Va­ca­tions are lies, and trav­ellers are liars—es­pe­cially in Las Ve­gas.

Be­fore tragedy struck, Greg Hud­son vis­ited Las Ve­gas, a city filled with beau­ti­ful mys­ter­ies.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents -

Iknow I’m paint­ing things with an overly broad brush, but I’m just go­ing to say it: Va­ca­tions are lies, and all trav­ellers are liars. Con­sider what hap­pens on va­ca­tion. We visit an al­ter­nate uni­verse, like the for­tu­nate frauds we are. This ho­tel is our home. This life­style? Ours. These com­pli­cated meals and breath­tak­ing ac­tiv­i­ties? We do this all the time. The more trips we take, the bet­ter we get at de­cep­tion.

I’m re­minded of this the­ory while in Las Ve­gas for the Life Is Beau­ti­ful fes­ti­val: three days of mu­sic, art in­stal­la­tions and round­tables that fea­ture im­por­tant peo­ple pre­sum­ably hip enough to keep mil­len­ni­als en­gaged. On day one, I meet a fel­low fes­ti­val­goer named Chris. He is cov­er­ing Life Is Beau­ti­ful, too, and by my ob­ser­va­tion is friendly but not bois­ter­ous, with the gen­eral de­meanour of a cool high-school teacher (and the wardrobe to match).

On day two, we find our way to the In­dian restau­rant-turned-me­dia cen­tre, and Chris dis­ap­pears into the bath­room. When he comes out, he’s wear­ing shiny red tights, a sil­ver lamé vest (un­but­toned, nat­u­rally) and an Elec­tric

Cir­cus-ap­proved amount of glit­ter on his face. This crowd doesn’t frighten him. It isn’t op­pres­sive. It’s an op­por­tu­nity, and he came pre­pared to be who he re­ally is—or at least who he wants to be at a con­cert fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas.

It’s easy to as­so­ci­ate Las Ve­gas with the adults-only du­bi­ous de­bauch­ery you see in movies and on tele­vi­sion. But that rep­u­ta­tion is get­ting a bit played out, isn’t it? And like the cus­tomer-sat­is­fac­tion city it is, Las Ve­gas is wise enough to move with the zeit­geist. In this era of cu­ra­tion and gen­trifi- cation—when mil­len­nial con­sumers are (so we’re told) in­ter­ested in ex­pe­ri­ences and sto­ries—re­ju­ve­nat­ing parts of the city that were pre­vi­ously left to wilt in the shadow of The Strip has come about. The Downtown Project (helmed by Zap­pos CEO Tony Hsieh, who re­lo­cated the com­pany’s HQ to Ve­gas’s old City Hall build­ing in 2013) is the in­vest­ment en­ter­prise be­hind a lot of the ur­ban re­newal I’m here to see.

On The Strip, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to think (with all that’s be­ing sold to you), but on Fre­mont Street—ground zero for this born-again downtown and home to Life Is Beau­ti­ful—things are dis­arm­ingly, well, beau­ti­ful. Here, the fes­ti­val has splashed mas­sive mu­rals done by such giants in the ur­ban-art move­ment as Shep­ard Fairey and Faile. There is a steam­punk-y ro­bot cud­dling up to his hu­man com­pan­ion, a dizzy Li­nus van Pelt quot­ing hip-hop lyrics, and so much more. It’s as if Ve­gas got sleeved. Aside from a very flashy zip line at­trac­tion that lets you fly over Fre­mont Street amid blind­ing lights, what draws peo­ple to Old Las Ve­gas are the same things that bring peo­ple to any city: the bars, the restau­rants, the char­ac­ter. Old Las Ve­gas feels real.

