Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Coachella, Sin City Style

 The Las Vegas summer concert scene kicks off early this week (which probably has something to do with Coachella kicking off this weekend, and I'm not upset that I didn't get tickets. I'm fine. I'm fine! Stop asking!), as The Shins will perform at The Cosmopolitan's Boulevard Pool to promote their triumphant (sales and hype-wise, at least) comeback album, Port of Morrow. And tonight, reluctant Grammy winning indie-folk beard-bro Bon Iver will play at The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

In my mind (mostly because I'm bored and looking to create dramatic narratives out of nothing), this is just the beginning of a nuclear arms race between the two hotels in which the prize is the hearts, minds, and (most importantly) cash of indie-rock loving hipsters in Las Vegas.

The Cosmo seems to be the resort more aggressively pursuing the indie demographic, with Justice, Cage the Elephant, Young the Giant, and Florence and the Machine (whose show is already sold out, proving that she's gone way beyond indie-popular to just plain popular, but Pitchfork still reviews her, so we'll keep her in the conversation for the sake of this article's premise) all scheduled to play at The Resort this summer. The Cosmo also recently hosted the incoherent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Beauties and Beats Festival (which mixed together up and coming indie bands with swimsuit models for an event that seemed to confuse just about everyone involved), but The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has stayed in the game. While the venue played host to decidedly un-indie events like the short-lived Motley Crue residency, The Hard Rock features indie stalwarts Fitz and the Tantrums and The Drums joining Bon Iver on their calandar of upcoming performers.

This sudden influx of indie into a town where more mega mainstream performers like Barry Manilow and (the totally underrated genius man-God) Billy Joel generally headline has got me wondering who exactly the audience will be for these shows. Are the owners of The Cosmo and Hard Rock counting on locals to buy tickets, or do they expect Los Angelinos and other visitors to make the trek out to Sin City to see their favorite Pitchfork approved acts? And if these shows do well, could Vegas eventually host its own Coachella-like mega festival?

It's not a crazy idea. The Vegoose festival was successful enough to run for three years, from 2005- 2007. Indie-fied headliners include Beck, Arcade Fire, Spoon, The Killers, Sleater Kinney, The Mars Volta, The Flaming Lips, Daft Punk, and The Shins (yes, again). The indie bands mingled on the bill with excellent mainstream acts like Iggy and the Stooges (playing the entirety of the amazing Fun House album), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Primus, Ben Folds, Cyprus Hill, Queens of the Stone Age, The Roots, and Public Enemy, not to mention completely un-acceptable mainstream acts like Jack Johnson, Trey Anastasio, The String Cheese Incident, and Dave Matthews & Friends (not to be confused with his other band that also bears his name, which is not to say that that guy has a monstrous ego or anything like that).

Vegoose didn't set the world on fire, and as much I'd like to blame all the horrible bro-tastic jam bands on the bill for that, the real reason (at least according to the festival's Wikipedia page) was that the organizers (who are also behind Tennesee's wildly successful Bonaroo festival) wanted to focus on launching The Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco (which I attended on its first year and was so poorly organized that Radiohead's audio dropped out completely four times during their set, angering Thom Yorke, which is NEVER A GOOD IDEA). The organizers have indicated that they could eventually relaunch Vegoose, but it's been nearly five years since the last one, so things look a little bleak for that eventuality.

So the question remains: could a giant indie rock festival succeed in Las Vegas? Recent fests have been runaway triumphs for their organizers, including the bleep-bloop DJ dance-centric Electric Daisy Carnival  and the pop-oriented, Lady Gaga headlined I Heart Radio Festival. With big indie acts moving tickets at The Cosmo and The Hard Rock, and more and more hip and artsy tastemakers living and working in Downtown, it seems like the time might be right to either re-launch Vegoose or for some other intrepid organizers to try their luck with the Sin City market (Sin-chella, anyone?). The combination of a Vegas weekend with great music will draw crowds, but what exactly would it take to make it work?

