Saturday, September 22, 2018

Life Is Beautiful-First Impressions | Lefsetz Letter

There’s a feeling I get
When I look to the west

And my spirit is crying for staying.

It’s palpable. The feeling you get when you enter the gig, the performance space, after they’ve checked your ticket and you’re inside, where it’s all happening. No different from years ago, when I was still in my teen years. That’s the magic of music, it ties in with your young spirit.

Actually, at lunch, I was the oldest person there. And then it occurred to me, I didn’t see myself that way. They saw me as old, I just saw myself as one of the assembled multitude. But it’s all about going with the flow. Felice’s mother is 94, but what keeps Ginny young is her friends, she’s got as much gumption and get up and go as any youngster.

And the millennials are into food. That’s one thing we missed in my heyday. My father was a gourmet, he was all about getting the best and eating out at fine restaurants, but if you went to a gig you got a boiled hot dog on a stale bun. Although it was a $1.50. Today’s lunch was as good as a Four Seasons buffet. Well, not quite, but close. But it’s de rigueur for millennials.

But their festivals are different. Ours were held in a big field with poor security and so-so sound. There’s are micro-managed with so many options.

So Life Is Beautiful is set in downtown Las Vegas. Forget the slots, forget the Strip, it’s as if they hollowed out a city and plopped a rock festival inside. That’s Tony Hsieh’s mission, to renovate the city. That’s another millennial credo, giving back. But it’s got to be real. Too many corporations pay lip service and today everybody can sniff out a fake.

So it’s unlike Coachella, unlike Bonnaroo, you don’t go away to the festival, it’s right at your doorstep. So you walk around the city blocks and it’s like a bombed-out amusement park, like being in Freedomland today. With neon signs from motels that no longer exist. Sculptures from a futuristic era more akin to “2001” than 2018.

And some of these sculptures are permanent. Like the fire-breathing dragon, like the curve of cars.

And it is hot, but not as hot as I expected it to be. That’s right, Dark Sky says it’s 99 degrees, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s the angle of the sun. It is not brutal. Although the producers are anxious about the heat.

They don’t come from the music business. William Barker, the Chairman, comes from finance, comes from tech. He runs a fund of a half billion. But he got roped into this and he’s trying to apply a tech perspective to a music festival.

Now everybody selling is a hypester. Steve Jobs being the greatest of all time. He’d say something was innovative when in truth it was copied. But Barker told me he was using data from the app to adjust on the fly. That’s right, you download the app and then the promoters track you. I know, I know, there are privacy concerns, and you can turn the tracking off, but the team uses this data to adjust. They bring in more cooling stations, see what is popular for next year.

They’re all about change on the fly. On a whim they gave away popsicles upon entry. Simple idea, but sourcing those items was not.

Nothing is set in stone.

And they’re building a brand, it’s not only about the festival.

But Tony Hsieh is revitalizing downtown Las Vegas.

So while the techies are denigrated, it’s Elon and Jeff that are pushing the envelope in space. And Jeff and Marc have made a push into publishing. And Tony is trying to save a city. Funny how the values of the traditional corporations and their leaders are not the same.

We live in an era of giving back.

We live in an era of experiences.

Life Is Beautiful is not your parents’ festival. First and foremost it’s not only about music. There is comedy, I want to see Michelle Wolf, but even more there are art exhibits and food trucks and so many other diversions. It’s a theme park for those who’ve outgrown Disneyland.

And Coachella and Lollapalooza have the brand names. And a bunch of festivals have been cancelled this year. But in its sixth year, Life Is Beautiful is profitable. Actually, last year too. Before that, money was lost. Concert promotion is not for the faint of heart. And consolidation in promotion has been the story of the past twenty years. But a few independents are going their own way, and that’s where the innovation lies.

So sure, there are masses of people. Sure, you don’t know all the acts. Sure, it takes an effort to come.

But when you are here you feel something, a fire deep inside that you thought was flickering or burned out. It’s not exactly hope, but your identity. Welcome back to the garden.


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