Festivals are a spiritual experience. Not in the way the worst people you’ve ever met will claim – that it ‘brings people together’ and ‘awakens your soul’. But the combination of your favorite music, being baked alive by an unforgiving sun and never-ending binge drinking really makes you view life differently.
Though I’ve camped in nearly every field in the British countryside, I’d never experienced a music festival created by our friends across the Atlantic.
Here we find Life is Beautiful, an American music and art festival in Downtown Las Vegas. Americans do everything bigger. The streets, the roads, the movies, the jokes – surely a festival in the hands of the land of the free would be… so much more.
It turns out American festivals might be big in size, but not in attitude. They’re calmer, somehow.
Art is everywhere at Life is Beautiful
Life is Beautiful absorbs much of Downtown Las Vegas. With the traffic blocked off, the streets and art become synonymous. Murals spread across the walls, creating an awe-inspiring oasis in a formerly rundown, dusty part of town.
Giant metal installations, ranging from garbage morphed into penguins to twisted metal mantises breathing fire, reclaimed from Burning Man, sit along the roads.
The art almost gets equal footing with the music. Hoards of people will flock around them, securing the best possible Instagram photo. Including me.
Yet it all felt different. No one is screaming. No one is blind drunk. Everyone is attractive. It was the Twilight Zone after a whole summer of watching people dance in their own vomit in muddy fields.
People love the music
When the music played, people were… polite to each other. No one was chewing their face off. I visited a day festival held on a Sunday night in London and witnessed more 16-year-olds on ketamine than I did drinking water. In Las Vegas, the bars sell cocktails instead of force-feeding you cider the temperature of lava.
This is not to say people aren’t having fun. Women and girls really commit to dancing in the States, though men sort of bob their heads and don’t move.
The kindness manifested in other ways too. Barely anyone got on another’s shoulders – a blessing to every festival goer. Indie rock band Foster the People performed one of the most embarrassing sets of all time, with the front-man storming around stage in an ill-fitting vest top like he was the most badass rock star of all time, as he sang his wistful songs in a gentle voice, yet I heard not a single bit of ‘banter’. They thought it was ‘awesome’.
While this was definitely a welcome change, I felt slightly out of place. I’m so prepared to face the worst that I never knew what to do in an actual civilized festival. An attractive young man told me he ‘liked my energy’ as I jumped around/cried to a flawless if too-talky Florence + the Machine, before walking away as if nothing happened. Was he flirting? No, I think he just wanted to say a nice thing.
Then I found the gays.
United with gay people
The festival was very heterosexual before this point. I stood in the middle of the crowd, where the entire population of people in relationships in Nevada surrounded our group to get off and blow smoke from their weed directly into my throat.
Chvrches appeared on stage, like a true ray of light (I finally understand what Madonna meant), launching an electric set with her ethereal voice. She slagged off Trump. She tore down the patriarchy with her voice.
And this group of gay guys danced, sang, and exploded in the crowd. Like no one else there.
They were exactly as I’ve always found gay men to be in festivals. I do it too, when surrounded by other LGBTI people. Feel the music, dance with each other, scream the lyrics.
Despite the gentler atmosphere, and the way people were polite to each other and not fighting, I felt the magnetic energy of a Pride shining through these guys. I wanted everyone to do what they were doing.
Because while I personally believe that a festival loses its murky brilliance once you take out the grit, I’m sure most of the revelers at Life is Beautiful would be appalled by British behavior. Yet there’s another kind of festival to both British and American music fests: Prides.
No matter where we are and what environment, LGBTI people will make each other feel at home. We are each other’s safe space. In every country, we bring the Pride.