There are two aes­thetic vibes com­pet­ing for supremacy in Las Ve­gas—not count­ing The Strip (or the mu­rals). It’s west­ern (you’ll re­call the gi­ant neon cow­girl that used to kick her leg over Fre­mont Street be­fore so many of the neon signs were re­tired) ver­sus a kind of mid-cen­tury chic. The Triple Ge­orge Grill in the Downtown Grand def­i­nitely falls into the lat­ter cat­e­gory. It was one of the first restau­rants to open in the early days of re­vi­tal­iza­tion, but it feels like a din­ner club out of Mad Men—or any other cul­tural prod­uct set in

the early ’60s. (Think dim light­ing, clas­sic cock­tails and sim­ple Amer­i­can cui­sine done per­fectly.) On the other side of that aes­thetic di­vide is the Gold Spike. It of­fers cowork­ing spa­ces by day in the “Liv­ing Room” and house­p­a­rty vibes at night; there’s an ex­ten­sive vinyl li­brary, and the “Back­yard” has over­sized games while the bar of­fers boozy milk­shakes in a homey environment. It doesn’t have cow­boy boots and las­sos on the walls, but it feels a lit­tle like a friend’s romper room, back when peo­ple called such spa­ces “romper rooms.”

If The Strip thrives on its overtly ni­hilis­tic ideation, the new Old Las Ve­gas feels like it was made for real peo­ple who ac­tu­ally live here. There’s this no­tion that I re­mem­ber from my re­li­gious up­bring­ing about how be­liev­ers should be in the world but not of the world. Prox­im­ity to sin is un­avoid­able, but par­tic­i­pa­tion in it isn’t. Downtown Ve­gas feels like that. It’s Ve­gas but not. That’s prob­a­bly why I like it.

Al­though maybe that’s the lie I’m liv­ing on this trip…. Yes, I’m at­tend­ing an out­door fes­ti­val (Did I men­tion that I hate mu­sic fes­ti­vals? No? That’s another story) in Ve­gas, but I am not of Ve­gas. Not the gam­bling, blinged-out, clichéd Gre­cian Ve­gas. I’m at this con­cert—in a field sur­rounded by loom­ing ho­tels—watch­ing Muse, Chance the Rapper and Go­ril­laz. None have earned a res­i­dency yet. And there’s no kitsch—only thou­sands of peo­ple sway­ing out­side in the dry desert heat.

But un­like most of the other at­ten­dees, I won’t re­turn to my par­ents’ bun­ga­low or even to one of these downtown ho­tels. No, af­ter each con­cert, I’ll head for The Strip. I’ll walk through a lobby that beeps and plinks and is dy­ing to make me a win­ner. I’ll pass girls dressed like Hal­loween cops who pose with you for photos and then ask for money af­ter­wards. And the next morn­ing, I’ll eat more food than should be le­gal at a long, wind­ing brunch buf­fet at Cae­sars Palace. I say I’m not of Ve­gas, but there is cer­tainly enough ev­i­dence to the con­trary. I can prac­ti­cally hear The Strip call­ing to me, re­mind­ing me that I watched LOVE, the Bea­tles-in­spired Cirque du Soleil show. “Were you not entertained?” it asks.

But that lie, along with ev­ery other lie I tell my­self, fades away ev­ery night at Life Is Beau­ti­ful. I am one of many who are bob­bing their heads, try­ing to see around the gi­ant in front of them. It’s a mu­sic fes­ti­val, and it could be any­where, in any open field. There is only love while I’m watch­ing Lorde make the crowds rip­ple and bounce, as un­aware as ev­ery­one that in 10 days, at a dif­fer­ent out­door con­cert, the tragedy of Amer­ica’s dead­li­est mass shoot­ing would tear so many lives apart. But on this day, the love feels real. And I re­al­ize I’m en­joy­ing ev­ery minute of it. No word of a lie. (Life Is Beau­ti­ful runs from Septem­Ber 21 to 23 with per­for­mances By The Weeknd, Florence + The Ma­chine, Ar­cade Fire, MiGuel and more.)

FROM TOP: A NEON MU­RAL PRO­DUCED BY THE FES­TI­VAL, 2017; OTT AT­TEN­DEES

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