I'm going to put on my imaginary festival organizer wizard hat and imagine what it would take to throw the perfect Vegas indie fest:

Keep it on the DT: Sure, The Electric Daisy Festival filled up the massive Las Vegas Motor Speedway, keeping the Ecstacy-popping dubstup-loving kids away from The Strip during the festival. But while most of the big festivals take place in giant empty spaces (Coachella has Indio's Pollo grounds while Bonaroo has a massive farm), the conceptual Vegas indie fest could shut down a few blocks in Downtown and turn the neighborhood into a giant utopian hipster street fair. With all kinds of cool bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels in the area, DT could be the perfect place to throw the festival. And since so much of the area is currently a post apocalyptic wasteland anyway (Kai Ryssdal couldn't help but point out an abundance of vacant lots all over the hood during his NPR Marketplace interview with Tony Hsieh), there is plenty of room to set up stages in the area.

Keep it Curated: The almost too epically excellent to believed All Tomorrow's Parties festival smartly recruits awesome musicians to curate their festivals in New York and London every year. The first year I went (when ATP still did fests in LA, on The Queen Mary of all places), Modest Mouse curated and chose acts like Lou Reed, The Flaming Lips, Stephen Malkmus, Explosions in the Sky, and The Shins (again!!! I know, I'm sorry, but they did change Zach Braff's life, so...) while Portishead curated last year's East Coast fest and chose a terrifically diverse lineup that included Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, Public Enemy (performing all of Fear of a Black Planet), Swans, Bonnie Prince Billy, Battles, Chavez, Oneida, The Horrors, Company Flow, and Bruce Springsteen (just kidding, but a Boss dropin was rumored due to the fact that the fest took place in The Boss's stomping grounds of Asbury Park, New Jersey). Basically this whole paragraph has been a long list of cool bands meant to make the argument that a Vegas fest should follow that model and recruit a big iconic act to headline and then let them curate as they sit fit. (David Bowie has been inactive as of late, but why not try to draw the legendary Glam rock alien out of semi-retirement with the chance to program his own festival in the glare of bright Sin City glitz?)

Keep it Funny: Indie rock and alt comedy go hand in hand these days, so when my fantasy Downtown Vegas festival launches, there will have to be a comedy stage as well. Louis CK is co-headlining the East Coast ATP later this year with (The Afghan Whigs and Godspeed! You Black Emperor), and the upcoming Silverlake Jubilee will have a great lineup of funny people as well, with TJ Miller, Bryan Callen, Natash Leggero, Iliza Shlesinger, Matt Braunger, Kumail Nanjiani, Jonah Ray, Brent Weinbach, and Moshe Kasher set to rock the stage (in a funny way). To draw the big crowds all the way from LA for the dream-Vegas fest, the conceptual organizers (who are purple aliens with unicorn horns in my mind, because why not?) will have to bring in some bigger guns, like Zach Galifianakis, Patton Oswalt, or even King Louis himself.

Keep the Food Trucks Rollin: Vegas has plenty of great food trucks these days, but there's no reason some of the best options from LA couldn't also roll on out to Vegas for a big music festival weekend. If the Kogi and CoolHaus trucks made it out to Vegas for the festival, that fact alone might be worth the trip from LA for many music digging foodies.

Keep the (Craft) Beer Flowing: Beer fests offering tastings of Craft Suds have become events unto themselves (even if the results are sometimes disastrous). If the fest invited a nice group of Brewers and sold tickets for tasty tastings, it could make the event that much tastier. (I'm trying to figure out how to get the word taste in this paragraph one last time.)

Keep it Vegas: If you're going to have a music festival in Las Vegas, you might as well foreground the uniqueness of Sin City. Hire Elvis and Sinatra impersonators, make it easy for attendees to gamble, get Penn and Teller to perform a set, include local artists and bands, invite some strippers and drag queens, and let audiences feel like they are engaging in some generally illicit Sin (even if it's all in the context of a carefully logistically planned music festival). 

Keep the Party Goin' All Night Long: The festival can go all night, if need be. This is Vegas, after all. But even if the gates close around midnight, the hippest hotels in Downtown and on The Strip can attract a new, indie-centric clientele with after-parties featuring music spun by some the best DJs in town who will be free to dig into their collections of obscure 60's soul instead of the same old Top 40.

So that means no: DJ Pauly D is not invited to this party. Sorry, Jersey-Bro.

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