“Someone had to do it,” says local musician Jack Johnson, on why he created an alternative music festival called Life Is Shit in response to the inaugural run of Life Is Beautiful next weekend.
In the festival world, the appearance of a rival event is a common occurrence. The Sundance Film Festival inspired Slamdance and SXSW inspired rival music fest Mess With Texas.
Given the number of local bands included on the Life Is Beautiful bill, it’s not surprising that a group not included would be frustrated enough by a missed opportunity to come together and form their own festival. To be fair, according to Joey Vanas, a cofounder of Life Is Beautiful, his festival was never intended to be a punk rock showcase.
Life Is Shit is precisely that, with some wiggle room for indie rock, garage rock and whatever kind of music it is that Las Vegas-based writer Joshua Ellis makes. Bands on the Life Is Shit bill include: Deadhand, Skorchamenza, Dangerboner, The Pluralses, The Black Jetts, Spotted Dick, Fat Dukes of Fuck, Lawn Mower Death Riders, War Called Home, Nathan Fairbanks, Zabi Naqshband, Brock Frabbiele, and Lucas Johnson.
“For one reason or another, a lot of people aren’t going to LIB,” says Johnson. “You know because it’s kind of a mainstream thing and they don’t like the bands or they can’t afford it. So this is a free counter culture, punk and rock ‘n’ roll festival put on for locals, by locals.”
The Life Is Shit festival is Oct. 26 at Dive Bar, 4110 S. Maryland Pkwy. Johnson plans to have the bands start by 6 p.m.
As cofounders of Life Is Shit, Dive Bar owner Nate Bruce and musician Brock Frabbiele ran into roadblocks due to what some might consider their festival’s less-than-immediately-charming name. A major headliner dropped off the bill too late for them to find a replacement. A potential big liquor sponsor got cold feet and backed out after its failed attempt to change the festival’s name.
An undeterred Johnson was having none of that.
He was determined to stick to a punk rock ethos. The festival would be called Life Is Shit. It would be free and even without a major sponsor, it would pay each band from a share of the bar sales. It would aspire to be the antithesis of the other festival. They would even throw in a Shitty Car Show for good measure with prizes for the saddest looking rides that make it to the event.
Though disappointed by some of the setbacks they encountered while putting the event together, Johnson brushes them off saying, “We’re not big shot festival promoters and we’re not pretending to be. We’re musicians and a dive bar owner and we saw an opportunity to do something cool.”
He acknowledges that there are still enough other local bands not included in Life Is Shit so that if somebody was so motivated, a whole other festival could be filled by them. He jokingly suggests it could be called “The ‘Life’s Been Better But I Have My Chin Up’ festival.”
Life Is Beautiful will ostensibly showcase some of the best of what Vegas has to offer to visitors from around the world and provide another potent boost to the flow of energy and attention to downtown Las Vegas. What’s not to like about that?
In a word: alienation.
“All of the people who are part of our festival have been contributing to the music scene here in one form or another for years,” says Johnson. None of them just blew into town. And it feels like they are not getting the recognition they deserve for that.”
Putting it a bit more bluntly Skorchamenza frontman Timothy Styles says, “I don’t know what [Life Is Beautiful] has to do with Las Vegas so when Jack said ‘let’s do our own festival,’ I said ‘Great.’ He put together a bunch of bands that are full of piss and vinegar. I am sort of over the politics of things but if someone wants me to play a music festival that is giving the middle finger to the man I’ll do it because that’s my favorite thing to do.”
This sentiment is echoed by other musicians such as Brendan Scholz, frontman for Deadhand; “In my head, I feel like I should be at LIB, because of how long I have been at it and because people think I’m good at what I do.” Scholz recalls a show he played with The Killers nearly 10 years ago at the now defunct all-ages venue The Junk Yard.
Upon further reflection on wanting to play at Life Is Beautiful Scholz says, “At the same time I would rather do something like Life Is Shit. It means more to me because the audience knows where it’s coming from.”
Editor’s note: Jack Johnson is a reporter for Stephens Media publication Boulder City Review. CL