LAS VEGAS (AP) — A cadre of volunteers and entrepreneurs are putting the finishing touches on what they hope will be downtown Las Vegas' debutant ball: a sprawling music and food festival that takes over the city's core this weekend.
The inaugural Life is Beautiful event boasts many stock festival components: dozens of indie acts, including big names like Beck and Vampire Weekend, whimsical flourishes like a pop-up park, and an array of art imported from the Burning Man desert carnival.
And it has something else: Financial backing and logistical support from Tony Hsieh, the Internet billionaire who founded Zappos, the online clothing store, and is trying to remake Las Vegas into a world class city. Without that support, the festival would have gone to another, more established town, according to founder Rehan Choudhry.
Hsieh has committed to transforming the derelict heart of Las Vegas, pledging $350 million to redevelopment, recruiting young people from the coasts to work for his Downtown Project, and buying up about 20 square blocks of land.
During a recent tour of the 15 blocks that will host the inaugural festival, Hsieh and Choudhry worked through last minute issues.
Hearing that Choudhry was running low on rooms for staff, Hsieh offered up a few in a motel across the street, one of several that the Downtown Project is gutting and renovating. Not enough Star Wars storm trooper costumes for festival-goers to wear in headphone-powered silent disco? How about just handing out white outfits instead.
Many of the elements installed downtown for Life is Beautiful will stay after the festival is gone, including huge murals commissioned from international street artists, renovated neon motel signs and repaved lots with electrical hookups for future events. Part of the empty Western Hotel has also been torn down to make room for the event, which is expected to attract 50,000 attendees, making it a fifth the size of South by Southwest, the monster music, film and ideas festival held each spring in Austin, Texas.
Choudhry, a former casino entertainment manager who sports leather bracelets and perfectly quaffed hair, said he expects the festival to grow symbiotically with the gentrifying city.
"It's the way Austin grew so quickly, with South by Southwest coming back year after year. All the stuff they were creating started becoming more and more permanent," he said, clutching a Red Bull.
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