion getting their bang on.
Two tents had cooking demonstrations with big-name chefs wielding the knives. Here, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, also known as the Two Hot Tamales and owners of Border Grill demonstrate how to make a mojito before they moved on to a seafood ceviche.
Third food of the day, meatballs from Bratalian, another local's favorite in Henderson run by Chef Carla Pellegrino. AMAZING!
Cirque du Soleil had a dedicated performance area in the middle of Fremont Street, returning them to their roots as a street circus troupe. Here, the strength duo from Mystere find their balance.
The later in the day it got, the bigger the crowds got.
The Gazillionaire and his trusty assistant Penny Pibbets from Absinthe get ready to shock the festival with their R-rated, deliriously over-the-top antics. It was fall-down funny and incredibly profane - all I'll say is that it is amazing what people will do for free stuff.
Would I ride the big Ferris wheel despite my fear of heights just so I could get a good picture of the crowd?
Yes, I would. That's Beck performing on the main stage in front of thousands of people.
Sunday was just as jam-packed as the first. Here are some photos of what I got to see and do.
By Day 2 the sign seen above was full with signatures and notes from festival goers talking about what they thought made life beautiful.
First food of the day: traditional Bulgarian sausage from Bar Forte, a tapas joint on the west side of Las Vegas. Delicious!
Second food of the day: the roasted pig sandwich with sweet chili slaw from 'Wichcraft, the sandwich place inside of MGM Grand. The slaw was a little too much for me, but the rest of it was fantastic.
Another example of the art installations around Downtown, typically thought provoking. This one reads: "In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away." Amen.
Million Dollar Quartet performing at the Life is Beautiful Festival. There was a group of girls, all probably 15 at most, who were dancing to the retro tunes as if they were having their own version of Woodstock. Adorable.
Third food of the day: Philly Cheesesteak from Martorano's at The Rio (and soon to also be at Paris Las Vegas It wasn't a traditional cheesesteak as one reader pointed out (where's the whiz!?) but it had a really interesting modern twist with white American cheese and caramelized onions. It was terrific.
Fourth food of the day... I know, I know, but look... I only had a bite or two of each thing so it really wasn't as awful as it seems. This one was a roasted BBQ pork sandwich from Couchon, a famous BBQ join in New Orleans. Amazing!
O by Cirque du Soleil performing in the middle of Fremont Street. No water tank, sorry.
Sorry for the blurry, but this is Harry Shum Jr. from the TV show "Glee" doing one of the learning sessions. It was really fantastic as he told his life story through motion instead of just standing there and talking. Inspired and inspiring.
I could not love Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil any more if I tried. Here they do the famous "lean" from "Smooth Criminal" and it is mind blowing every single time I see it. I know it's some sort of stage trickery but even if their feet were nailed to the floor, the level of physicality required to do that must be insane.
If there had been a roof on the joint, Janelle Monae would have blown it off. She was crazy good and to prove it, she made her entrance on a dolly in a straight jacket.
Superstar DJ Zedd took over the festival with a set that had thousands of people jumping to the beats.